Chilly wind blows against global climate pact

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President Obama has already conceded that last week’s midterm elections put an end for now to his “cap-and-trade” plan to cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, but European officials fear the GOP gains mark the death knell for the broader campaign for a binding worldwide agreement this year to address climate change.

Mr. Obama told reporters that he has given up hope that Congress can approve his plan to establish a market to curb carbon emissions. Although he could try to impose restrictions through the Environmental Protection Agency, the process could be held up in courts for years. So the president has little good news to deliver to world leaders ahead of the next round of international climate talks later this month.

A top European climate official said binding international greenhouse gas targets are impossible without U.S. action on domestic caps, and that the talks, scheduled to take place in Cancun, Mexico, should focus on a voluntary framework instead.

“Forget the legal agreement — you can’t get it. That’s the reality,” John Prescott, Council of Europe rapporteur on climate change issues, told BBC Radio 4’s “Today” program. “The Americans can’t deliver anyway, and if they tried to get something through Congress, they couldn’t get it anyway.”

Without assurances that the U.S. is on track to meet its own targets, analysts say, China, India and other rapidly growing economies — and leading polluters — have little incentive to sign on to an enforceable emissions-reduction pact.

Indeed, a standoff between Washington and Beijing nearly sank the deal that emerged from last year’s high-profile U.N.-sponsored summit in Copenhagen, which produced a nonbinding accord widely panned as weak. Under that agreement, Mr. Obama pledged to cut U.S. emissions by 17 percent by 2020 and contribute to a $100 billion global fund to help developing countries deal with climate change.

Mr. Obama surrendered on “cap-and-trade” before he attends the Group of 20 summit this week in Seoul. Asked how the president will explain the situation to world leaders looking for U.S. leadership on climate change, the White House cited several other measures short of setting a price on carbon emissions.

“You could, for instance, as many states have done throughout the country, have a renewable-energy standard that said a certain amount of your power will be generated using renewable sources, which obviously would cut down, by definition, on greenhouse gases,” said press secretary Robert Gibbs.

Mr. Gibbs said the administration has offered government loan guarantees on the construction of nuclear plants and pushed for stricter fuel-efficiency standards on vehicles.

“People are still concerned both about climate change as well as our ever-growing dependence on foreign oil,” he said. “But there’s more than one way to fix that.”

Still, Mr. Obama ranked energy and climate change as one of his top three priorities upon entering office.

Compounding the president’s problem is that many House Democrats who supported “cap and trade” were punished by voters and won’t be returning to Congress next year.

“He’s in a very bad position,” said Patrick J. Michaels, a senior fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute who has a doctorate in climatology. “You saw what cap-and-trade did to the U.S. House of Representatives. I am sure that he wishes that he hadn’t gone to Copenhagen or hadn’t directed” the EPA to issue its finding that greenhouse gases endanger public health.

The EPA declaration, released to coincide with the beginning of the Copenhagen meeting, set the federal government on the path toward regulating of emissions from power plants, factories, automobiles and other major sources of carbon dioxide — even if Congress failed to act. Mr. Obama was vague when asked at his postelection news conference Wednesday about the EPA proceeding, saying the agency “wants help from the legislature on this” but not ruling out unilateral executive action.

Lawmakers, including many in Mr. Obama’s own party, are hoping to put the brakes on the EPA, however.

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About the Author
Kara Rowland

Kara Rowland

Kara Rowland, White House reporter for The Washington Times, is a D.C.-area native. She graduated from the University of Virginia, where she studied American government and spent nearly all her waking hours working as managing editor of the Cavalier Daily, UVa.’s student newspaper.

Her interest in political reporting was piqued by an internship at Roll Call the summer before her ...

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