Obama Follows in Bush's Footsteps on Climate Change

The era of massive global climate meetings may finally be ending. Thank goodness.

The collapse of the Copenhagen climate change conference in December killed the Kyoto Protocol—and not a moment too soon.

Since the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change came into effect, there have been 15 Conferences of the Parties (COP) in which 192 nations have tried to hammer out a response of man-made global warming. These meetings resulted in the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, which came into effect in 2005. Under the Kyoto Protocol, 37 nations agreed to cut their emissions of greenhouse gases by 2012 to about 5 percent below the level they emitted in 1990. The United States never got around to ratifying the protocol and withdrew from it completely in 2001. In the meantime, only the countries in the European Union set up a carbon market as a way to implement carbon rationing aimed at meeting their Kyoto Protocol targets. Most other signatories simply ignored their greenhouse gas reduction targets.

Originally, the Copenhagen meeting, COP-15, was supposed to result in a binding international treaty that would establish new and deeper greenhouse gas reduction targets that would come into effect once the Kyoto Protocol expired in 2012. This goal was jettisoned a month before the COP convened when it became apparent that the goals of the developing countries and the developed countries were too far apart to bridge.

So then the Copenhagen meeting was supposed to come up with a strong political agreement that would set overall global greenhouse gas reduction targets and provide climate change damage aid to poor countries. The developing countries wanted commitments for hundreds of billions of dollars in annual climate change aid from the rich countries. On the other hand, the rich developed countries wanted some kind of enforceable emission reduction commitments from big emerging economies such China, India, Indonesia, and Brazil. These countries have no obligations to reduce their emissions under the Kyoto Protocol. Ultimately, it is not too much to say that the Copenhagen conference collapsed over deep differences between the world’s number one and number two emitters of carbon dioxide, China and the United States, respectively.

Prior to the Copenhagen meeting, China announced that it would reduce its carbon intensity by 40 to 45 percent by 2020. Note that this is not a cut in actual emissions. In fact, China’s emissions in 2020 could be double what they were 2005. Instead, China was pledging to emit less carbon dioxide per unit of economic production. Basically, China was promising to speed up the normal economic process in which the constant drive of competition pushes industries to continuously cut costs by reducing the amount of energy they use to produce goods and services. For example, the United States has cut its carbon emissions per dollar of GDP by about 45 percent since 1980, largely without government intervention.

For its part, the Obama administration offered to cut actual U.S. emissions by 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. This goal is in line with the Waxman-Markey climate change bill passed by the House of Representatives in June. Many environmental activists wanted bigger commitments from the U.S. and decried the Obama administration’s “lack of ambition.” The Obama administration welcomed China’s commitment, but insisted on outside auditing to make sure that China was keeping its promises. China balked, asserting that such auditing would violate its sovereignty. Both the U.S. and China refused to budge. Meanwhile 120 presidents, prime ministers, and other potentates had gathered in Copenhagen where they thought they were going to be hailed as saviors of the planet’s climate. That didn’t happen.

Instead, in the last hours of the Copenhagen conference, a three page Copenhagen Accord was worked out after President Barack Obama interrupted a meeting between leaders from China, India, Brazil, and South Africa. The five countries presented their Accord on a more or less take-it-or-leave-it basis to the other 187 countries meeting in Copenhagen. The Accord was not adopted, which requires consensus, but instead the COP “took note of” the document. Under the Accord, all countries are supposed to submit their commitments and goals for cutting greenhouse gas emissions by the end of this month. However, only about 30 countries so far have agreed to sign on. Monitoring and enforcement of Accord commitments are to be worked out in future international meetings.

So now what? It turns out that President George W. Bush has already paved the way for President Obama. In September 2007, Bush convened the Major Economies Meeting on Energy Security and Climate Change in Washington, D.C. The meeting included representatives from the world’s 16 biggest economies: Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, the United Kingdom, the United States, plus the European Union. Collectively, these countries emit about 80 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases. President Bush urged the representatives to set a long term goal for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and argued that the best way to address climate change was through developing low-carbon energy technologies.

Last April, the Obama administration convened the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate. Obama’s forum membership is identical to Bush’s meeting membership. The initial goal was to “generate the political leadership necessary to achieve a successful outcome at the UN climate change negotiations that will convene this December in Copenhagen.” Actually, the Copenhagen Accord is less ambitious than the Forum’s Declaration issued in July at its leadership meeting in Italy. In fact, he Accord’s recognition that the “increase in global temperature should be below 2 degrees Celsius” was first noted in the forum’s Declaration. In addition, the Declaration promised to set a global goal for when greenhouse gas emissions would peak and to identify a global goal for substantially reducing global emissions by 2050 at Copenhagen. That didn’t happen.

