Climate progress was slow on two fronts this week, with few advances at the United Nations talks in Bangkok and the passage of a House bill in the U.S. Congress that would prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from taking action on greenhouse gases.
House Tries to Curb EPA Action
On Thursday the U.S. House of Representatives passed the “Energy Tax Prevention Act of 2011″ designed to prevent the EPA from enforcing regulation of greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming. The Wall Street Journal reports that even though s similar amendment failed in the Senate, senators from both parties support “some form of restriction on the EPA s efforts to regulate greenhouse gases.” Passage of the House bill was hailed by the oil lobby; the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association characterized the vote as “an important victory in the ongoing effort to halt EPA’s regulation of greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. In just the few short months that EPA’s greenhouse gas regulations have been in place, thousands of American jobs have already been lost because businesses have decided they simply can’t afford to expand their operations under the existing regulatory environment.”
Fuzzy, Frustrating End to Bangkok Talks
Meanwhile, climate change negotiators ended five days of talks in Bangkok with agreement on an agenda for the next round of talks, but no major breakthrough around the divide between rich and poor countries’ approach to preventing catastrophic climate change.
Reaction was tepid. Connie Hedegard, EU Climate Commissioner noted, “Our overall sense is things are moving slow, too slow for Europe’s taste. And we cannot achieve what we need to achieve before the end of this year with this speed.”
Bolivan ambassador to the UN Pablo Solon was more blunt, saying, “It’s insane…we have such a challenge and we’re losing time.”
While developing nations tried to focus on the issues around extension of the Kyoto Protocol, rich nations tried to focus on the less stringent agreement that came out of last year’s negotiations in Cancun. The Kyoto pact contained legally binding emissions cuts pledges for 40 developed nations, not including the U.S., while poorer nations’ reduction targets are voluntary.
Chief U.S. negotiator James Pershing was not sanguine about the talks’ outcome, stating, “We have seen some of inconsistencies in the process that certainly makes it more difficult and certainly undercut the trust in the system.”
A Spiritual Problem?
On the final day of the Bangkok talks, Christiana Figueres, head of the UN negotiations, accepted a copy of the Interfaith Declaration on Climate Change, which states, among other things: “We recognize that climate change is not merely an economic or technical problem, but rather at its core is a moral, spiri tual and cultural one. We therefore pledge to join together to teach and guide the people who follow the call of our faiths. We must all learn to live together within the shared limits of our planet.”
What matters most is what countries do in between the conferences. Christiana Figueres noted, “The UNFCCC is the place where governments have committed to act together on climate change. At home, under their different political systems, they need to back up collective action with strong domestic policies.” The U.S. Congress is making clear through its actions this week that America will not be a leader and may well continue as a laggard in international efforts to curb global warming.
Photo: UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres receives a copy of the "Interfaith Declaration on Climate Change" on the last day of the UNFCCC Climate Change Conference in Bangkok via UNFCCC Facebook page