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Andrew Freedman @ 10:30 AM

By finally beginning at a high level, the negotiations on a successor agreement to the Kyoto Protocol have entered an exciting new phase. Delegates from around the world are currently meeting in Bali, Indonesia to iron out a plan to move the global community forward towards a low carbon future.

Jason Samenow's Forecast

Forecast Confidence: Medium-HighToday: Cloudy with scattered light rain. Steady temperatures in the low to mid 40s.
Tonight: Cloudy with spotty light rain. Low in the low 40s.
Monday: Mostly cloudy with scattered showers. Warmer, with highs 50-55.

Some might call the objective of the negotiations a "road map," others a "framework," and still others (well, just me) an "agreement-abobber." Really what is being negotiated is the process to get to a new treaty that will govern the period after Kyoto expires in 2012. The key goal is to get the recalcitrant United States on board along with key developing nations such as China and India.

Considering the deep divisions that exist between developed countries and the developing world on climate change and sustainable development, in addition to the Bush administration's anti-Kyoto stance, getting to an agreement on reaching an agreement is going to be a rough process. However, recent developments provide some basis for at least cautious optimism.

First and foremost is the changing domestic political climate within the United States. In the six years since President Bush withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol, climate science has solidified further on the severity and causation of climate change, and states, cities and the business community have taken a lead role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Calls for the federal government to act have reached a fever pitch, and many of the presidential candidates in 2008 have committed to carry out ambitious greenhouse gas emissions reductions if elected.

Shifts can be seen in the congressional landscape as well. When Kyoto was being negotiated in 1997, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed the Byrd-Hagel Resolution that declared the Senate's opposition to a binding international agreement unless it contained new specific emissions reduction commitments by developing countries, such as China and India. The resolution was non-binding, but it was clearly meant to send a signal to US negotiators that they needed to get developing countries to commit to reductions of their own or else a treaty would be dead-on-arrival.

This gambit paid off for Kyoto critics, as US negotiators were unable to get developing countries to commit to reductions. Developing countries were (and still are) chiefly concerned with their economic development, and argue that the industrialized nations should reduce their emissions first due to their responsibility for creating the problem in the first place. The United States agreed to this distribution of "common but differentiated responsibilities" in the 1992 United Nations Convention on Climate Change.

This time around in Bali, however, the Senate is sending a different signal to negotiators.

Last week the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved the "Climate Security Act of 2007" in a vote timed to coincide with the start of the Bali conference. The bill is aimed at cutting emissions about 60 percent below 2005 levels by mid century, and while it has many flaws, its movement to the Senate floor has great symbolic importance. It's the first time a congressional committee has reported a bill that would establish mandatory cuts in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from the majority of the economy.

The world has taken notice of this symbolic step. "That's a very encouraging sign from the United States," Yvo de Boer, head of the U.N. Climate Change Secretariat, said at a press conference in Bali.

Of course, while domestic politics have changed, they haven't changed enough to allow a bill like the Warner-Lieberman legislation to become law. It's sure to run into significant opposition on the Senate floor, in the House, and then if it ever reaches the White House it's almost certain that President Bush would veto it. However, it puts some senators on record, ten years after the Byrd-Hagel resolution, that the political climate is warming up to reducing emissions of greenhouse gases.

And perhaps more importantly for the Bali talks, on the issue of developing country participation, the Lieberman-Warner bill is based on the premise that playing the blame game with developing countries has led nowhere, and taking domestic action on climate change is a better strategy.

"If we don't act, China and India will simply hide behind America's skirts of inaction and take no steps of their own," Warner said, according at an article in the San Francisco Chronicle.

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