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What to watch for in Washington

The global recession, US mid-term elections and a weak Copenhagen deal all play a part in the future of cap-and-trade legislation. Suzanne Goldenberg explains what lies ahead in 2010.

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What is the state of play for climate-change legislation in America?

Barack Obama put his reputation on the line at Copenhagen by saying America would act on climate change. Now it’s up to Congress. The House of Representatives passed the Waxman-Markey bill last June, which would set a price on carbon and would put progressively tighter limits on greenhouse-gas emissions, with a 17% cut from 2005 levels by 2020, and 80% by 2050.

Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat, passed a nearly identical version of the bill out of the Senate environment committee last November. But action in the Senate has stalled. Boxer stared down a Republican boycott to get a bill through her committee. But Democrats are deeply reluctant to throw themselves into another full-on confrontation with Republicans so soon after the bruising battle over health-care reform.

What happens next?

US environmental organisations say there is still a good chance the Senate will move ahead on a climate-change bill this year. A triumvirate of senators -- Democrat John Kerry, Republican Lindsey Graham and independent Joe Lieberman -- are working to craft a climate-change bill they think would have a good chance of getting support from Republican as well as Democratic senators. Kerry had earlier promised a blueprint late last year. The newest deadline is at the end of January. The Senate is then expected to begin its push in the spring.

Did the Copenhagen climate summit hurt or help prospects for the bill?

Obama’s 13-hours-on-the-ground diplomacy at Copenhagen was seen as evidence of his commitment to action -- which should help give momentum to the bill. The deal reached at Copenhagen by the largest emitters -- though it fell far short of hopes for the summit -- also includes important concessions from China to begin curbing its rate of emissions and to open its books on how it cuts emissions. That will help neutralise the argument that China is not doing its bit, and that the United States would give up competitive advantage if it took on energy reform.

Will the Senate bill look just like Waxman-Markey?

Not entirely. Kerry and Graham are determined to get Republican support, which could mean a number of hard compromises for environmentalists. One is an expansion of nuclear power, with Republicans pushing hard for more cheap government loans for new plants, plus streamlined regulations. There is also a push for offshore oil-drilling. Other ideas include limiting the kinds of industries that would be compelled to begin reducing their emissions. One proposal under discussion would only put an emissions cap on power plants.

What about the US midterm elections?

The Democrats – Obama’s party -- anticipate losses in both the House of Representatives and the Senate in the 2010 elections, which will further impair the prospects of getting climate-change law. But even the approach of the 2010 elections is making an impact.

Democratic leaders say the Senate must pass a climate-change bill by spring 2010, if there is to be any US legislation at all. Democrats from coal and old-industry states will be cautious about signing up to sweeping energy and climate laws in the run-up to the midterm elections in November. The oil, coal and manufacturing lobbies have been spending millions of dollars to frame the proposed laws as measures that will fuel unemployment and increase home-heating bills.

What if the Senate fails to act?

Climate-change legislation may stall in the Senate, but the federal government -- and several states and cities -- are moving ahead. The business world is also coming on side. The Obama administration has raised fuel efficiency standards for cars. California, the most-populous state, has ordered power companies to provide one-third of its electricity from clean and renewable energy by 2020. Perhaps most importantly, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said last month that it would begin regulating greenhouse-gas emissions. However, some Republicans want to keep the EPA out of that role. The Senate is due to vote on January 20 on whether to delay EPA regulatory action.

How does this affect a global deal to curb carbon emissions?

One of the key outcomes from Copenhagen is a commitment from industrialised countries to raise $100 billion a year from 2020 to help the most vulnerable countries adapt to climate change. But America’s promise to mobilise its share of the $100 billion depends on the establishment of a carbon market -- which will be created through climate-change legislation. Obama administration officials have said the country will raise its share from a variety of sources -- not just government funds. No climate-change law means no US carbon market and sharply reduced funds for poor countries.


