Christiana Figueres startled delegates when she addressed the United Nations climate conference in Bonn last week: “I do not believe we will ever have a final agreement on climate change, certainly not in my lifetime,” the Costa Rican diplomat told them.The New York Times has a similarly realistic perspective on prospects for US domestic action:
“If we ever have a final, conclusive, all-answering agreement, then we will have solved this problem. I don’t think that’s on the cards.” Addressing the issue successfully would “require the sustained effort of those who will be here for the next 20, 30, 40 years”.
Her words count, and not only because of her 15-year involvement in tackling global warming. Next month, Ms Figueres takes over from the Netherlands’ Yvo de Boer as executive secretary of the UN’s climate change secretariat, based in the former west German capital.
As Bonn’s low, heavy skies pelted delegates with rain, much of the rest of the talk during the long sessions was of technical matters such as the measurement of greenhouse gases. But in quiet conversations in the corridors, in cafes over hurried coffees or while scurrying between thunderstorms, the deeper question some officials were asking was whether there was indeed any point in continuing with this type of negotiation, which had failed for 20 years. Could the UN climate talks be reformed – or were they just too broken to fix?
Images of gushing oil and dying pelicans in the Gulf of Mexico have stirred anger and agony in Washington. But are they enough to prod the Senate to act on long-delayed clean energy and climate change legislation?The fact that the international process is going nowhere fast and the US is not going to cap emissions is not news to anyone who has been paying attention. What is news is that the FT and the NYT have adopted perspectives on the issue of climate policy that might enable alternative conceptions of climate policy to find a place in the broader discussion.
Energy, maybe. Climate, probably not. There is growing sentiment for a measure that penalizes BP, imposes higher costs and tougher regulations on offshore drillers and takes some steps toward reducing overall energy and petroleum consumption.
But despite the outrage over the spill, there appears to be limited appetite in the Senate for a broad-based effort to cap greenhouse gas emissions across the board.