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The road from Copenhagen

Click to EnlargeDavid M. Sweet

It has been reported that there were over 1200 limos and 140 private jets in Copenhagen for COP-15 and the emissions from the meeting exceeded those of many African nations for an entire year. Given all the hype about the road to Copenhagen, it seems that it was indeed a crowded road and one which moved quite slowly. In an effort to not make a bad situation worse, WADE hosted a virtual side event to COP-15 to draw attention to the great progress that Denmark has made in a relatively short time period to become the world’s leader in decentralized energy. While developed countries, such as Denmark, serve as a great example of what is possible, the challenge is to deliver these lessons to developing countries as well.

The road from Copenhagen will go through Bonn and lead to Mexico City at the end of 2010 for COP-16. While COP-15 may be viewed as a disappointment by those who were hoping for legally binding commitments, it did provide a framework for moving forward and constructive steps in the right direction by the US and China. The US-China relationship ࢀ” or G2 as has been proposed by some ࢀ” is becoming ever more critical to the overall success of an agreement. China has now moved ahead of the US as the top CO2 emitter, but it is noteworthy that China is also now the number one producer of solar panels. While the Chinese economy is still growing at a healthy pace, the US economy is likely to remain weak in 2010, and climate change policy is likely to be seen as an additional drag on an already sluggish recovery. Interestingly, COP-16 will be held soon after the US mid-term elections, which are likely to see losses by the Democrats in Congress. The depth of those losses could be critical to US acceptance of a binding agreement. While the Obama Administration has taken significant steps in terms of regulation and policy to advance a serious climate agenda, the willingness of the US Senate and voters to accept a global treaty on climate change is still highly suspect.

US law requires that treaties be ratified by a two-thirds majority of the Senate (67 votes). The more immediate challenge is whether the Administration can find 60 votes in the Senate required to advance a climate change bill in Congress in advance of the COP-16 meeting. Even though the Democrats have control of the White House, and both houses of Congress, this is still no guarantee of 60 votes (let alone 67), that climate legislation can be passed this term or that a binding agreement post-Kyoto would ever be ratified. The sense is that the current political dynamic is as good as it may ever get for passage of climate legislation. However, if Democrats can hang on to their majorities and fare well at the polls in November, this may steel the Administration to remain firm on the road to Mexico City and beyond, all the way up to the next presidential election in 2012.

While Mexico may not be the global leader in decentralized energy, as was Denmark, there is great potential for advancement and signs that favorable policies could emerge. The government, though, may be more focused on the economy and ongoing drug wars which have turned increasingly bloody. While the road ahead promises to be crowded, long and winding, and possibly dangerous, the real danger is in what may lie beyond Mexico City if an agreement can not be reached or ratified.

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