'Aggressive Action at Home'

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Monday, June 16, 2008

A29-MEMBER independent task force of the Council on Foreign Relations released a report Friday that adds another authoritative voice to the clamor for U.S. leadership on climate change. Co-chaired by former New York governor George E. Pataki (R) and former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack (D), the bipartisan document makes an argument that has fallen on deaf ears at the White House. "As the United States takes increasingly aggressive action at home," the authors correctly note, "it will be in a stronger position to ask more of others."

"Confronting Climate Change: A Strategy for U.S. Foreign Policy" endorses a reduction in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions between 60 and 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050 through a cap-and-trade system. This puts it in line with the 60 percent goal of the Climate Security Act that failed in the Senate last week and with the 50 to 85 percent target of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The task force insists that the successor agreement to the Kyoto Protocol include developing nations, such as China and India, and it calls on the United States not to sign an international climate agreement without them. And if the United States doesn't sign, the task force urges it, the European Union and others to create a smaller emissions trading pact that could link up with another global pact later.

The report advocates the formation of the "Partnership for Climate Cooperation." Think of it as a nod to the Major Economies Meetings convened by President Bush over the past year with the world's largest carbon-dioxide-emitting nations. But the task force makes explicit that the partnership "would be rooted in an aggressive effort to cut U.S. emissions and would focus on practical actions and implementation of specific strategies." This is a far cry from the "aspirational goals" that have been the sorry hallmark of Mr. Bush's endeavor.

Because climate change will have a major impact on poor countries and could have national security implications for the United States, the task force urged that climate considerations be incorporated into foreign aid. It also called on developed nations to give this assistance more strategically as a way of building political pressure on wealthier developing countries to take action to combat global warming.

None of these recommendations will become reality as long as the United States remains on the sidelines. As the task force noted, a predicate for action is for leaders in Washington to "honestly communicate the challenges and opportunities involved in tackling climate change." Judging from the demise of the Climate Security Act in the Senate earlier this month, Washington isn't quite there yet.


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