The Hill: Copenhagen pact met with questions

The limited global warming deal that President Obama brokered at the Copenhagen climate summit Friday has raised eyebrows and expectations in the Senate, showing that it's unclear if it will speed along slow-moving Democratic climate legislation in the upper chamber.

Obama and top officials from a group of countries including China and India produced a scaled-back, nonbinding climate accord late Friday under which nations will commit to implementing their national pledges to control emissions.

Advocates of stalled Senate climate legislation have been hopeful that a deal in Copenhagen that commits China and other countries to action would increase traction for mandatory emissions curbs in the U.S.

Obama on Saturday afternoon sought to parlay the agreement salvaged at the fractious talks into support for climate and energy legislation, stating "we're going to have to build on the momentum" created in Copenhagen.

"At home, that means continuing our efforts to build a clean-energy economy that has the potential to create millions of new jobs and new industries," he said. "And it means passing legislation that will create the incentives necessary to spark this clean-energy revolution."

But several senators - including Maine Republicans Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, both swing votes in the Senate debate - said in the Capitol on Saturday morning that they had yet to digest the Copenhagen outcome.

Beyond that, Senate reactions varied. "Any agreement is helpful," said Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.).

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), who is a lead architect of Senate climate plans, said China's endorsement of the deal is a key step forward.

"You had to have some deal where the major emitters are beginning to reduce," he said. "Having China at the table is the most critical thing because most of our colleagues are saying, ‘Well what about China, what about China, if they don't do it, it won't make any difference.'"

China is the world's largest emitter of heat-trapping gases. The U.S. is No. 2, and India is the fifth-largest.

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) - who noted that he had not read the accord - called China and India's endorsement of the agreement a "plus" but doubted it could help propel a Senate cap-and-trade plan.
"Unless India and China are bound and we know what the details are, I don't think that their agreeing to goals or whatever it was they agreed to will have an effect on cap-and-trade," he said. "If there was a binding agreement that tied them into limits that were meaningful, then I think that would have advanced the legislation."

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), the top Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, noted she had not been briefed on the specific terms of the agreement, but called the limited accord progress. Murkowski is also a swing vote on climate, although she insists that any bill block EPA from regulating greenhouse gases under its existing authority.

"I think whenever you have developing countries, and certainly China and India, stepping forward and indicating that they have a willingness to be a participant, I think that that is a strong indicator that we will have opportunities to be working [together], and I think that that is progress," she said when asked about the Copenhagen outcome's effect on the Senate debate.

But Sen. Robert Bennett (R-Utah), who opposes climate legislation, said the Copenhagen pact did nothing for the Senate legislation. "I don't think they got anything in Copenhagen that will encourage anybody, except Jim Inhofe," he said. Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) calls global warming a "hoax" and opposes any bills to require emissions cuts.

The House approved a sweeping bill in June that would require U.S. emissions reductions of 17 percent by 2020 and 83 percent by 2050.

Democrats say the bill will create scores of "green jobs" and help make the U.S. a leader in high-tech energy industries, but Republicans allege the plan will harm the economy and place U.S. industries at a competitive disadvantage to overseas companies.

The bill faces a tough Senate fight. Kerry is working with Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on a compromise plan that would blend emissions curbs with wider offshore oil-and-gas drilling and expanded federal financing for new nuclear power plants. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) hopes to bring a bill to the floor in the spring.

Kerry and other backers of the bills had hoped the Copenhagen talks would be a springboard for domestic legislation. But the Copenhagen conference as a whole ended Saturday on a vague note, with the 193 nations jointly agreeing to "take note" of the deal but stopping short of a joint endorsement.

Nonetheless, Yvo de Boer, the top United Nations climate official, said in Copenhagen that nearly all countries support the accord and will likely sign up, according to Dow Jones.

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), who co-sponsored the House climate bill, on Saturday said the Copenhagen deal enjoys wide support.

"No one should be surprised that Venezuela, Cuba and just a handful of countries attempted to stand in the way of international progress on climate change. Fortunately, while they may have blocked consensus, they have not blocked progress," he said in a prepared statement.

The deal includes compromise language under which nations would agree to make their pledged emissions-cutting actions subject to outside review in a manner that respects national sovereignty.

The "Copenhagen Accord" supports holding the increase in global temperatures below 2 degrees Celsius, the level that many scientists say is needed to prevent catastrophic and irreversible climatic changes.

But it does not set a specific international emissions reduction target. Under the accord countries will instead submit and commit to implementing their national - and in some cases multilateral - greenhouse gas targets.

Obama called the pact a breakthrough on Friday before departing the Copenhagen talks, where he spent a day negotiating directly with heads of state from a slew of nations, but acknowledged it will not bring about sufficient reductions in greenhouse gases.

It also commits developed nations to collectively mobilize billions of dollars for developing countries to help with fighting global warming and adapting to climate change. The deal calls for developed countries to jointly provide up to $30 billion in the 2010-2012 period, prioritizing the aid for the most vulnerable countries, small island states and Africa. Over the longer term, the deal commits developed countries to mobilize $100 billion annually by 2020 from various public, private and other sources.

Nations will now look for further progress in crafting a binding international accord at the next round of U.N. climate talks late next year in Mexico City.

Source: By Ben Geman. Originally published by The Hill on December 19, 2009