BANGKOK -- It’s no surprise, in the pre-Copenhagen posturing, that the United States is once again seen by many as the single greatest obstacle to an effective global climate effort. The truth, though, is that the U.S. is hardly alone. On all the key issues – emission targets, developing country commitments, and finance – other key players aren’t ready to strike a final deal either.
In his address last week to a high-level UN climate summit, President Obama offered an impressive list of early accomplishments. Yet as was painfully evident, absent comprehensive legislation from Congress, the administration comes to the negotiating table with loads of good intention, but not yet prepared to take on binding international commitments.
Other countries, meanwhile, appear to be showing some movement.
Both China and India, long viewed as the other principal barriers to agreement, are signaling a new willingness to act - at least domestically. President Hu Jintao told the UN summit that China will set a goal to reduce its carbon intensity by a “notable margin.” India’s government is talking about setting domestic goals to limit its greenhouse gas emissions. These steps are encouraging, and may help inoculate the two countries against blame in the event Copenhagen is a failure. But in neither case has the government offered specific numbers or said it is prepared to translate its actions into international commitments.
Yukio Hatoyama of Japan did come to the summit with a number. Two weeks earlier, fresh from his landmark election victory, the new prime minister had set aside the previous government’s goal of reducing emissions 15 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, a target roughly in line with the numbers being debated in Washington. In its place, he declared a far more ambitious goal of 25 percent below 1990 levels – provided other major economies pony up their fair share.