The delay, which would push a Senate vote on a climate change bill into next year, frustrates a last-minute push by the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, and the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, to get America to commit itself at home to cut greenhouse gas emissions before the Copenhagen meeting. World leaders – and US officials – have repeatedly said US legislation is crucial to a deal on global warming.
Merkel used a historic address to a joint session of Congress today to urge America to act on climate change, stating that success at Copenhagen rested on the willingness of all countries to accept binding reductions in carbon emissions.
The first German leader to ever address both houses of Congress, Merkel said a deal was comparable in importance to the tearing down of the Berlin wall 20 years ago. “We need the readiness of all countries to accept internationally binding obligations,” she said to loud applause from Democrats. Republicans largely sat in silence. “There is no doubt about it. In December, the world will look to us: the Europeans and the Americans. I am convinced once we … show ourselves ready to adopt binding agreements we will also be able to persuade China and India.”
Merkel also raised her concerns with Barack Obama in a visit to the White House earlier today. He told reporters: “Chancellor Merkel has been an extraordinary leader on the issue of climate change. And the US, Germany, and countries around the world are all beginning to recognise why it is so important that we work in common to stem the potential catastrophe that could result if we see global warming continuing unabated.”
Ban is also pressing the Senate to act before Copenhagen. Speaking in London, he said he would next week meet all the US senators involved in the deliberations over the energy and climate bill. Agreement on that bill is seen as vital: without it, the US team in Copenhagen will have little domestic mandate to agree a deal. The announcement of the personal intervention of the UN secretary general is a clear sign of the importance of the matter.
However, the appeals for urgent action were overridden by political concerns in the Senate, which formally began debate on a proposed climate change law last week. The House of Representatives narrowly passed a climate change bill in June. But the Senate version has been repeatedly delayed, first by the battle over healthcare reform and now by Republican demands for more time to study the proposals.
In a move to stem the Republican protest, and quieten Democrat critics, the Democratic leader in the Senate, Harry Reid, said he would ask the Environmental Protection Agency to spend five weeks reviewing the potential costs of the bill. Opponents of the proposal argue the target of a 20% cut in emissions on 2005 levels by 2020 is overly ambitious, and will be too costly for US businesses and families.
The five-week delay would all but rule out passage of a bill before the Copenhagen meeting begins on 7 December.
The president of the European commission, José Manuel Barroso, acknowledged progress before the Copenhagen meeting was likely to be limited: “Of course we are not going to have a full-fledged binding treaty, Kyoto-type, by Copenhagen,” he told reporters today, before meeting Obama. “There is no time for that.”
Ban also pressed another key component to a deal: climate finance. He said countries would have to increase the $100bn (£61bn) a year on offer for developing countries to deal with climate change. “Financial support is the key,” said Ban. “I think this can be a good start, which needs to be scaled up as we go on.”
Development groups have estimated the money needed at up to $400bn a year. But the amount was uncertain, Ban said: “We have to see how measures are effective. As time goes by we may need to change arrangements.”
Ban’s senior climate adviser, Janos Pasztor, added: “The needs are obviously much larger over time and [the funding] will need to be scaled up.”Developing countries are demanding significant new funding at the climate negotiations, which are continuing this week in Barcelona, and deep cuts in rich countries’ emissions in exchange for pledges to curb their own emissions. Problems in the talks erupted in public today with African nations boycotting meetings, forcing their cancellation. They want rich nations to promise much bigger cuts in their emissions than they have so far, arguing that African countries will suffer most from global warming, yet are least responsible.