Thursday, August 6, 2015

Obama's Climate Blitz (2)

When I posted two days ago about the President's climate plan, formally announced on Monday, I hadn't fully surveyed the massive press response. Reading through sources as disparate as the Financial Times and the NY Times' Dot Earth blog, I find near-unanimous agreement (apart from vituperative Republicans and other crazies) that something consequential has happened. But what exactly? Consensus seems to hold that:

1) it's a good plan, but not good enough: Climate Action Tracker, for example, still puts the US effort at 'medium' (below 'sufficient'), and suggests that the US engagement, applied globally, would lead to temperature increases well over the 2C goal;

2) however, the gesture of intensifying the goals in this final draft, coupled with Obama's notable diplomatic initiatives, has been perceived internationally as a major change of direction in US policy, and this sends a critically important signal to the Paris conference respecting the intentions of the world's largest economy. As Thoriq Ibrahim of the Maldives Islands puts it: "We have already seen the Obama Administration step up their climate diplomacy this year and I can tell you it has been most appreciated by the international community." 

3) There is widespread appreciation for how the Obama roll-out has strengthened the position of Hillary Clinton (or any of the other Democrats) for the 2016 election. Together, the President and the Candidate have defined the issue and staked out a position it will be hard for Republicans to challenge--but impossible for them to endorse.

What the plan does NOT accomplish--as the host French government reminds us today in this aide memoire for the December conference--is to advance the question of financing for developing countries. For Paris to succeed, the wealthy nations, led by the US, need to show how they will reach the promised $100 billion/year funding for the Green Climate Fund. Thus far, nothing from the US, though EU ministers are said to be meeting on the topic in October. Meanwhile, Joseph Stiglitz reminds us that at the Financing for Development conference in Addis Ababa last month the US was on "the wrong side of history," as he puts it, supporting its multinational corporate friends in their efforts to fend off tax accountability in the developing countries where they operate. So while the US is bending the arc of its own energy policies in ways that will be important if they continue, its willingness to engage financially at the right level on the global stage are still lagging.

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