Will Obama fly home empty-handed again?

  • Date: 12/12/09

The New York Times: Can Mr. Obama surmount those problems in his latest effort to save the world? Or will he fly away from Copenhagen as empty-handed as he did in September, when he went there in a losing effort to promote Chicago as the site for the 2016 Olympics?

Mr. Obama enters the Copenhagen negotiations without anything close to consensus in his own party for his cap-and-trade plan to reduce emissions. The issue pits coastal liberals against the so-called Brown Dogs of the Rust Belt and the Great Plains whose states depend heavily on coal for power and manufacturing for jobs. At least a dozen of these Democrats have made it clear they will not accept any legislation — or any treaty — that threatens their industries or jobs. Another Senate coalition emerged last week behind a proposal to tax fossil fuels and return most of the revenues to consumers to compensate for higher energy prices. But that plan, though it has drawn some Republican support, is also unlikely to meet the 60-vote threshold required to call a vote.

It is not at all clear today that Mr. Obama and his allies in the Senate can overcome these obstacles next year, or ever. And without the Senate, the entire international project is in jeopardy because without the participation of the United States — which emits 20 percent of all greenhouse gases — any international regime is bound to fall short.

See: Kyoto Protocol. That was the ill-fated 1997 climate accord that the Senate refused to consider because it made no binding demands on developing nations to limit their emissions. The Copenhagen conference is supposed to come up with a framework to replace it, and one of the big fights standing in the way is the level of emissions reductions that developing nations are willing to accept.

“It’s a nine-dimensional political challenge,” Mr. Grumet said. “There is absolutely no way to satisfy all desires.”

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