CLIMATE:

Post-Kyoto talks in House's spotlight

The House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming will take a closer look Wednesday at the status of U.N.-led negotiations on a new international climate change agreement.

Chairman Ed Markey (D-Mass.) wants an update on the challenges facing the United States and foreign diplomats who enter a busy year of climate talks building up to a self-imposed December deadline to complete the outlines of a treaty that can succeed the Kyoto Protocol. Those negotiations are scheduled for an annual U.N. conference in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Witnesses include John Bruton, the European Commission's ambassador to the United States, and two veteran observers to the international climate talks: Eliot Diringer of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change and Rob Bradley from the World Resources Institute.

Climate negotiators last met in December in Poznan, Poland, though the meeting largely stayed away from the biggest ticket items because of the awkward transition period between the Bush and Obama administrations (ClimateWire, Dec. 18, 2008). U.N. talks resume March 29-April 8 in Bonn, Germany, and it is there that President Barack Obama's team will be tasked with outlining a preliminary agenda for the post-Kyoto deal.

International expectations are high for the Obama administration after eight years of battling with the Bush administration, but it is unclear just how far the new U.S. leadership will be able to go given the overall economic situation at home and the high political hurdles in winning approval for a post-Kyoto deal on Capitol Hill.

Obama officials have signaled the U.N. talks will be given a high priority. Last week, for example, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton named Todd Stern, a seasoned climate negotiator, to be her top diplomat to the United Nations on global warming (ClimateWire, Jan. 27).

"The time for realism and action is now," Clinton said when announcing Stern's appointment. "Under President Obama, America will take the lead in addressing this challenge, both by making commitments of our own and engaging other nations to do the same."

Some countries are also giving a first glimpse into how they will negotiate at the U.N. talks. In a 19-page draft report, the European Union's legislative body called on all developed countries to reduce emissions 30 percent below 1990 levels by 2020.

The European Commission also recommended binding targets from all countries that are members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, which includes South Korea and Mexico. "There is no such thing as a 'climate bailout,'" it said. "There are, however, important opportunities in addressing climate change and the current financial crisis together."

On Capitol Hill, key senators are also taking notice of the post-Kyoto process.

Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, pressed former Vice President Al Gore on an all-important question during a global warming hearing last week: Why should 67 senators support ratification of a new climate treaty when it voted unanimously more than a decade ago against what became the Kyoto Protocol?

Gore replied that developing countries, including Brazil, China and Indonesia, have made considerable steps to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions in ways that they never considered when Kyoto was being negotiated in 1997 (Greenwire, Jan. 28). "I think that makes it a very different situation," Gore said, explaining that the scientific consensus has also solidified around the world well beyond a decade ago. "The scientists are practically screaming from the rooftops," Gore said. "This is a planetary emergency."

Gore, Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), the ranking member of the Select Committee, were the highest ranking U.S. officials to attend the Poland climate talks aside from the Bush administration. Dozens of Capitol Hill staffers also traveled to Poznan, including several Markey aides.

Schedule: The hearing is Wednesday, Feb. 4, at 10 a.m. Room TBA.

Witnesses: John Bruton, delegation of the European Commission and ambassador to the U.S.; Eliot Diringer, vice president of international strategies at the Pew Center on Global Climate Change; and Rob Bradley, director of the International Climate Policy Initiative at the World Resources Institute.