Last week marked the beginning of the Copenhagen climate talks. The talks, which are the political successor to the Kyoto conference that occurred ten years ago, mark a huge shift in public opinion on and awareness of climate change. Whereas Kyoto was the province of environmental ministers and scientists, now heads of state and finance gurus are involved. On Friday, President Obama will formally attend, along with China’s Premier, Wen Jiabao.
Originally, proponents had hoped that Copenhagen would result in hard limits on greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs), codified and enforced under international law. However, with US climate-change legislation languishing in the Senate, this is unlikely. Instead, participants now hope for soft promises and concessions that will lead to a formal treaty in the near future.
President Obama has been pushing hard for a treaty to take to Copenhagen since his inauguration. While he has had to settle for the House bill and slow progress in the Senate, the EPA bolstered his position last week. The Agency has released its final endangerment finding, originally proposed last spring. The finding is a response to a Supreme Court case which ruled that the EPA take responsibility for carbon dioxide emissions under the Clean Air Act. Like sulfur dioxide emissions, the EPA now has the authority to issue allotments for carbon dioxide-emitting industries and fine those that do not comply. Such activities would be exceedingly costly and time-consuming, so in a way the ruling and resulting finding provide incentives for Congress and industry lobbyists to come to an agreement with the White House over cap and trade. Generally, market oversight is a more favorable avenue than government regulation and enforcement for the business community and industry. Nonetheless, it will be interesting to see how the factors play out in the nuances of the Copenhagen talks. We will keep you up to date.