Deputy Special Envoy for Climate Change, Jonathan Pershing, recently told the Guardian that the Obama administration will sideline the cumbersome United Nations climate negotiations process. Pershing noted that it is “impossible to imagine a negotiation of enormous complexity where you have a table of 192 countries involved in all the detail." So instead, the Obama administration and leaders of the other major economies will negotiate among themselves how each of them will address man-made global warming. Since these 16 countries are responsible for emitting the vast majority of greenhouse gases, Pershing correctly observed, “We are not really worried what Chad does. We are not really worried about what Haiti says it is going to do about greenhouse gas emissions.” The Copenhagen collapse gives President Obama the opportunity to jettison the Kyoto-style carbon rationing scheme passed by the House of Representatives in June and work out smarter and less economically damaging ways to address man-made global warming. Let's hope he makes use of it.

Ronald Bailey is Reason's science correspondent. His book Liberation Biology: The Scientific and Moral Case for the Biotech Revolution is available from Prometheus Books.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Old Mexican||

    Cue in the Statists bitching about how we overconsume in 3 . . . 2 . . . 1 . . .

  • Old Mexican||

    Since the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change came into effect, there have been 15 Conferences of the Parties (COP) in which 192 nations have tried to hammer out a response of man-made global warming.

    Their idea is to send out three arks, one which will contain all the bureaucrats and phone sanitizers and environmentalists and climate scientists and . . .

  • Old Mexican||

    The Copenhagen collapse gives President Obama the opportunity to jettison the Kyoto-style carbon rationing scheme passed by the House of Representatives in June and work out smarter and less economically damaging ways to address man-made global warming. Let's hope he makes use of it.

    Sounds as sensical as saying: Obama should drop the idea of continuously dropping virgins into the Volcano God altogether, and find smarter ways to appease it.

  • Enyap||

    I for one welcome our new volcano overlords.

  • ||

    Sure there must be a better way to address something that doesn't exist.

  • ||

    Bailey, what the hell is wrong with you?
    Are you mentally deranged?
    There is no man made warming. You got that, NO MAN MADE WARMING.
    There is no evidence of warming even.
    It takes longer then one hundred years by the geo clock to decide if it is our isn't.
    BTW: What is the "natural" mean temperature of earth?

  • Deep Thought||

    BTW: What is the "natural" mean temperature of earth?

    The answer is: 42!

  • M. Simon||

    F, C, K, or R?

  • ||

    all of them

  • Old Mexican||

    Ultimately, it is not too much to say that the Copenhagen conference collapsed over deep differences between the world’s number one and number two emitters of carbon dioxide, China and the United States, respectively.

    Probably because the Chinese are less willing to criminally hobble their economy than the more gullible Americans.

  • ||

    Ron, did you see John Christy's (univ of alabama, hunstville) "A Critical Perspective on Climategate" in IEEE Spectrum?

    http://spectrum.ieee.org/energ.....mategate/0

  • ||

    DBC: Yes and I was going to blog it with kudos to you. Still might. Thanks.

  • ||

    Ah, good man!

    Cheers.

  • Jimmy 'Crack' Corn||

    Excellent aritcle in Spectrum.

    +1

  • Jimmy 'Crack' Corn||

    Make that 'article'.

  • Old Mexican||

    The meeting included representatives from the world’s 16 biggest economies: Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, the United Kingdom, the United States, plus the European Union. Collectively, these countries emit about 80 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases.

    I will bet that the Mexican government will sign all treaties and make all commitments, just so the Mexican people totally shit on it because we have always thumbed our noses at our government. That is how things should be and it would be perfect had it not been for the USA and its lousy war on drugs...

  • ||

    Is climabating a word?

  • Old Mexican||

    Climabating: n. The conceit of stopping a hurricane with a fan.

    Yep. It is a word.

  • ||

    Another climabating thread reaches its climax. After stimulating the climatoris.

  • Attorney||

    Yes, it means "pleasuring oneself while gazing at pictures of commuters on bicycles."

  • ||

    Good one!

  • Old Mexican||

    Anyway, appeasing the Volcano God should be one of the responsibilities of this government - I suggest they take the lead and throw themselves into it. We will be here, watching how it is done . . .

    Ok, Rohm - you first. Tip-toe your way over it . . . That's it.

