Critically, the US climate change legislation won’t pass the Senate in time for the Copenhagen climate change summit.
Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said the US Senate will act in early 2010 on legislation to battle climate change, ending hopes of a breakthrough by next month’s global talks.
The US House of Representatives had approved a so-called “cap and trade” emissions regime in June,under which the government would set the total level of domestic emissions allowable and then allocate quotas to companies.
Firms that emit less than their quota would be allowed to sell their surplus allocation to others that exceed theirs.
Obama ‘could still agree to target’
However, the Obama administration offered to curb US emissions by 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020 — less than calls by the European Union, Japan and UN scientists but the first numbers on the table by the world’s largest economy.
The White House said Obama would lay out a longer term plan for a 30 percent reduction of US emissions from 2005 levels by 2025, a 42 percent reduction by 2030 and an 83 percent cut by 2050.
Stefan Krug, head of the political unit for Greenpeace Germany told Business Week the US have more room for maneuvere than they are currently admitting.
“Obama could actually already agree to legally binding objectives for CO2 emissions without waiting for Congress.
“He could also make financial promises to developing nations and make those commitments dependent on greenhouse gas reductions,” Mr Krug said.
China promised to slow its carbon emissions, saying it would nearly halve the ratio of pollution to GDP over the next decade – a major move by the world’s largest emitter, whose cooperation is crucial to any deal as a global climate summit approaches.
But environmental experts warned that China’s plan does not commit it to reducing emissions – and that they will in fact continue to increase, though at a slower rate.
China pledged to cut “carbon intensity”, a measure of carbon dioxide emissions per unit of gross domestic product, by 40 to 45 per cent by 2020, compared with levels in 2005. Beijing also said Premier Wen Jiabao will take part in the Copenhagen meeting.
“There’s no question their carbon emissions would continue to grow under this scenario,” said Charlie Melee, an international environmental and energy lawyer based in Shanghai.
“This isn’t by any means an agreement by China to either cap, much less reduce, the amount of its carbon emissions. It’s only slowing down the rate at which emissions are growing.”
If China did nothing and its economy doubles in size as expected in coming years, its emissions would likely double as well. The pledge means emissions would only increase by 50 per cent in such a scenario.
India, among the world’s biggest polluters has been arguing that carbon caps will hinder their quest for economic development and poverty alleviation.
However it said it was ready to set non-binding targets for cutting carbon emissions in a bid to shed its image as an intransigent polluter.
“Legally binding emission reduction targets are only the obligation of the developed countries,” Prime Minister’s special envoy Shyam Saran said.
“With regard to developing countries, they are expected to take mitigation action but these mitigation actions must be supported by financial resources as well as technology and these can be of course subject to verification,” Shyam Saran said.
The 27-nation bloc prides itself on leading the fight against climate change, and has already agreed to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent by 2020.
Europe also said it is willing to increase those cuts to 30 percent if the rest of the developed world does likewise at Copenhagen.
The leaders called for developed countries to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80-95 percent by 2050, but went into very little detail on how this could be done.
The European leaders, on the final day of a two-day summit in Brussels, also agreed that developing nations would need 100 billion euros a year by 2020 to tackle global warming, but failed to set levels for Europe’s contribution, according to a draft text seen by newswire agency AFP.
But the deal was swiftly criticised by Greenpeace which said the European leaders “lacked the nerve to commit to the EU’s share of the funding.”
“The EU failed to use this opportunity to put its money where its mouth is,” said the green group’s EU climate policy director Joris den Blanken.
Is Australia lagging behind?
Australia’s proposed emissions trading scheme (ETS) aims to curb emissions by 5 percent by 2020, or by up to 25 percent if there is a deal at Copenhagen.
The Australian Conservation Foundation’s Tony Mohr said Australia’s emissions reduction target was in line with most developed countries.
“The 25 per cent reduction is still not enough to ensure that we have a safe climate but unfortunately other countries are putting forward targets that are quit weak,” Mr Mohr told SBS.
The Australian scheme will cover 75 percent of Australian emissions from 1,000 of the biggest companies and be the second domestic trading platform outside of Europe.
Companies will need a permit for every tonne of carbon they emit.
The government plans to give the biggest polluting companies up to 95 percent of permits free in the early years of the scheme, with 66 percent of permits free to industries such as cement and aluminum smelters. Australia produces about 1.5 percent of global emissions.
But it is the world’s biggest coal exporter and one of the highest per-capita emitters due to reliance on coal for 80 percent of electricity.
ETS vote looks to be dead in the water
But the legislation is unlikely to pass the upper house before the December 4 deadline amid accusations of filibustering on the part of opposition and crossbench senators.
Opposition and Greens senators have been putting a multitude of questions to Climate Change Minister Penny Wong on details surrounding the legislation, some of which have already been addressed.
Independent Senator Nick Xenophon is seeking to amend the legislation to propose a 20 per cent target for emissions reductions.
Senator Milne moved an amendment which would see Australia provide financial assistance to developing nations so they can transform to lower carbon economies too.
That was defeated. The Greens also failed in their push for tougher emissions cuts.
Their two amendments aimed to lift national greenhouse gas emission reduction targets to at least 25 per cent unilaterally and 40 per cent in the event of a global agreement, both below 1990 levels by 2020.