US Gets Ambitious About 2015 UN Climate Deal

Partly Frozen Lake

By James Noble

February 20, 2014

Climate change legislation has had a tough time in the United States. Despite this, the US is the first country to submit its vision for a 2015 climate pact to the United Nations.

Taking place in Paris, the 2015 UN climate change conference will set the stage for a new international climate agreement to replace the 1997 Kyoto protocol. Given the ideas shared by the Americans, the new frameworkmay look very different than the one from the Kyoto protocol. Scrapping the “common but differentiated responsibility” approach of Kyoto (which placed different burdens on developed and developing countries to reduce pollution), the new approach would consist of a patchwork of national contributions to curb emissions that blur the long-held distinction between the obligations of rich and poor nations.

The American vision is expected to define a more nimble process so that amendments to the agreement do not require consensus-based support, which is something that often plagued Kyoto negotiations. The deal would require all governments to establish new targets to reduce their emissions after the year 2020, and would hold countries like the United States, Canada and Japan to the same legal requirements of China, India and other rapidly developing countries.

This new proposal is being viewed as an “international counterpart” to President Obama’s major speech on climate change made in June 2013, when Obama laid out a strategy to reach the national goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. At the same time, given the legislative reality in the US Congress, American ambition will likely reflect current domestic action it is already taking and international action it has agreed to take in bilateral agreements with other countries.

Last week during French President Francois Hollande’s state visit to the US, he and President Obama pledgedto cut carbon emissions, promote clean energy globally and ensure that the 2015 Paris conference will be a success. Taken together with recent statements made by US Secretary of State John Kerry calling climate change as great a threat as terrorism, the US is sending a clear signal that the country is ready to reassert its leadership on the issue of climate change.