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18 December 2009updated 27 Sep 2015 5:42am

Capitol Hill not China could scupper a climate deal

Whatever the outcome in Copenhagen, the battle will move to the Senate

By George Eaton

Everything we’re hearing from Copenhagen suggests that in the past 24 hours hope has begun to win out over gloom. I was never one of those who feared the summit would end in ignominious failure. No country (not least sensitive China) wants to be branded the one that sabotaged an agreement.

But there now appears every chance it will end in a profoundly inadequate deal. A leaked UN report suggesting the emissions cuts offered so far would still lead to global temperatures rising by 3C on average reminds us that future generations are still likely to face a climate breakdown. In human terms, a rise of 3C would put 550 million more people at risk of hunger and make up to 170 million more suffer severe coastal floods.

Naomi Klein contends in today’s Guardian that no deal is better than a weak deal. She quotes the climate change adviser Matthew Stilwell, who argues:

I’d rather wait six months or a year and get it right because the science is growing, the political will is growing, the understanding of civil society and affected communities is growing, and they’ll be ready to hold their leaders to account to the right kind of a deal.

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I can’t agree; the science may be growing but (however counter-intuitively) so, too, is climate change denialism. Failure at Copenhagen would be hailed by deniers as a victory. “The political will is growing”? There is little will for another summit on the scale of Copenhagen to take place in six months or a year.

Meanwhile, Barack Obama has arrived in town, hailed as the man who can deliver a “knockout punch”. What’s forgotten is that he faces the formidable task of getting any treaty past the Senate.

The Senate famously rejected Kyoto by 95 votes to zero and Obama is determined to avoid a repeat of this defeat. As a result, he’ll only agree to relatively modest measures. Whatever the outcome in Copenhagen today, it is Capitol Hill, as Jeffrey Sachs has predicted, that will be “the last great holdout” preventing a deal.


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