  • Old Mexican||

    Deputy Special Envoy for Climate Change, Jonathan Pershing, recently told the Guardian that the Obama administration will sideline the cumbersome United Nations climate negotiations process.

    See? Like I said - they will throw themselves into the volcano God, to appease it.

  • ||

    Looks like someone's been borrowing MNG's Adderall.

  • Old Mexican||

    You too - throw yourself into the Volcano God, because he's angry. Hockey-stick angry, which is bad juju.

  • Jimmy 'Crack' Corn||

    Old M

    "Hockey-stick angry". Love that.

  • Old Mexican||

    Actually, the Copenhagen Accord is less ambitious than the Forum’s Declaration issued in July at its leadership meeting in Italy. In fact, he Accord’s recognition that the “increase in global temperature should be below 2 degrees Celsius” was first noted in the forum’s Declaration. In addition, the Declaration promised to set a global goal for when greenhouse gas emissions would peak and to identify a global goal for substantially reducing global emissions by 2050 at Copenhagen. That didn’t happen.

    That's because that's too few virgins to appease the Volcano God. If you want to appease it, you have to go for broke. At least that is what the Statists told me - sorry, the Volcano God priests told me.

  • Old Mexican||

    The developing countries wanted commitments for hundreds of billions of dollars in annual climate change aid from the rich countries.

    Yes, they want US to throw OUR virgins, and not their virgins, to the Volcano God.

    Ok, ok, I will stop this Volcano God schtick if somebody over there at Reason concedes that this whole thing is ridiculous. There is no man-made global warming and the goals are as arbitrary as nonsensical - who are you trying to kid here?

  • Attorney||

    What you need to do is create a Volcano God Clock, like the Doomsday Clock, where the Volcano gets all hot and sparky when the climate agenda is blocked, but calms down and just smokes when the agenda is being obeyed.

  • Old Mexican||

    Oh, man... I started a trend.

    Bad OM, bad!

  • ||

    I just ate Mexican food and started farting JUST TO SHOW THE STATISTS WHO'S BOSS. So there.

  • Old Mexican||

    The Volcano God will be angry at you . . .

  • ||

    My representative is jumping in on my behalf. Woo hoo! It's like dispensations during the Inquisition! More empanadas and tacos!!

  • Old Mexican||

    Under the Kyoto Protocol, 37 nations agreed to cut their emissions of greenhouse gases by 2012 to about 5 percent below the level they emitted in 1990. The United States never got around to ratifying the protocol and withdrew from it completely in 2001. In the meantime, only the countries in the European Union set up a carbon market as a way to implement carbon rationing aimed at meeting their Kyoto Protocol targets. Most other signatories simply ignored their greenhouse gas reduction targets.

    It does not say if the European Union achieved their self-allotted goal of virgins thrown into the Volcano God... I wonder if they did. Hmm.

  • Chad||

    Ron, Obama is "following in Bush's footsteps" because do-nothing Republicans are in can stymie Congress. Obama can't make any promises which Republicans won't keep.

    Your correct thesis should be "Republicans are following in Bush's footsteps", which is a big "well, duh". Too bad we are forced to follow them right off the cliff.

  • ||

    Chad.

    How can Republicans possibly stymie Congress?

    Last I checked, they don't have the White House, or the House of Representatives, and can't even stage a filibuster in the Senate.

    I'm no expert in civics, but it looks like the (D) team is solidly in control* of Congress.

    *Outcome of MA senator seat still pending.

  • Chad||

    I'm no expert in civics, but it looks like the (D) team is solidly in control* of Congress

    It's not just the filibuster. Republicans have done everything in the books to utterly gum up the system, including delaying votes for weeks, THEN VOTING FOR THEM.

    You cannot possibly be so blinded by your partisanship to not see what is going on.

  • ||

    Republicans have done everything in the books to utterly gum up the system, including delaying votes for weeks, THEN VOTING FOR THEM.

    Citation needed.

  • Chad||

    Your local newspaper. Any newspaper. Please leave the echo chamber for once.

  • ||

    Weak response Chad.

    If you're going to make bold assertions (IN ALL CAPS NO LESS), at least back them up with some evidence.

    All you would need to show me is one instance of Republicans having blocked anything in either the House or Senate without any assistance from Democrats who broke ranks. Right now, from your response I can't tell if you're making it up or just plain lazy.

    But the point is now moot. Thanks to the election results from MA, I hope the Republicans will now live up to your allegation and block all the idiotic legislation the Democrats were planning on pushing through the Senate... (ObamaCare, Cap'n'Trade, Bank Tax, Stimulus Part B, etc.)

