Before my departure for Durban, the USCAN client group (including Ethan Case, Meera Fickling, Kimberly Wallis, and myself) compiled a list of initiatives being undertaken in the United States which may influence the US position on climate change. Pershing himself has stated, in relation to the Keystone Pipeline hubbub, ‘It doesn’t come up in the negotiations,’ leading us to believe that domestic policy actions may be irrelevant to the discussions here. However, in his first briefing last night to NGO community, Todd Stern trumpeted some rather flimsy domestic movement on New Source PSD (ever-delayed), new fuel efficiency standards, and yet-to-be-proposed power plant GHG regulations, all as evidence that the pre-2020 emissions trajectory may, in fact, curb itself. With continued efforts to soften the “infinite pathways” statement by Pershing last week, the domestic question has come into sharper focus: What, exactly, does the US have in its pocket at these negotiations?
The answer is: not a whole lot. Executive branch rhetoric on climate has been removed a few degrees from the issue, choosing instead to highlight energy security and independence as means unto themselves, rather than interlocking them in the larger climate puzzle. Empowering our negotiators relies on the dual action of reasonable expectations from the international community and a robust arsenal of US actions on the matter. During a Duke sit-down with Rear Admiral Dr. David Titley and Commander Scott Bunnay from the Navy, I was given the impression that DoD is seeing the light with regard to future climate-related security and adaptation issues, but this awareness seems yet to have translated into action beyond modeling sea level rise around naval bases and the occasional mention of Carbon-Neutral bases. Nevertheless, that entities such as the CIA and our armed forces are paying attention to the issue should be a codifying call to the American public that the government is beginning to take this issue seriously.
In the absence of White House action, the major hurdle occurs at the congressional level, where many lawmakers feel disempowered by a sense that the American public is overwhelmingly unconvinced on the veracity of climate change scientific claims. A vocal few, even, have advanced the skeptic agenda on chamber floors. However, Andrew Light, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress and Professor of Global Ethics at George Mason, presented some revealing numbers yesterday describing the domestic climate atmosphere: The belief that Climate Change is a moderate to high risk to livelihoods cuts across the political spectrum, with only the most entrenched deniers (Ring Ring, Tea Party) indicating that ‘they need no further information.’
This disconnect between public opinion and legislative action may not be terribly relevant in the current political atmosphere, with all this talk of the ‘job-killing EPA’ and the evils of regulation poisoning anything related to climate. Furthermore, even as the climate issue tends to be eclipsed by other domestic issues for many Americans (another blog post in and of itself), when polled about the subject in isolation, concerns are quite high. Future action domestically, and thus any semblance of sincerity in the US negotiation position, thus relies heavily on this causal chain: err on the side of science, utilize the already-existing majority of Americans’ opinions to reify strong domestic actions, then come to the Conference of Parties with sincerity.