WASHINGTON – United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon met with Senate Republicans and Democrats on Tuesday and urged them to save international climate talks next month by speeding up work on a climate and energy bill.
Ban’s admonition to the Senate comes as many are worried that next month’s talks in Denmark won’t produce a worldwide agreement to cut emissions of the greenhouse gases that cause global warming.
In contrast to his earlier hopes for a formal climate treaty in Copenhagen, Ban now expects that world leaders would sign a “robust global agreement that can serve as the foundation of a climate treaty.”
Negotiators from some 190 countries are set to meet in Denmark from Dec. 7 to 18.
Ban said he’s encouraged that President Barack Obama appeared ready to participate in the Copenhagen talks, but added that “all eyes of the world are on the Senate” to put the U.S. offer to reduce carbon pollutants into law.
Other countries are waiting to see what the U.S. will do about emissions cuts before they firm up their own action plans.
With passage widely seen as impossible before the international session, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., said that he and Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Joe Lieberman, an independent from Connecticut, were working to line up support so that they could give what Kerry called an outline of what the Senate will debate on the floor.
It remains unclear whether Kerry and his colleagues will be able to come up with a plan that will convince the rest of the world that the U.S. is on the brink of action. Without quantifiable cuts in emissions by the U.S. one of the world’s top carbon polluters, the climate talks could break down in acrimony.
So far, key portions of the Senate bill remain unfinished. One of the most important is how money from the bill would be used. The legislation would require large polluters such as power plants to put a limit on their emissions and buy permits for each ton of heat-trapping gases they put into the atmosphere. It’s unclear when the Senate Finance Committee will finish up its work.
Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., the chairman of the Finance Committee, said at a hearing Tuesday that he’d work hard to produce a climate bill that could get the 60 votes needed to pass in the Senate. He also spoke of damage from climate change already visible in Montana, including an invasion of beetles that’s devastated the pine forests around his hometown of Helena.
The House passed its version of the legislation in June, and the differences between its version and the Senate’s would have to be resolved.
Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, the ranking Republican member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who also met with Ban, said he wouldn’t be part of efforts to craft a consensus climate and energy bill.
Lugar said voters in his state were more interested in getting out of the recession. He also said he had doubts about how rising global temperatures were measured, how the U.S. and other countries would measure their efforts to reduce emissions, and what the reductions would cost.
Much of the concern in the Senate revolves around the costs of ending unlimited emissions of gases from burning fossil fuels. These greenhouse gases have accumulated in the atmosphere and oceans and are the reason for temperature increases.
“Of course there will be costs in tackling climate change, but these costs pale in comparison to the costs of not taking action,” the U.N. chief said.
A global climate agreement would do “more than any single other action could do to jump-start and sustain a global economic recovery,” he said.
Ban’s position of what’s needed in an agreement in Copenhagen hasn’t changed. He said developed countries must lead with binding emissions cuts of 25 percent to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, and developing countries should take “nationally appropriate” binding actions to slow their emissions. Developed countries also should help developing countries financially for reducing emissions and adapting to inevitable climate changes, he said.