    Oh, who am I kidding? Instead of Team Red and Team Blue neutralizing each other, they're more likely to settle back into log-rolling mode and stick the country with "bipartisan" legislation that's both stupid and evil.

  • Chad||

    Russ, if you did not know my claim was true, then you obviously are wilfully un-informed, because it has been widely reported. If you are wilfully un-informed, there is no reason to attempt to inform you, because it fails cost-benefit analysis by a wide margin. If I can't make an ass drink and he has proven that he is unwilling, there is no reason to show him where the river is.

    Oh, who am I kidding? Instead of Team Red and Team Blue neutralizing each other, they're more likely to settle back into log-rolling mode and stick the country with "bipartisan" legislation that's both stupid and evil

    That sounds like our current health system, which is close to the worst-of-all-worlds. It is a mish-mash of random, "bi-partisan" mediocracy which injects just enough "free market" to muck things up without solving anything.

  • Fatty Bolger||

    If it's been widely reported it should be simple for you to back it up. And even if it's true, so what? They delayed legislation by weeks... BFD. The fact remains that the Democrats have had full control of Congress & the presidency with a filibuster proof majority. So now they lose the filibuster proof majority with the Brown win... again, BFD. If you can't pass something with 59 senators, that might be a clue that what you are trying to pass is a bad idea.

  • M. Simon||

    Jon Stewart is in TOTAL agreement with you.

    http://powerandcontrol.blogspo.....akley.html

  • ||

    Chad|1.20.10 @ 6:39AM|#
    "because it has been widely reported."
    I hardly ever read Daily Koz; where else has it been 'widely reported'?

  • Soonerliberty||

    How do you reason with a drone that only sees everything in Republican vs. Democrat terms? He doesn't even realize he's posting on a site that hates Democrats and Republicans equally for both being statists.

    Yes, Republicans are stymieing a one-party-controlled government. Dude, put down the Kool-Aid. Well, I should mention that in all likelihood your criticism might actually apply tomorrow when Taxachussetts rejects a liberal statist. After all, they are the only state with the marvelous experience of state healthcare.

  • Chad||

    You do NOT hate Dems and Republicans equally. 70/30 maybe would be a stretch.

  • Sam Grove||

    I don't hate either.

    I'm too mellow for such passion.

  • Old Mexican||

    Re: Chad,

    Ron, Obama is "following in Bush's footsteps" because do-nothing Republicans are in can stymie Congress. Obama can't make any promises which Republicans won't keep.

    Indeed - they said: We ran out of virgins to throw to the Volcano God.

    No virgins, no throwing. The Volcano God priests still insist on throwing more virgins, which is why they have been warning about the Volcano God getting really angry if we do not appease Him - with more virgins.

    Oh, those heathen Reps. Those unbelieving, yet oddly outnumbered, Reps.

  • ||

    Is Coakley a virgin? Cause I think someone threw her in a volcano tonight. If she's not, I'll bet the V Gods are gonna be PISSED...but I'll defer to OM, who is much more knowledgable than I about the V Gods.

  • Old Mexican||

    Sorry, the Volcano God won't take whores.

  • ||

    +1

  • ||

    She's a he.
    -1

  • ||

    Some questions for the more climate-literate folks in this forum:

    1. If the Kyoto targets had been adopted and were actually achieved, how much of an impact would they actually have? How many fewer tonnes of GHGs would be emitted during the lifespan of the agreement, and how many degrees cooler would the planet be as a result?

    2. How much would Kyoto compliance cost both in actual expenditures and lost productivity (or foregone consumption) to achieve the results in Question 1?

    3. What would be the expected economic losses in the default scenario, where nothing is done to reduce GHG emissions? Is it greater or less than the cost in Question 2?

    4. What's the margin of uncertainty for each of the above calculations?

    Mr. Bailey? Anybody?

  • Soonerliberty||

    I vote for not voting for anything starting with a Ky in it. It's linguistically unrelated to English. Therefore, it is more than likely statist in origin, seeing as how English is one of the only languages without a formal and informal you.

  • ||

    Second

  • ManikMonkee||

    "English is one of the only languages without a formal and informal you"

    You is formal, the equivalent to Vous in french or Voce in portuguese

    thou is informal the equivalent to Tu in french or portuguese

    Spanish and Brazillian Portuguese dropped one or the other just like english did
    there's probably more

  • TallDave||

    I disagree. There's nothing more American than KY Jelly.

