Can Obama Appease UN on Climate Change?


As Josh noted earlier, with climate action stalled out in the Senate, President Obama faces a difficult task Tuesday morning as he addresses the United Nations summit on climate change in New York. With hopes for a Senate cap-and-trade bill this year seriously dampened, Obama must convince world leaders that the United States can be a productive participant in treaty negotiations this fall even without a solid commitment from Congress.

The meeting, convened by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, will bring heads of state and government together to dig in on a new climate change treaty. The goal, said Ban, “is to mobilize the political will and vision needed to reach an ambitious agreed outcome based on science at the UN climate talks in Copenhagen.” It comes alongside the UN’s annual, two-week-long General Assembly, and just ahead of Group of 20 meetings in Pittsburgh on Thursday and Friday, where climate will be one of several issues on the agenda.

Many leaders—including US climate envoy Todd Stern—are now downplaying the idea that Copenhagen will lead to a final agreement, which buys the US more time to pass a bill. But even if Copenhagen is no longer seen as the final step in the process of negotiating a successor to Kyoto, UN leaders are maintaining hope that these fall summits can bring world leaders closer to agreement on issues like near-term emissions cuts for both industrialized and developing countries and the level of funding industrialized countries will devote to help poorer nations adapt to climate change and invest in clean tech. Obama’s address will likely be seen as an indicator of just how serious the administration is about pushing Congress toward action in the coming months.

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  • Kate Sheppard was a staff reporter in Mother Jones' Washington bureau from 2009 to 2013. She is now a senior reporter and the energy and environment editor at The Huffington Post. She can be reached by email at kate (dot) sheppard (at) huffingtonpost (dot) com and you can follow her on Twitter @kate_sheppard.