BONN, GERMANY, March 29, 2009 – To the cheers of the global community, the Obama administration today announced that the U.S. will assume a constructive leadership role in the negotiations underway on a new global climate deal. Much heavy lifting remains, however, and the world is watching to see if the US Congress will deliver on strong climate action and empower the Obama administration to have a stronger negotiating position in the international climate talks, said World Wildlife Fund officials.
In his opening remarks at the current round of U.N. climate talks, taking place this week and next in Bonn, Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern promised a fresh start and a new era of constructive engagement in international negotiations. “I want to say on behalf of President Obama and his entire team that we are very glad to be back, we want to make up for lost time, and we are seized with the urgency of the task before us,” he said.
“Change has clearly come not just to America, but to the global effort to protect our planet from catastrophic climate change,” said Dr. Richard H. Moss, vice president for climate change at World Wildlife Fund. “Avoiding the most dangerous impacts of climate change will require that the U.S. provide principled leadership on emissions reductions targets and international finance for clean energy technologies and adaptation.”
“Stalemate is not an option,” Stern said in his remarks. He also emphasized clarity on the task at hand: “The science is clear, and the threat is real. The facts on the ground are outstripping the worst case scenarios. The costs of inaction – or inadequate actions – are unacceptable.”
Stern also referred in his speech to the actions of President Obama, who championed mandatory limits on greenhouse gases during the U.S. presidential campaign, and has made climate change a top priority of his administration. In the less than three months he’s been in office, Obama has dramatically departed from the Bush Administration’s policies on climate change. The Environmental Protection Agency has reconsidered two key Bush Administration decisions to block action on regulating greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. At the same time, the Administration and Congress provided substantial funding for energy efficiency programs and clean energy technologies through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, signed into law in February.
The fiscal year 2010 budget that the President presented to Congress earlier this month assumes a mandatory cap on greenhouse gas emissions. Under the program outlined in the budget, 100 percent of pollution permits would be auctioned off with a portion of the revenues raised invested in energy efficiency and clean energy programs. The remainder of the funds would be returned to taxpayers.
“President Obama’s budget outlines the foundation for a new, clean energy economy,” said Moss. “I applaud the President and his team for their leadership and commitment. Now Congress must rise to this challenge by approving cap and trade legislation and by providing funding that helps developing countries transition to low-carbon economies and supports adaptation in the most vulnerable countries.”
The political challenge remains steep. Congressional procedures require more than a majority vote to pass legislation and an even greater number of votes to ratify a treaty.
Stern spoke today about the need for an agreement that is supported by the people of the world. And indeed, a strong constituency in America is calling for action. Last night, millions of Americans joined with hundreds of millions around the world in turning off their lights for Earth Hour. “The message to Congress and world governments was clear: your constituents demand a solution to the climate crisis,” said Moss.
“We have already lost too much time, and must act starting today. The pace of climate change being witnessed around the world demands quick and decisive action at all levels – local to global. Progress in the United States must be matched by strong action in Bonn and the other stops on the road to Copenhagen in order to begin to solve this defining crisis of our time,” Moss said.
Negotiations on the treaty are expected to conclude this December in Copenhagen, Denmark. With its global reach, WWF is engaging with key countries around the world to help shape the treaty and build worldwide support for action on climate change.