The International Climate Treaty and U.S. Legislation

Negotiations to achieve international agreement on a global climate treaty are underway.  During the December 2009 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) meeting in Copenhagen, the Copenhagen Accord was created. The Accord is a voluntarty framework in which countries can commit to their own emissions reduction plans. To learn more about the Copenhagen Accord, check out this summary

Negotiations towards a comprehensive international treaty continued in Cancun, Mexico in late 2010.  Click here to learn about the results of the Cancun meeting.   The negotiations will continue through 2011, culminating with a meeting in Durban, South Africa in late 2011.

Development of domestic climate and energy legislation and the international climate negotiations are running on a parallel schedule, which provides Congress with an opportunity to influence the outcome of the international process.  Moreover, international cooperation towards addressing climate change will provide additional opportunities for U.S. businesses that are focused on clean technology to thrive from exports. The U.S. negotiators, appointed by the State Department, take their cues from Congress, because treaties must be voted on by the U.S. Senate and pass with a two-thirds majority to be ratified. 

Strong Policies Needed in Domestic Legislation for International Success
It is crucial that the legislation developed by Congress is strong enough to provide the U.S. delegation a robust foundation from which to negotiate. To the international community, one of the most important factors of a U.S. climate and energy bill is deep reduction targets for U.S. global warming pollution. Specifically, the U.S. targets must be on par with those of other leading developed nations.

Setting targets at these levels will indicate that the United States is truly committed to moving forward by reducing heat-trapping emissions and taking responsibility for our part in global warming. It will also help secure reciprocal action from key developing countries whose contribution to the global goal of reducing emissions is critical to avoiding dangerous climate change.

In addition to creating a plan to limit our global warming pollution domestically, providing funding to help developing countries reduce their pollution and adapt to global warming is the best way to encourage all nations to agree on global action.

The United States can demonstrate cooperation with developing nations in the following ways:

  • Funding tropical forest protection in developing countries, which will help reduce global heat-trapping emissions as well as promote sustainable development. Tropical deforestation has been estimated to account for about 15 percent of the world’s global warming pollution, and the world cannot fully address global warming without addressing this source.
  • Funding international adaptation to help the world’s most vulnerable peoples adjust to the effects of global warming from which they are already suffering. Adaptation actions will reduce or avoid tensions around such issues as water sources and food shortages, thus alleviating global security problems.
  • Supporting the sharing and transfer of clean technology to developing countries will help these nations to lower their global warming pollution. U.S. businesses and green workers could benefit from the exports of clean technology.

This critical funding will demonstrate a vital commitment by Congress to the global effort to reduce heat-trapping emissions and support survival of the world’s most vulnerable in the face of inevitable global warming impacts.

The United States should match the funding other developed nations have already provided for these efforts. For example, Norway—a country with less than 5 million people—has provided $500 million per year, for five years, to reduce deforestation.  In Copenhagen, the United States promised $1 billion over 3 years to reduce deforestation. This short-term financing shows leadership by the United States and must be followed up with long-term financing and climate legislation. 

Next Steps for Congress
The United States must pass strong domestic legislation that addresses mitigation, adaptation, technology, and financing—the necessary pillars for addressing climate change on an international level. Furthermore, members of Congress and their staff should continue to engage substantively in the negotiations process as they did by attending UNFCCC meetings such as the Conference of Parties in Copenhagen.

Both the international negotiations and the U.S. domestic process are reaching a critical point, and Congress can play a key role in achieving success on both fronts.  To learn about the status of comprehensive climate and energy legislation, click here.

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