Copenhagen Ends with Tepid Goals: 2 degree C increase; US to cut CO2 14-17% by 2020

Tuvalu and its surrounding waters

The Copenhagen climate summit ended today, with a non-binding agreement signed by industrialized countries to limit global temperature increases to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above the temperature when industrialization began.

The island nation of Tuvalu led a revolt last week by developing nations against the 2-degree idea, asserting it wanted increases to be capped at 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrialization levels.

Apisai Ielemia, the Prime Minister of the 10,000-person island chain in the south Pacific, said his people will have “no other inland to run to,” when average ocean waters are expected to rise because of melting polar ice.

Developing nations also protested a pre-conference paper that was discovered to be circulating among developed nations, with suggested stipulations that have proven to be similar to today’s end agreement.

China and the US, meanwhile, went head to head over what could be quantifiable and verifiable in China. There was even talk early this week of border tariffs that may be imposed by the United States on Chinese imported goods if they do not transparently demonstrate their greenhouse gas reductions.

The agreement called for the US to cut CO2 emissions between 14-17 percent by 2020 from 2025 levels. Presdient Obama called the deal “meaningful and unprecedented.”

Developed countries including the United States will provide $100 billion a year by 2020 to help “most vulnerable” poor
nations (Tuvalu?) cut their carbon emissions in a deal that was announced by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton yesterday. They will
also pay out $30 billion to developing countries from next year through 2012.

The agreement occurred after US President Barack Obama had at-the-deadline talks with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Indian Prime
Minister Manmohan Singh, and South African President, Jacob Zuma

No agreements have been made for emission reductions by 2050, and follow-up talks will be necessary to put binding measures into effect. A scheduled meeting in Mexico City in December 2010 may be moved up to this summer if negotiating countries decide they want to act sooner rather than later in establishing a binding treaty for global greenhouse gas reduction. 

According to the Wall Street Journal, today’s uninspired Copenhagen conclusion also has made it less likely that the Senate will pass greenhouse gas cap and trade regulations during its next session.

That doubt makes the US Environmental Protection Agency’s announcement earlier this month that it will begin to regulate greenhouse gases even more critical in terms of how the US will actually achieve its pledged 14-17% greenhouse gas cuts by 2020.

Warren Karlenzig is president of Common Current, an internationally active urban sustainability strategy consultancy. He is author of How Green is Your City? The SustainLane US City Rankings and a Fellow at the Post Carbon Institute.


EPA to Regulate Greenhouse Gases in Big Boost for Copenhagen

EPA Adminstrator Lisa Jackson and President Obama

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Lisa Jackson announced today that EPA will regulate greenhouse gases as a dangerous pollutant, which comes as a big boost to perceived US-commitment to the kick-off of Copenhagen COP 15 climate talks.

Because the Senate was not able to pass the greenhouse gas cap-and-trade regulations in time for Copenhagen, the Obama Administration has turned to Plan B to regulate greenhouse gas emissions–having the EPA regulate greenhouse gases from major industrial sources and from tailpipes.

Greenhouse gas emission regulations are expected to be finalized by the EPA in March and would begin to go into effect by May.

Cities and local government agencies will need to closely monitor the new federal EPA development as it will have large impacts on municipal greenhouse gas sources such as power plants, transportation fleets and other large emission sources. Until now, the federal EPA only has provided guidelines and third-party resources to local governments on such issues as greenhouse gas inventories.  

While the Senate still has a few months by which to pass cap and trade before its spring sessions ends in March, the EPA regulatory approach versus Congressional legislation is likely to increase regulatory costs and be “messy,” according to Tim Newell, senior adviser at private equity firm US Renewables.

“Having regulations by EPA (versus Congressionally approved cap and trade) raises the costs of high-carbon fuels and power production,” said Newell.

Other non-partisan sources such as the Congressional Quarterly claim that EPA regulation of greenhouse gases under The Clean Air Act will be a “blunt instrument” that will cause court challenges and additional red tape for industry, as well as state and local government.

The move by the EPA might also force the Senate to pass cap-and-trade regulations as a less-onerous form of greenhouse gas compliance.

Most importantly, the EPA’s move today demonstrates that the US “has teeth” to regulate greenhouse gases, which is more likely to tip Copenhagen toward a successful binding agreement including the US and other nations.

Passage of a successful treaty in Copenhagen would then put more even pressure on the Senate to take action, which presents a situation where the nation might have to comply with both Congressional cap-and-trade and EPA Clean Air Act greenhouse gas regulations. 

Warren Karlenzig is president of Common Current, an internationally active urban sustainability strategy consultancy. He is author of How Green is Your City? The SustainLane US City Rankings and a Fellow at the Post Carbon Institute.