Published on Tuesday, November 21, 2006 by OneWorld.net
US: Climate Change Climate Changing
by Haider Rizvi
There are signs that key U.S. officials are ready to take on global warming, even as much of the world community failed to show its will to deal with the impending threat at a recent global conference.
Despite intense calls for new and radical actions, last week delegates at the UN-sponsored meeting in Kenya agreed on many outstanding issues, but not on further cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.
Environmental groups widely described the outcome as a failure, but not all were expressing despair. Though equally unhappy with the results, some believe that meaningful global action on climate change is not a distant possibility.
Come January, those in the world who are concerned about the slow pace of climate action could see the global response get a boost with the United States becoming a significant part of it, according to an environmental group that is part of the global campaign for a swift response to global warming.
"With Democrats in control of both houses of Congress, changes in the federal policy are to be expected," said Gary Cook, director of the Climate Action Network, an umbrella organization representing over 350 environmental organizations worldwide.
Cook and his colleagues hope that with environmentally conscious Democratic lawmakers holding key positions in the Senate, the United States will soon be making real progress in reducing its greenhouse gas emissions, as well as moving the global agenda on climate change forward.
The 1997 Kyoto treaty requires as many as 35 industrialized countries to cut emissions by an average of 5 percent below 1990 levels by 2012. The United States is not obligated to abide by the treaty because the George W. Bush administration does not recognize it.
The Bush administration rejected Kyoto in 2001, arguing that it would harm the U.S. economy and that it should have also required reductions by poor but fast growing economies, such as India and China. Bush also repeatedly has said that more research was needed into the science of climate change.
The United States is responsible for about 25 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, although its share in the global population is just 5 percent.
Recent statements from Democratic Party leaders regarding appointments of lawmakers in the House and Senate bodies suggest that the analysis by environmentalists such as Cook could prove correct.
Last week, for example, three Democratic senators who are likely to head committees dealing with environmental issues wrote to Bush urging him to push for mandatory federal limits on greenhouse gases.
"The recent elections have signaled a need to change direction in many areas including global warming," they said in a letter telling the U.S. president that voters want the government to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Those who signed the letter included Barbara Boxer of California, Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, and Joe Lieberman of Connecticut. The three are likely to head the Senate's environment, energy, and homeland security bodies, respectively, when Democrats assume leadership positions in January.
Boxer, who has introduced legislation that would mandate an 80-percent cut in U.S. emissions by 2050, has publicly declared that her committee's first hearing will be focused on global warming.
Like Boxer, Bingaman is considered a staunch supporter of action on climate change. In fact, he was the only member of Congress to attend last year's UN climate negotiations in Montreal.
"We pledge to work to pass an effective system of mandatory limits on greenhouses gases," Boxer and her colleagues told Bush in their letter. "We urge you to work with us...to signal to the world that global warming legislation is on the way."
Supporters for action on climate change say that since the November 7 elections new opportunities have arisen for Democratic politicians to take effective actions on the state level, and that in many areas, indications are that they are willing to do so.
While the most populous state of California has already embraced a climate action plan, Massachusetts' Democratic governor-elect Duval Patrick has expressed his willingness to align his state with a regional greenhouse gas initiative comprising seven other northeastern U.S. states.
Moreover, in recent polls, voters in Washington state joined more than 20 other pro-alternative energy states by approving a ballot initiative requiring 15 percent of the state's electricity to come from renewable sources.
In Nairobi, while delegates failed to set a deadline for concluding international negotiations on further cuts in emissions beyond 2012, they did agree to continue their discussions in the future.
As the next round of international talks takes place in Bali, Indonesia, in 2008, proponents of strong action against global warming say they hope that by then the United States may be in position to play an effective role in taking the world in a more positive direction.
On the domestic front, when the new Congress assumes its responsibility in January, it will have to deal with a number of ambitious bills to support alternative energy production and limit greenhouse gas emissions that were introduced this year.
Activists say they want the new Congress to adopt these and other aggressive measures on climate change proposals without any delay.
"That is the way the U.S. can begin to make real progress in reducing its emissions," said Cook.
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