Our partner interview this week is with World Resources Institute Climate and Energy Program Director Jennifer Morgan. With the next round of UN climate talks only days away, the eyes of the international climate community are fixing on Doha, Qatar and what kind of progress is possible. Read on to learn Jennifer’s take on what impact national-level climate policy can and will have on these international talks, particularly how President Obama’s re-election may impact the proceedings.
TckTckTck: More than a few observers noted that this was the first set of Presidential debates in a generation where climate change was not discussed. Do you believe that President Obama has the support to tackle climate change in his second term?
Jennifer Morgan: Changed from mandate as I don’t think he has a mandate to do much of anything… Although climate change was surprisedly not discussed in any of the Presidential debates, Hurricane Sandy placed the issue into the middle of the election in a way few would ever imagine. Public opinion polls show a high level of concern about climate change as well. Many companies are already calculating a shadow carbon price into operations.
This all to say that, with leadership, I believe the President would receive support for climate action. This is not to say that it is not politically difficult or challenging, but that is the case in most countries around the world and it is time for the US to get through this as well.
TckTckTck: The Obama Administration has travelled a long road from the thunderous applause that greeted U.S. Climate Envoy Todd Stern’s “We’re Back” sentiment expressed when he arrived at the UNFCCC after 8 years of the Bush Administration, to the deep disappointment with this speech last summer claiming that we cannot stay below 2 degrees. Is the Obama Administration interested in seeing the success of the global climate negotiations at the UNFCCC and a 2015 deal?
Jennifer Morgan: President Obama has stated that he is interested in showing international leadership. I don’t have any reason to question the Administration’s intent on a 2015 agreement. However, I do think that this second term provides the Administration with the opportunity to press a restart button on its international climate diplomacy.
TckTckTck: If they are interested in the international negotiations, what do you think the U.S. needs to do to build trust within the UNFCCC to allow negotiations to proceed in a more productive way?
Jennifer Morgan: First of all, the US should state clearly that it does share the aim of keeping global average temperature below 2 degrees C in comparison to pre-industrial levels. There have been statements lately that could leave one doubting that that is the case. Second, it should outline the measures it has taken and will take to meet or beat the 17% target that the US signed up to internationally and third I think the US needs to take the issue of equity, and other issues from developing countries, more seriously. By seriously, I mean that it should engage in unpacking the term, understanding what countries mean and how equity could be operationalized across the building blocks of the agreement. There is a sense of many delegations right now in the negotiations that the US is merely trying to avoid this debate, but it is much too big to be ignored.
TckTckTck: This election cycle the international community has heard much about the polarization of American politics and how climate change has become a hyper partisan issue. In this political environment, do you see any possibility for the United States to raise its ambition level let alone meet the commitments they have already made?
Jennifer Morgan: Definitely. It will need to be a step-by-step process but the President, by using the bully pulpit, has a tremendous opportunity to reopen the debate on climate change in a country that has been so barraged by extreme weather events over the last months. He can build bi-partisan support on this issue which is impacting many people already, especially those living on the coast dealing with sea level rise. And the Administration has the Executive Authority to put in place a regulatory framework on key sectors to drive down emissions. WRI will update its report on how well the US is doing in meeting its 17% target early next year.
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