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The Best Possible Deal at COP15 Starts at Home The Best Possible Deal at COP15 Starts at Home

The Best Possible Deal at COP15 Starts at Home

by Ben Jervey
October 7, 2009

America can make or break the U.N. climate conference in Copenhagen-depending on what happens in Washington.
I'm getting a lot of emails here in Bangkok-where I'm currently tracking the U.N. climate treaty negotiations for TckTckTck's Adopt a Negotiator project-from folks back home wondering what they can do to help secure a deal. How can concerned citizens back on the home-front possibly impact the high-level diplomatic talks on the other side of the globe? The answer, it turns out, is simple: Help the Senate pass the new energy and climate bill.

It's all too clear at these meetings that the biggest holdup to progress in the negotiations is America's reticence. Our delegates are talking, sure. They're offering plenty of positive rhetoric and doing as much as they can to be a constructive force in the conference rooms and plenaries. But the frustrating reality-the real big lesson learned from the first week of meetings-is that negotiations don't go anywhere without U.S. numbers on the table.

That means everyone's pretty much dancing around the real discussion until Jonathan Pershing, our lead delegate, lays down a couple crucial bits of information. Namely, what can America offer in terms of emissions reductions (UN speak: mitigation)? And what can it dish out in terms of straight up cash (financing) for adaptation and emissions reductions programs for poor, vulnerable countries? Without the answers to these questions, there's no way to start putting the puzzle together. At the end-of-the-week "stock take" session here in Bangkok, where delegates give their sense of where negotiations stand, the European Union made a dramatic call that was echoed by many: It's time to lay our cards on the table. Everyone knew who he was talking to.

The problem is, those numbers have to be a product of our domestic politics. If Kyoto has taught us anything, it's that nobody can trust the United States until they see what we're actually going to do. (Quick history lesson: The United States signed the Kyoto Protocol back in 1998; eleven years later, it still hasn't been ratified. Mind you, at least 185 countries have ratified the Protocol, from Russia to Rwanda to Australia to Iraq. Iraq!) There's a massive trust gap. To be a credible player going into Copenhagen, the United States has to show something concrete coming from the home-front. Pershing has not been at all coy about the fact that he needs to bring home a treaty that will be signed and ratified. We don't want to write a another check in Copenhagen that our domestic politics can't cash.

We also learned that this has to start in D.C., and not just end up there. For a treaty to ultimately be ratified (which will need a two-thirds majority vote in Senate for approval), the meat of the meal has to be cooked back home and brought to the international table, and not the other way around. We tried that in Kyoto, and of course, failed. Whether we like it or not, our plans and commitments for emissions reduction targets are the absolute foundation for an agreement to be built on, and thus far, we've delivered bubkes.

So everyone's waiting on America. And Americans are waiting on the Senate.

Fortunately, Senators Kerry and Boxer dropped their version of the energy bill, the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act. In it are those numbers we need. The reductions are, predictably, less substantial than what most of the world wants to see, but that's another argument for another time. Right now, any forward progress is encouraging. But if the perception here in the United Nations is that the Senate bill could fail-or even if it could go the way of health care, sputtering watered down to an uncertain fate-then there's little hope for progress heading into Copenhagen.

And so the equation is simple: [the strength of our Senate bill] x [the chance that it'll be signed into law] = [likelihood of a fair, ambitious, and binding treaty in Copenhagen].

Here's what you can do: For starters, call your Senators immediately. Use 1sky's handy tool to get their numbers and a basic script. It's easy as anything. (Some even find this sort of lobbying addictive.) Also mention that this needs to happen soon, as the fate of an agreement in Copenhagen depends on it.

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