Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Heat Up Climate Reform

On Dec. 7, the United Nations Climate Change Conference will begin in Copenhagen, Denmark. The international community, however, will not be able to achieve any substantial climate reform unless the United States sets a decisive example. Other nations will be unlikely to make any sacrifices in committing to change unless the United States signals that it takes climate concerns seriously.

This summer, the House of Representatives narrowly passed the landmark American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, which includes a cap-and-trade system designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from their 2005 levels by 17 percent in the next decade. Progress on cap-and-trade legislation has been stalled in the Senate, however, as senators have yet to agree on any legislation.

As a result of Congress’s failure to produce a climate change bill, President Obama will have little to offer at the Copenhagen summit beyond tentative targets for emission reduction in the United States. Obama’s absence in the U.S. debate on climate change is worrisome. His failure to push Congress on environmental issues likely contributed to the failure to make a domestic commitment to combating climate change.

This American ambivalence, in turn, seems to have fostered complacency on the international level. Canada has proposed only minor adjustments, and is aiming for a 20 percent cut in its emissions by 2020. Georgetown professor Victor Cha has noted that China has committed to a more substantial 40 to 45 percent cut, so long as it does not compromise its development. India has promised to curb emissions by 20 to 25 percent, but it will not agree to any legally-binding international agreement.

Clearly, strong American leadership is needed to achieve substantial, international climate reform. It may be too late to establish a decisive position in Copenhagen, but going forward, Obama needs to re-engage in the debate and push Congress to prioritize a climate change agenda. Admittedly, Congress has been bogged down lately with health care reform. But that fact does not decrease the urgency of climate change concerns. The United States cannot continue to keep the world waiting because it has put climate reform on the back burner, and Obama needs to make his voice heard to advance environmental preservation.

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