Wednesday, February 27, 2008

US to set binding emissions targets?

Uh, no. Don't be fooled by the headlines say our friends at Celsias. Despite fanfare every couple months about softening of the US government's stance on international climate policy, the basic calculus has not changed and, by all accounts, will not change until January 20, 2009. The US still will only accept binding targets if China, India and other major developing nations do the same.

The one improvement in the recent announcement and the announcements from December is the use of the word "binding". You may recall the comical declaration from last year's APEC summit:

We agree to work to achieve a common understanding on a long-term aspirational global emissions reduction goal to pave the way for an effective post-2012 international arrangement.

This was my take at the time:

On the mountain of international climate policy, I'd say peak is a binding emissions target. Below the snowy, windy summit, amongst the alpine grasses and rising treeline might be a goal, which by most definitions, is a non-binding target. Further down, in the cloud forest, where el sapo dorado (the golden toad of Monteverde) teeters on the edge of extinction, you mind find an aspirational goal. At the bottom, in drying rainforest, might be a common understanding, which is somewhere short of an agreement, on an aspirational goal... If our policy mountain were a oceanic volcano, an agreement to work to achieve a common understanding on an aspirational goal would lie beneath the surface of the sea, where if nothing changes, it will be joined in several decades by the once-coastal villages.

The new term - binding obligation - is more promising than aspirational goal. However, since the binding obligation will only be accepted with capitulation by China, India, Brazil and other nations, the US is still holding the world near the bottom of the policy mountain.

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