The House Committee on Foreign Affairs held a hearing this morning on international climate negotiations. Todd Stern, the administration’s top international climate change negotiator, briefed the committee and was followed in a seperate hearing by UN Foundation head Sen. Tim Wirth (who had Stern’s job during the Kyoto negotiations), Ellen Claussen of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change and Steve Groves of the Heritage Foundation.
Stern conceded that while a legally binding treaty is unlikely to become manifest in Copenhagen next month, the United States is pushing for a “strong political agreement.” (This, incidentally, jives with what we are hearing out of the Copenhagen preparatory talks in Barcelona this week.)
Stern also spoke directly to the collective action problem facing negotiations between the United States (the historically biggest emitter) and rapidly developing countries, namely China, India, and Brazil. He provided evidence suggesting that these developing countries are taking fairly strong action on climate change that, he said, “in some cases, outstrips our own.” The problem, though, is that there is a reluctance on their part to translate these actions into an international treaty. In China’s case, said Stern, “they are doing more than what they are willing to agree to in an international treaty.”
I guess I should not have been surprised, but what was most striking to me today was the extent of the opposition to the very idea of an international climate change accord that emanated from the Republican side of the aisle. Ranking member Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Don Manzullo, and Gus Bilirakis offered a full frontal assault on the wisdom and utility of an international climate accord. It was almost as if they are drawing their conclusions based on an entirely different set of facts than the Democrats. In the case of one of the more outspoken Republican members today, Dana Rorhbacher, that was literally the case. In both hearings, Rorhbacher argued that global warming was probably fiction. His supporting evidence was that we no longer use the term “global warming” and instead opt for “climate change.” He repeated this point many times. Stern, though, helpfully retorted that “climate change” has been the preferred nomenclature since at least 1992 when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was created. This did not seem to convince Rorhbacher.
Another Republican, Donald Manzullo of Illinois, argued that taking measures to combat climate change would be detrimental to the American economy. He was particularly worried about effects that climate change mitigation efforts might have on manufacturing in his district. To that point, Tim Wirth offered an answer that spoke directly to the very local concerns raised by Manzullo, who seemed quite taken by his response. He even asked Wirth out for a cup of coffee to talk about it some more.
It was as if Manzullo was on the verge of being won over by thoughtful argument and discussion. Fancy that!