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What To Expect In Doha: An Overview of This Year’s UN Climate Change Negotiations

Here's an overview of the talks and what the results of US elections may mean for the Obama administration’s positions during them.
 
 
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The next high-level gathering of parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) started this week in Doha, Qatar, running until December 7th.  Here we overview the upcoming talks and what the results of US elections may mean for the Obama administration’s positions during them.

What does the US election mean for US climate action?

As the delegates in Doha gather, questions abound concerning the intentions of the US now that the election is over.  The re-election of President Obama and members of congress that voted to defend the administration’s ability to act on global warming is an affirmation of an agenda prioritizing clean energy and climate change.  Just as importantly, the American public’s  belief in global warming has never been higher growing to 70 percent.  More than three-quarters of US voters want elected officials to take steps to address global warming.

There was also a significant increase between last March and last September in the number of Americans who strongly agree that climate change could directly impact them, jumping  13 points higher than it has been for the last four years.  42 percent of respondents now say that global warming will impact them a “great deal” or a “moderate amount.”  This measure of concern has historically been the softest part of the American public’s views on climate change, with belief that global warming will adversely impact plants, animals, future people, or people in developing countries more than double the concern that it would harm them.

These same polls show that the strongest driver of this change in the intensity of Americans’ concerns about climate change were last summer’s extreme weather and drought.  If these polls were run again today after Hurricane Sandy this concern would no doubt jump again.  Given that we can expect more extreme weather consistent with climate projections in the future, as evidenced, for example in a recent World Bank  report, then the American public will be demanding more climate action.

Unfortunately, given the results of the congressional elections, President Obama will likely be operating under the same political constraints for national action which he was operating under in his last term.  Nonetheless, the president is standing firm on our international commitments for emission reductions.  As he reiterated in an  interview during the election:  “. . . .we can meet the targets that I negotiated with other countries in Copenhagen to bring our carbon emissions down by about 17 percent [below 2005 levels by 2020], even as we are creating good jobs.”  On Monday, Deputy U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change Jonathan Pershing, announced to the delegates in Doha that U.S. emissions are already 8.8 percent below 1990 levels, emphasizing that we are projected to meet our 2020 goal.

While some of these reductions are attributable to the shift to generating more electricity from natural gas, the Obama administration’s policies are effectively reducing greenhouse gases.  A report by the Center for Climate Strategies using data from the Energy Information Administration finds the US is on a trajectory to achieving President Obama’s goal for carbon emission reductions by 2020.  Policies at the federal, state, and local level constitute the majority of the emissions reductions account for nearly 70 percent of these reductions.  The economic slowdown and fuel switching from coal to natural gas together only account for around 22 percent of reductions.  For instance, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a collection of ten northeast and Mid-Atlantic States has already  cut emissions by 23 percent since the beginning of the program in 2009.  Twenty-one states have emissions targets and 29 states plus the District of Columbia have renewable energy standards in place.

 
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