Senate road map raises expectations for Obama on world stage

COPENHAGEN -- A Senate blueprint on energy and global warming legislation released yesterday quickly rippled across the Atlantic as all eyes focus on what President Obama can deliver when he arrives here next week at the close of U.N.-led climate negotiations.

The four-page framework from Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) offers several broad statements that are at the center of the Copenhagen, Denmark, negotiations and the Obama administration's position.

The senators slightly lowered their sights on greenhouse gas emission limits for 2020, dropping from 20 percent to the same "range" of 17 percent below 2005 levels that the United States has already put on the table. And they pledged to include in their bill long-term financing for developing countries' adaptation, deforestation and technology deployment efforts (see related story).

Reflecting several critical points for moderate lawmakers, the senators also call for "a strong international agreement that includes real, measurable, reportable, verifiable and enforceable actions by all nations."

Observers in Copenhagen and Washington said the Senate efforts raise countless questions in the days and months ahead about whether Obama can really pass a bill -- and in turn keep the momentum going on the U.N. talks that are already in a critical stage in Denmark.


Dirk Forrister, managing director of Natsource and former chairman of the Clinton-era White House Climate Change Task Force, said the 17 percent range for emissions should give diplomats confidence that a unified position is forming in Washington.

"More people will be encouraged as a sign of things beginning to solidify in a consistent direction," Forrister said. "If you have a position by the administration, the House and the Senate that all actually have the same number, that's a good sign."

Elliot Diringer, vice president for international strategies at the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, found reasons for optimism.

"It's a very constructive bipartisan message largely consistent with the president's, and that should give other parties greater confidence that the U.S. will be in a position to deliver on its provisional target," Diringer said. "The greater that confidence, the stronger the prospects for a positive outcome here."

Several Republican opponents of cap-and-trade legislation are scheduled to arrive in Copenhagen next week -- Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) has called the coalition a "truth squad" -- to argue such a bill has no chance to make it into law. Inhofe spokesman Matthew Dempsey said the Kerry-Graham-Lieberman blueprint "should send a clear signal to Copenhagen that the current cap-and-trade legislative efforts in Congress are dead and that prospects for any type of new proposal remain on the drawing board."

Failure on Capitol Hill does have many delegates concerned that the U.N. negotiations could also break down, especially if Obama doesn't have a good backup plan.

"It's very important," Vijai Sharma, India's environment secretary, said of the need to pass a U.S. climate law.

Bill Hare, a scientific adviser to Grenada's delegation who also works for the German Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, said that many countries have been tracking Obama's policies and the Capitol Hill debate.

"The quality of that bill and the way it connects to the international position of the United States is fundamental to the outcome of this process," Hare said. "If the U.S. bill falls over, people in some ways would have to go back to square one in terms of how you designed a system or to see what the U.S. administration is to deal with that. That's quite important."

Expectations have long been high among the international community for Obama following eight frustrating years fighting with the George W. Bush administration. But many in Copenhagen are already signaling displeasure with the Senate blueprint and the prospects for the United States' pledge.

"This framework is an insult to the hundreds of millions of people who are already facing the impacts of climate change, and President Obama can't support this and still claim to be a leader in Copenhagen," said Greenpeace USA executive director Phil Radford.

Lumumba Stanislaus Di-Aping, a Sudanese diplomat who speaks for the Group of 77 developing countries, insisted on a U.S. position that is widely seen as politically impractical.

"We do believe President Obama and his government, the American Congress, the American people, should join the Kyoto Protocol," he told reporters.

State Department climate envoy Todd Stern earlier this week said the Kyoto Protocol is a nonstarter in the United States. But Di-Aping did not back down when asked if he thinks Obama would ever budge from that longstanding policy.

"He has to persuade them," Di-Aping said. "The climate change is not to go away by rejecting what common sense and science tell us what to do because we want to maintain a style of life that's simply maintained by overconsumption."

The Copenhagen negotiations may end up drawing out Obama and Hill leaders on the timing for their efforts.

Although Senate Democrats say they will consider the bill next spring, Obama may face demands from world leaders to be more specific, said Alden Meyer, director of international climate strategies at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

The conference's Danish hosts are trying to line up support on a political agreement that spells out the negotiation schedule for next year, with an end date either in June or next December in Mexico City. Meyer said the United States would soon be pressed into taking a stance on a "real deadline" for negotiations that should be influential back on Capitol Hill.

"In some ways, whatever negotiation mandate that's set here at the end of next week becomes the de facto deadline for completion of the U.S. process," Meyer said, "Otherwise, we're back in the same box, that we come to the next negotiation session trying to get a final deal with the Congress not having acted."

Reporter Robin Bravender contributed from Washington, D.C.

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