TWQ: A Changing Climate: The Road Ahead for the United States - Winter 2008
January 1, 2008
What a difference a decade makes. In December 1997, when sleepless negotiators agreed to the Kyoto Protocol, the Senate was already on record 95-0 against the accord, the American public and media were largely uninterested, and policymakers outside the environmental community paid the issue little heed. Now, the cultural landscape is dotted with cover articles in major magazines, front-page press stories on shrinking polar ice, stronger hurricanes, 100-year storms, disappearing species, and Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth and Nobel Peace Prize.
Governors and mayors are taking bold steps to combat climate change, major companies are calling for tough measures that would have been laughed at a few years ago, venture capitalists are pouring money into alternative energy, national security and military specialists are absorbed by the global security dangers of climate change, and Congress is drafting a flurry of bills to slash greenhouse gas emissions. Global warming, after many years as an also-ran, has arrived at center stage, not only as an environmental issue but also increasingly as a major concern of economics and national security.
All this has occurred despite the open skepticism of a White House that walked away from the Kyoto Protocol, muzzled its own scientists, and clung to modest voluntary policies at home and abroad that fall far short of what is needed.
With a nation ready to be led on this issue and an international community waiting for the United States to finally stand up, the next president has a pivotal opportunity to shift course and take bold, broad action. His or her first mission must be to implement a serious, mandatory climate program at home, not only because the United States is a dominant producer of heat-trapping greenhouse gases, but also because it will have no international credibility unless and until it acts decisively at home. At the same time, the president should pursue a layered diplomacy centered on a core group of major emitters; active engagement with key bilateral partners, especially China; and the multilateral UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).