What Americans Need to Know About the Copenhagen Global Warming Conference

by Ben Lieberman
The Heritage Foundation
Special Report #71
November 17, 2009

Abstract: In December, the 15th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change will meet in Copenhagen to work on a successor treaty to the Kyoto Protocol. U.S. negotiators should refuse to sign any climate change treaty that does not include meaningful participation by China, India, and other major developing nations or that would harm the U.S. economy or threaten U.S. sovereignty.

The 15th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change will be held in Copenhagen in December. It is the most important international conference on global warming since the 1997 Kyoto conference that produced the Kyoto Protocol. As the U.S. and other delegations prepare for this conference, the American people need to know that, in addition to harming the U.S. economically and environmentally, a new global warming treaty would threaten U.S. sovereignty.

Why Is the Copenhagen Conference Important?

The 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which went into effect in 2005, is the major global warming treaty currently in force. Under the treaty, the nations of Europe as well as Japan, Canada, and most other developed countries committed themselves to reducing greenhouse gas emissions — chiefly carbon dioxide from fossil fuels — which are blamed for global warming. Generally, these nations are supposed to reduce emissions by 5 percent below 1990 baseline levels by 2012. The U.S. has not ratified the treaty. China, India, and other developing nations have ratified it, but are exempted from any obligation to reduce emissions. Notwithstanding questions about the seriousness of global warming, the Kyoto Protocol has failed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and has had no effect on global warming.

Because the Kyoto Protocol’s provisions will expire in 2012, Kyoto proponents have identified the Copenhagen conference as the critical meeting for extending and expanding the treaty’s targets and timetables beyond 2012. Copenhagen is also seen, especially by Europeans, as an opportunity to force the U.S. to join the other developed countries required to reduce emissions. Hopes of achieving this end rose considerably when President Barack Obama took office. The President will be under pressure to keep his promises to reduce America’s greenhouse gas emissions.

What Will Be Different in Copenhagen?

The representatives of the nations that signed the Kyoto Protocol and who see it as a success that should be extended have long identified Copenhagen as crucial to the future of global warming policy. Their main objective is to expand the emissions reduction targets set in Kyoto. They also seek to make these stringent targets binding, verifiable, and enforceable and to apply them to the U.S. for the first time. They hope to achieve more meaningful participation from the developing world. However, these goals will make it difficult for many individual nations to agree to any treaty in Copenhagen.

U.S. negotiators should stand firm in protecting American interests and not sign any treaty just for the sake of signing a treaty.

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