U.N. deal 'really critical' to Senate bill's passage -- Kerry

COPENHAGEN -- A successful outcome this week in U.N. global warming negotiations -- including a Chinese commitment to open its books to international review -- is critical to passing global warming legislation next year on Capitol Hill, Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry said today.

The Massachusetts Democrat, the lead author of the Senate's energy and climate bill, linked efforts in Washington to the two-week struggle here to reach agreement on the contours of a new U.N. global warming agreement.

"Success in Copenhagen is really critical to success in the U.S. Senate and in Congress," Kerry told reporters during a lightning stop in the Danish capital to monitor the U.N. talks.

Kerry started his Copenhagen visit with State Department climate envoy Todd Stern and later met with White House deputy national security adviser Michael Froman, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, lead Chinese climate negotiator Xie Zhenhua, British Environment Minister Ed Miliband, Indian Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh and Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Møller.

Sizing up those meetings, Kerry said he thinks it would be "realistic and necessary" to hold the next U.N. meeting in June or July 2010 to wrap up the leftover work from Copenhagen on a full-fledged international treaty. Many say that whatever schedule President Obama signs off on here will become the de facto backstop for Capitol Hill action during the 2010 midterm election campaign.


"I think there will be a deadline for the Senate coming out of this," said Nigel Purvis, a former State Department climate negotiator now working as a Washington-based consultant.

In Copenhagen, officials from China and India have vowed to reduce carbon intensity, while other fast-developing countries like Brazil and South Africa also have taken pledges to reduce carbon. But they are fiercely protecting the right to make those goals voluntary -- or at least not subject to any penalties if they do go under review.

In Washington, Kerry needs Senate votes from a collection of moderate Senate Democrats and Republicans who think developing country verification is critical. For example, Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) and eight other senators sent Obama a letter before the Copenhagen talks started that stated "verification is essential" for the next international agreement to replace the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.

The senators said Obama and others should agree on enforcement mechanisms for countries that do not meet their commitments, so long as the penalties are "consistent with national sovereignty."

Pushing in the other direction are developing countries that are demanding hundreds of billions of dollars in long-term financing to help deal with climate change, from energy technologies to adaptation to deforestation. Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi today called for $50 billion per year between 2013 and 2015 and $100 billion by 2020 in foreign aid linked to climate change.

Kerry said any U.S. funds would come with strings attached, echoing a line repeated several times this week by Stern and other top Obama administration officials.

"Critical to the long-term finance is a sufficient guarantee that people are going to be transparent and accountable for what they say they're going to do," Kerry said. "That's an essential component for successful passage of our legislation in the Senate next year."

Cap-and-trade questions

Kerry will be in Copenhagen for about 12 hours before flying back to Washington to participate in Senate floor votes on health care. He opened his press conference here by apologizing for other senators who had wanted to come to Denmark but could not leave because of the floor debate.

Asked about the Senate climate legislation he is working on with Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), Kerry appeared to leave wide open the shape of that proposal.

"I can't tell you the method or the means or amount by which we might price carbon," Kerry said. "I can't tell you that. We haven't resolved that issue yet. Some people want a carbon tax. Some want a trading mechanism. Some believe in an arbitrary set of reduction targets and let the economy work its way through it. There are several different proposals floating around."

Kerry's comments reflect the growing number of ideas and concrete proposals now circulating on Capitol Hill. Last week, Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) introduced a bill that would set a price on fossil fuels' carbon dioxide emissions and return the revenue to consumers. And aides to Republican Sens. Richard Lugar of Indiana and George Voinovich of Ohio are studying the idea of just setting a greenhouse gas limit on power plants, coupled with other policies for buildings and transportation.

Obama still supports the cap-and-trade approach based on U.S. EPA efforts to control acid rain and smog-forming pollutants.

"We think that a cap-and-trade mechanism is the best way to achieve the most cost-effective reductions," a senior administration official told reporters yesterday. "We've got a lot of experience."

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