  • M. Simon||

    To what degree?

    F, C, K, or R.

  • The Volcano God||

    Heathen - how dare you question ME?

  • Nietzsche ||

    Vulkan Gott ist tot

  • ||

    Russ: Good questions, but impossible to answer, because of the broken nature of Kyoto. The commitments in Kyoto were only for the years 2008-2012. It was always understood that there would have to be a follow-up agreement negotiated, taking into account new scientific research.

    So, the answer to your questions are very difficult to say, for two reasons: 1) it was just a preliminary agreement, and 2) Kyoto was never going to be effective anyway, because it didn't include developing nations.

    The Copenhagen Accord now includes measurable, reportable, and verifiable commitments for emissions reductions from developing nations -- for the first time. That's a big deal: time to get the negotiations away from the UN and into somewhere that will actually make a difference.

  • ||

    zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzfartzzzzzzzzzzzzz

  • ||

    Bailey has to go. How does this article espouse "free minds and free markets"? At least they don't have the token lesbian arguing for group rights for gays anymore.

  • Hank||

    For god's sake, Ron, the Himalayan Glaciers are gonna be completely melted away by 2035! Goddamn right-wing operative!

  • ||

    But I thought Ron told me they're NOT gonna be gone. I was gonna go sledding in 2036 :( Now I'm sad...

  • Fatty Bolger||

    But where will the mountain polar bears live?!!

  • Wind Rider||

    Uh, follow W's footsteps? I don't think so. The only similarity would be the 'go it alone' argument re: US policy - big difference: Skippy has no problem whatsoever in using the AGW scam as useful cover to better extend governmental powers, and trash market capitalism in the bargain.

    Mr. Bailey, I think, needs to brush up on Alinsky 101. . .

  • ||

    Have you ever heard a death rattle before? Wanna stay on the phone and listen?

  • ||

    "smarter and less economically damaging ways to address man-made global warm"

    CRU Fraud. You should read up on it before you waste even more time and energy writing about "AGW".

  • Tony||

    Dear god you're a credulous bunch. You won't believe what the worldwide consensus of scientists tells you is true, but you'll believe a ridiculous conspiracy theory from right wing blogs, the only evidence required being some minor scandal about emails.

  • ||

    Poor Tony. He did not get the memo, either:
    Dropdeadglobalwarmingsourmouthsliketonywhoconstantlyinsultpeopleiftheydontagreewithhim.

  • TallDave||

    Many environmental activists wanted bigger commitments from the U.S. and decried the Obama administration’s “lack of ambition.”

    They would say that even if he pledged to burn the cities to the ground and force every American to live in a cave.

  • M. Simon||

    Burning cities will increase the carbon foot print.

  • ||

    About half of all greenhouse gases is water vapor emitted by the world's oceans, so it is simply not possible that "Collectively, these countries emit about 80 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases."

  • ||

    The government's effors to appease the volcano god have been very effective!You have no idea how many of your own family could have been killed by a volcano if the government hadn't been protecting you all this time! You are so ungrateful and unpatriotic!

  • ||

    "The Copenhagen collapse gives President Obama the opportunity to...work out smarter and less economically damaging ways to address man-made global warming."
    Wait, this is a "Reason" magazine article? You just agreed with the basic premise of the environmentalists -- so you differ with them only in the degree of goverment controls! As a science correspondent, I'd asssume you're knowledgable of the pseudo-science and the quasi-religious beliefs supporting global warming!

  • ||

    "work out smarter and less economically damaging ways to address man-made global warming."

    Didn't this guy get the memo

    it is warming
    it is cooling
    its the sun,
    its the moon
    its the methane,
    its (fill in the blank your reason)

    By the way, man is not to blame and we can't do squat about it.

    Whatever is happening...

  • ||

    Amazing that Mr. Baily never mentioned that much of the "science" of global warming is now discredited. Before we spend trillions, maybe we shooud see if we really caused the problem.

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  • Finnish Lapphund||

    When the right way to greatly documented the idea needs to be uncomplicated that you can backside the idea " up ". And perhaps when it really is accurate, so what on earth? They will postponed guidelines through months... BFD. The actual fact is still the fact that Democrats experienced complete manage regarding Congress & that obama administration which has a filibuster resistant vast majority. Therefore right now they will get rid of that filibuster resistant vast majority with all the Darkish acquire... once more, BFD. If you cannot complete some thing by using 59 senators, that may end up being any concept which just what a person making the effort to complete is often a awful plan. Finnish Lapphund

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