Readjusting expectations for Copenhagen

READJUSTING EXPECTATIONS FOR COPENHAGEN…. Several months ago, there was an ambitious vision of what might happen in combating climate change this year. Congress would act on the White House’s calls for a cap-and-trade bill, and administration officials would then go to Copenhagen in December to negotiate a new international agreement.

Neither, we now know, is going to happen. President Obama, at an appearance in Singapore over the weekend, conceded that a comprehensive, international deal is simply out of reach this year. The White House will, however, continue to push for incremental progress, including a more modest interim agreement at Copenhagen this year, and a commitment to renew the next stage of efforts next year.

So, it’s a dejecting setback? Not necessarily. Expectations for Copenhagen had already been scaled back considerably, and Joe Romm went so far as to suggest the shift might actually be a positive development.

The new plan for Copenhagen makes the prospects for a successful international deal far more likely — and at the same time increases the chance for Senate passage of the bipartisan climate and clean energy bill that Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and John Kerry (D-MA) and Sen Lieberman (I-CT) are negotiating with the White House. […]

Indeed, had leaders gone into Copenhagen without this recognition of the obvious and let the whole effort collapse under the weight of unrealistic expectations, that would have been all-but-fatal to the domestic bipartisan climate bill.

Now it will be obvious when the Senate takes up the bill up in the winter that the rest of the world is prepared to act — that every major country in the world has come to the table with serious targets and/or serious commitments to change their greenhouse gas emissions trajectories. Every country but ours, that is.

The few key swing Senators will understand that they are the only ones who stand in the way of strong US leadership in the vital job-creating clean energy industries and stand in the way of this crucial opportunity the world now has to preserve a livable climate through an international deal. Their role in history will be defined by this one vote. And, yes, I do think that matters to people like Dick Lugar (R-IN) and perhaps even John McCain (R-AZ).

I’m not quite as confident as Romm when it comes to pressure on GOP lawmakers. As Brad Plumer put it, “It’ll also be interesting to see if a semi-agreement in Copenhagen puts any pressure on lawmakers here in the United States to pass a climate bill. If it’s clear that every other country in the world is prepared to take serious steps to cut emissions, and that the U.S. Senate is the major hold-up, does that weigh on individual senators at all? I’m sort of skeptical.”

As am I. Republicans seem entirely unfazed when told, “There’s a health care crisis, and the entire country is waiting for you to be responsible and do your duty.” These same lawmakers will soon be told, “There’s a climate crisis, and the entire world is waiting for you to take your obligations seriously.” Will they find this compelling? I suppose time will tell.

That said, by moving towards a two-step process, the White House will have some additional time to work on a Senate that seems increasingly unable to meet the challenges of the day.