Obama may bring leadership, rather than obstruction, to climate change talks
November 6, 2008
The election of Barack Obama as president of the United States may bring a new era of U.S. leadership on climate.
Obama, who is rumored to be considering the creation of a cabinet-level position (“climate czar”) for guiding U.S. climate policy, has said repeatedly that climate change is one of the greatest challenges facing the world. He has voiced support for a “Green Jobs” initiative to promote economic growth and transition away from polluting fossil fuel-dependence. Obama has also expressed the need to establish binding limits on greenhouse gas emissions via an international agreement.
Achim Steiner, head of the U.N. Environment Program (UNEP), told Reuters that an Obama presidency could transform the U.S. from an obstructor to a leader of climate talks.
“The world’s leading economy… has moved from being a brake on progressive policy-making to potentially becoming a locomotive,” he said.
Yvo de Boer, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (IPCC), agreed.
“It is impossible to advance on this important topic without the full engagement of the United States,” de Boer told AFP.
“I am very encouraged by the stated commitment of Senator Obama to the issue of climate change, and I really hope that he or his representatives can come to the climate change conference in Poznan [the December IPCC climate meeting in Poland] and speak to his vision of the way forward.”
The change in leadership may help bring China — which has now surpassed the U.S. as the world’s largest polluter — to the climate bargaining table.
“An Obama victory puts more pressure on China… because if the United States becomes more active, that will lift expectations on China as well,” Guan Qingyou, a climate policy researcher at Tsinghua University in Beijing, told Reuters.
China and other developing countries were excluded from emissions limits under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, a point that provided ammunition for Bush Administration to staunchly oppose any agreements that would restrict emissions.
During the campaign Obama said he would work to put the U.S. on track to cut emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. He is expected to roll out a cap-and-trade system which will auction carbon credits to emitters. The president-elect is also expected to pander less to the oil industry that the prior administration, instead promoting use of renewable energy including solar, wind, geothermal, and next generation biofuels.