Copyright Guardian News and Media Limited 2010

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匿名 | Anonymous


美国环保局按照最高法院的要求,参照以前的“清洁空气法案”有可能出台管制二氧化碳的规定。就是说,不管参院如何看这部Waxman Markey法,宣布二氧化碳是危害公共健康的有害气体只是个时间问题,这也给Obama总统提供了一个更好的表现的机会。这个也是美国特别想做的:要么不做,要么一步到位。这也给参院施加了很大的压力,就是他们的决定有可能会被边缘化,所以我觉得“大势不可逆”,参议员们做个顺水推舟的好事的可能性很大。那时候,咱们就麻烦了。

The Senate is very important, but not essential

The United States Environmental Protection Agency in accordance with the requirements of the Supreme Court and taking into account the previous 'Clean Air Act', are considering introducing regulations which control carbon dioxide. This is to say that no matter how the Senate views the Waxman Markey law, the declaration that carbon dioxide is a harmful gas that it endangers public health is only a matter of time, it also provides President Obama with a great opportunity to show his support. This is what the United States especially wants to do: either not do it, or do it one step at a time. This also puts great pressure on the Senate, as their decision has the possibility of being sidelined, so I believe that 'the general trend is not reversible', and the possibility of the Senators doing the right thing and going with the flow is very great. When this time comes, we will be in trouble.

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匿名 | Anonymous



Assistance from developed countries to poor countries

The article says that a key result of Copenhagen is that, starting from 2020, developed countries have promised 100 billion dollars to help the most vulnerable countries adapt to to climate change; it also said that this requires the establishment of a carbon trading market, raising funds through the market's operation, while saying that various laws proposed in America will weaken the level of support.

The causes of climate change have been around for a long time, and take a long time to explain. It is not possible to work out how much CO2 each country "gifted" to the atmosphere. However, we are not treating everyone the same because of this impossibility. Firstly, we cannot rely on monetary assistance from developed countries: for one, it is hard to say what will happen in the 10 years between now and 2020; secondly, it appears that China has already been excluded and will not enjoy these benefits; thirdly, as demonstrated in the stir created when a former student who had studied abroad, after earning money, donated a huge amount to Yale, but not to his alma mater Renmin University, we still need to rely on the government to solve all sorts of disputes. If we want to behave like an important country, we need to be able to act decisively. There is no one government in the world that can accomplish this mammoth task, and so this is not easy to do.
So what should we do? I think there is a simple solution- transfer of knowledge from industrialised countries to poor countries. One of our ancestors once said, "It's better to teach a man how to fish than to give him a fish", which means that you need to teach people the means to live, and not solely rely on handing out gifts . The latter cannot last forever, and also breeds a culture of laziness. Never mind 100 billion, 1000 billion dollars would be a drop in the ocean for the poor countries. History has proved this long ago. However, if the developed countries took a small portion of this 100 billion, say one percent (a billion dollars) and used it to help developing nations establish the capability to respond to climate change, I estimate that 20-30,000 people a year could be trained. These people could link up with the real situation in their country, and map out their country's road towards saving energy and cutting emissions. This would definitely have highly positive repercussions for the whole world. Who doesn't see the sense in the saying "one's thought determines one's end"? The situation now is that both developed and developing countries are not thinking- perhaps they really aren't, or perhaps they're just acting stupid- but in any case the nobody is being very positive in training fresh troops for the battle against climate change. "The emperor is calm, while the eunuchs are anxious". Today, there are no eunuchs, making it really hard to take action.
As for developing countries and climate change, UN standards, such as income levels, economic models etc, cannot be used as a yardstick by which to measure whether or not a country requires help in responding to climate change. The developed countries did not make this clear, which was the reason behind "China being unhappy". We realise that some countries are truly helpless when faced with global warming, such as the Maldives and the Pacific (sic) nation Madagascar. Why? Because firstly, their historical emissions are very small- they are victims pure and simple. Secondly, saving energy and cutting emissions is of no use to them, because their energy consumption is so low. Even if the entire country reverted to the Stone Age, they could not alter their fate. However, there are countries, including America, Japan, China, India, Brazil and Russia, especially America and the so-called BRIC countries, that need to shoulder a comparatively large obligation. Why? Apart from Russia, the development of these countries relies on large volumes of resources, so the potential advantages to be gained are especially numerous. Another aspect of this is that the benefits gained through saving energy and cutting CO2 is greatest in these countries. No matter what way you look at it, these countries are the greatest beneficiaries of the CO2 emissions to date, and it is only natural that they should take on more responsibility. I believe that this is the implication of "collective, but differentiated responsibility" in this new situation. In order to realise this principle, isn't training the most economically viable method?