U.S. Climate Policy: Hard or Soft Obstruction?


(Under Secretary of State Paula Dobriansky will lead the U.S. delegation to the UN climate change conference next month in Bali. White House Environment Czar James Connoughton will also be there for the high-level section, while chief climate obstructionist Harlan Watson will run the day-to-day negotiations)
Next month’s conference on climate change in Bali will be the 13th Conference of the Parties (COP) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (which includes the U.S.) and the third Meeting of the Parties (MOP) to the Kyoto Protocol (which excludes the U.S.).
Over the past few years, negotiations have moved at a frighteningly slow pace. I remember at the 11th COP in Montreal, it was considered a great success that countries agreed to establish an “open-ended working group” to discuss the next phase of commitments under the Kyoto Protocol.
These negotiations may be tedious, but they do forge progress over time. While the Bali conference is a crucial moment towards a climate agreement that can take effect after 2012 (when the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol expires), no one should expect anything final to be hammered out next month.
With Australia now fully on board with global climate change efforts and even discussing immediate Kyoto Protocol ratification, the U.S. is more or less alone among industrialized countries in opposing internationally binding emissions limits – though it will, as usual, get some help from Saudi Arabia and other oil-producing states.
Since President Bush took office, there has been some minor evolution in his administration’s rhetoric but almost no change in policy (the one notable positive change is its interest in helping communities adapt to the effects of climate change, but it’s unclear how exactly the administration intends to move forward on that front). The Bush administration could go one of two ways in the upcoming climate conference.
The U.S. could continue its campaign of “hard obstruction” of the past seven years. This course entails preventing the creation of new binding rules on climate change. In other words, in addition to not participating in global efforts, the U.S. could attempt to block other countries from establishing new mechanisms with teeth. The stated rationale for this is that the U.S. opposes a “one size fits all” approach and believes no country should have to choose between economic development and environmental protection. More likely, the U.S. doesn’t want any other agreement to be created that it will be forced to reject. This has been official U.S. policy since the beginning of the Bush administration and it has infuriated friends and foes alike.
Alternatively, the U.S. could try a “soft obstruction.” It could state its reservations about international climate agreements but not protest their adoption by others. This would entail no formal turnaround by the Bush administration, but it would leave the door open for the next administration to participate fully in international efforts. From a long-term perspective, ignoring the Bush administration and creating a more durable, ambitious climate framework would probably be the most constructive path for the international community to take.
Both of these approaches are obstructionist. Neither are good. Ideally, President Bush would have a dramatic turnaround and take to international climate agreements with Schwarzenegger-like vigor, but I’m not holding my breath. I’ll settle for some soft obstruction and a new administration that understands the importance of global warming and doing our share to solve global problems.
— Scott Paul
Note: A shout out is due to the members of the SustainUS delegation, who are headed to Bali to represent the concerns of U.S. youth to other delegates. Read dispatches from youth delegates at the COP here and here. If you are a young person, send your message to the delegates here.


5 comments on “U.S. Climate Policy: Hard or Soft Obstruction?

  1. Dirk says:

    The Bushies are going to have to do something to mitigate the effects of global warming.
    Consider the annual UN votes on the oppression of the Palestinian people by Israel. If you’ve checked out Palau and the Marshall Islands with Google-Earth you’ll know that these votes could soon end up: (Rest of the World) vs Israel & US


  2. pauline says:

    Since this thread is apparently going nowhere, I’ll just add this account of more BS on gov’t travel.
    Aloha! DoJ Voting Chief is Frequent Flier
    By Paul Kiel – November 28, 2007, 1:57PM
    When John Tanner, chief of the Civil Rights Division’s voting section, appeared before a Congressional panel last month, he was upbraided by Democrats for his “ineffectiveness.” Little did they know that as the section, probably the most politicized in the Justice Department under the Bush Administration, has done less and less to protect African-American voters from discrimination, Tanner has been seeing the country on the taxpayers’ dime.
    He even managed to make taxpayer-funded trips to Hawaii in three consecutive years, two of them a week long. One Department lawyer who accompanied Tanner on his first trip took the earliest available flight back after having completed all necessary work in just two business days. But Tanner insisted on staying a full week, despite the lack of apparent Department business. It’s a crime for government officials to use public funds for personal travel.
    A review of Justice Department documents obtained by TPMmuckraker shows just how extensive Tanner’s travel has been. From May of 2005 when Tanner became chief of the section through the end of 2006, he took 36 trips, traveling 97 days over those 19 months. By comparison, Tanner’s predecessor Joe Rich took only two trips from 2003 through his retirement in April 2005, a total of six days of taxpayer funded travel over those 28 months.
    “It’s important for a chief to be in the office to run the office,” Rich told me, explaining why he’d traveled so little. Most of his travel was for voting rights conferences and speaking engagements, he said. Chiefs rarely travel for cases, he said.
    Voting section lawyers, upset with Tanner’s abuse of his authority as chief, have filed at least two complaints in recent months with the Justice Department inspector general concerning Tanner’s travel and other issues (you can read one here). Another complaint, which we published last month, dealt with the travel of Tanner’s deputy Susana Lorenzo-Giguere. A Department spokesman said then that the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) was investigating whether Lorenzo-Giguere had filed certain lawsuits in order to get paid while living at her Cape Cod beach house. Tanner is also under investigation for approving that arrangement. It’s unclear whether OPR is also investigating other trips by Tanner or Lorenzo-Giguere.
    In the meantime, according to two sources, both Tanner and acting section deputy Susana Lorenzo-Giguere have been banned indefinitely from any further travel. The Justice Department did not respond to repeated requests for comment for this story.
    see —


  3. pauline says:

    And, yes, Dobriansky is a long standing member of the Trilateral Commission, an important member of CFR, and, wouldn’t you know it, a signer of the original PNAC letter to go in and militarily strike Iraq.
    I wonder how many other women are SUPER Neo-cons as she?


  4. pauline says:

    Bali in December is certainly not a bad place to be. But isn’t Bali thousands of jet fuel gallons away from most participants? And, doesn’t burning all that jet fuel (sorry for the common sense thinking here) add to global warming?? What’s wrong with a video conference for crying out loud?
    And, why would the oil bushmen not want to recognize global warming as an important matter? Gee, would that ultimately cut down on the use of (their) petroleum??


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