The First Draft: Could Obama’s Olympic sprint be a preview of a Copenhagen climate trip?
OK, so President Barack Obama’s lightning jaunt to Copenhagen last week was less than successful. Even with Oprah along, the Cheerleader-in-Chief couldn’t clinch the deal for Chicago to host the 2016 Olympics. It happens.
But now that he knows the way to Denmark, might the American president consider arguing the U.S. case at international climate meetings in Copenhagen in December? The White House said he might, if other heads of state showed up.
“Right now you’ve got a meeting that’s set up for a level not at the head of state level,” presidential spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters on Air Force One last week. “If it got switched, we would certainly look at coming.”
Those climate talks might need a bit of a boost from the United States. White House climate czarina Carol Browner has said it’s unlikely Obama will be able to sign any U.S. legislation to curb climate change before the December meeting. And that sets up a familiar Catch-22: if there’s no U.S. law in place before Copenhagen climate talks, can the United States commit to anything? And if there IS a U.S. law in place, does the United States have the flexibility to maneuver in these international negotiations?
Climate negotiators already know the answer to the first part of that conundrum; they agreed to the Kyoto Protocol without backing from the U.S. Congress and came home to find no support for this 1997 carbon-capping deal. The United States is still the only industrialized nation not to ratify it.
After the Olympic disappointment — Chicago was the first city of the final four to be cut from the running; Rio won — is Obama’s presence something that U.S. climate negotiators actually want? The global environmental community cheered his election last year after eight years of the George W. Bush administration, but he may not be the rock star on climate that he was then.
And let’s just face it: arriving at climate change talks aboard a fuel hog like Air Force One could send a mixed message — unless the White House commits to offsetting the big plane’s emissions by investing in windmills or tree-planting in a friendly developing country.
So today’s question: would an Obama visit to the Copenhagen climate talks help or hurt the chances for a global deal? Let us know what you think.
Photo credits: REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom (demonstration against Barack Obama and other world leaders outside UN climate change talks in Bangkok, Oct 5, 2009)
REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton (Obama shakes U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon after addressing a U.N. summit on climate change, Sept 22, 2009)