I hinted in a couple of posts last week that I attended an interesting meeting with a White House official last week to discuss the summit planned for this fall on climate change. The White House policy is changing for the better – it’s a long way from decent, but it will hopefully create room for others to lead. Here’s a quick download of my meeting:
During the G8, as the U.S. was feeling the heat for rejecting calls to set an emissions target to prevent what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change agreed would be “dangerous climate change,” President Bush announced that the U.S. would hold a high-level meeting with major emitters to discuss the issue.
U.S. officials originally wanted the meeting to take place in early October, but they didn’t take into account the Chinese holidays and the selection of Chinese Communist Party committee posts taking place at that time (we really ought to know these sorts of things!).
The initial meeting is now scheduled for September 27-28 and is intended to be the first in a series of 4-5 over the next year or two. Invited: U.S. (host) EU President/European Commission, France, Germany, Italy, UK, Japan, China, Canada, India, Brazil, S. Korea, Mexico, Russia, Australia, Indonesia, S. Africa, United Nations.
One of the first details that the White House official disclosed is that this is no longer being called a “major emitters” summit. In deference to some developing countries that don’t currently emit a whole lot, this is now being called a “major economies” summit.
The White House wants a “roll up your sleeves” working meeting, with representation at the minister and sub-minister level. They’ve asked for countries to send senior delegations with specialists on environment, energy security, finance, and commerce.
Many critics, including yours truly, have been concerned that the summit will distract attention and divert energy from the UNFCCC and Kyoto processes, which are scheduled to convene in Bali this November. The White House says it is attuned to these concerns and want to complement the Bali process – though I still have major doubts.
Here’s a brief summary that the White House is putting out on its current stance vis-a-vis the meeting.
For starters, the White House official said – to the surprise of perhaps everyone in the room – that the administration is not opposed to a domestic cap & trade regime. I’m still having trouble swallowing this, but the official maintains that the administration has always been open to considering a proposal that doesn’t involve international carbon markets. I’ll believe it when I see it.
I mentioned that the summit would strive to reach a global emissions goal, and even if the goal is voluntary, it’s important for two reasons. First, it means the Bush administration no longer thinks it can fool the world into using an irrelevant metric, “emissions intensity,” in place of raw emissions. Second, pursuing a voluntary goal probably won’t limit the ability of the next president to pursue a binding one.
The other good news is that helping stakeholders deal with the development impacts of climate change (adaptation, in climate-speak) is becoming part of the administration’s agenda. It is now included in President Bush’s speech, it figures to be the focus of much U.S. diplomacy in Bali, and the White House is open to new initiatives on this front. The WH official acknowledges that this is a major “shift in diplomacy.” This may mean that the U.S. has found a way to be a positive influence in the UNFCCC process. I’m hopeful, but – again – I’ll believe it when I see it.
One more notable piece of good news: while the State Department has a role in the planning for this meeting, the White House Council on Environmental Quality and the National Security Council are taking lead roles. That means Harlan Watson, the administration’s Obstructer-in-Chief at UNFCCC meetings and one of the most outspoken and effective defenders of a backwards U.S. policy, will probably take a back seat.
The U.S. has proposed four tracks for the meeting: Land use (to include agriculture and forestry and touch on aspects of sequestration and adaptation), transportation (broken up into vehicle efficiency and fuel technology), advanced coal technologies, and energy efficiency.
A sectoral approach makes sense with this group as a complement to the UNFCCC process, but an entire track on clean coal technologies is taking us in precisely the wrong direction. Hopefully, other countries will push back and make a counterproposal that takes a more holistic view of alternative technologies for electricity.
Also, I still do feel this meeting will distract from the UNFCCC and Kyoto processes; if it does, it will be a net negative even if it’s productive.
Oh, one more piece of bad news: the U.S. still has one of the most anti-science climate policies in the world and the administration refuses to do what scientists unanimously agree is its share to limit emissions. That fact will overshadow this fall’s meeting – no matter how productive it turns out to be.
I’ll be getting more info on this throughout the summer and I’ll share more soon.
— Scott Paul