Why Climate Change Got Tabled

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It's official: There will be no binding agreement to address global warming negotiated at Copenhagen next month. World leaders dashed high hopes for a treaty this year, rolling back expectations after it became clear that a strong treaty would be too politically costly for the summit's major players, including the United States. Commentators are somber, if unsurprised, by the world's unwillingness to negotiate a strong successor to the Kyoto Protocol, which is due to expire in 2012. Much of the frustration and disappointment has come to rest on President Obama. Pundits argue that his inability to deal aggressively with global warming, as he promised during his campaign, is embarrassing within the United States and abroad. Here's why:

  • Congress Has Made Obama Look Like Bush  John Broder of The New York Times says Obama's soaring campaign promises of climate change have met a cold, hard reality that makes the "change" president of look disturbingly similar to his predecessor. "President Obama came into office pledging to end eight years of American inaction on climate change under President George W. Bush," Broder writes. But now, Obama is "in the awkward position of being, at least for now, as unlikely to spearhead an international effort to combat global warming as his predecessor — if for different reasons...Obama has found himself limited in his ambitions by a Congress that is unwilling to move as far or as fast as he would like."
  • American Negotiators Neutered by Hypocrisy  Bryan Walsh of Time Magazine writes that "the failure of the U.S. Senate to pass carbon cap legislation leaves American negotiators in a difficult position at Copenhagen." Without a climate bill in the Senate, Broder says it would be difficult to lobby for such emissions-reducing agreements globally. "The Obama Administration has been very clear that it will not accept binding emissions targets on a global deal until Congress has accepted domestic cuts at home."
  • Domestic Disagreements Hamstring the U.S.  An editorial in The Guardian says President Obama can't even negotiate a climate change agreement within his own borders, let alone sell such a treaty on the world stage. "Without a commitment from a major polluter, such as the US, what chance is there of negotiating global compliance?" They say the failure is especially embarrassing since China is expected to reduce its carbon emissions significantly in the coming years. "Not without reason are US officials anxious about the timing of an expected announcement from China on its first carbon intensity target, with reductions of about 40 to 45% relative to economic growth by 2020. China would thus be joining other key nations, such as Brazil and Japan, who have pledged more action than the US."
  • Obama's Fruitless Multilateralism  At Commentary, Jennifer Rubin says the bad news on Copenhagen is more evidence that Obama's leadership is lacking. "Apparently, Obama has once again not been able, by the mere force of his presence, to move other nations to do what they’d rather not."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.