Can Obama Keep His Climate Change Promises?

EU Ambassador John Bruton thinks Obama’s stance towards climate change is encouraging, but says Europe won’t be impressed until Congress passes meaningful climate change legislation.
  • Transcript

TRANSCRIPT

Question: How has Obama differed from Bush regarding climate change?

John Bruton: President Obama has differed quite radically from President Bush on the climate change issue in the sense that he made dealing with it and he made having a cap and trade system, to put a cap on emissions and to reward those who limit their emissions center of his campaign. And it would be fair to say that President Obama has received a mandate from the American people through he majority he obtain in the election to act on this issue. The challenge now is to ensure that the Houses of Congress, both of which are also Democratic in their majority, would act on this issue and produce legislation on climate change that is clear is going to pass before the meeting in Copenhagen in December when the rest of the world has to gather and make its commitments along with the United States.

Question: What is the biggest constituency in the U.S. opposing climate change?

John Bruton: I there is a constituency in the United States that distrusts government regulation of anything because they have doubts about the federal government and some of this goes back in to the middle of the 19th century in terms of its origins, or even earlier. And those people don’t want to see the government regulating healthcare, they don’t’ want to see it regulating climate, they don’t want to see it – some of them would prefer if they didn’t even impose any taxation. So, that’s one constituency. And another constituency clearly are those who might lose, or might have to make sacrifices to reduce America’s greenhouse gas emissions. The oil industry might be amongst those and some parts of the coal industry. But increasingly both of those industries are saying, look, we’re going to have to deal with this. We understand that the United States is vulnerable politically and in security terms that if it is this dependent on imported energy, and therefore for security purposes, the United States in any event needs to limit its emissions. But also, there is a real problem with climate change that has to be dealt with that is being caused in part, at least, by human action.

Question: Is the health care debate a legitimate excuse for the U.S. delaying climate change action?

John Bruton: I’ve been a politician for 35 years. I’ve been a member of a legislature for 35 years, and I do find it a bit hard to accept an argument that you can’t deal with two problems at the same time in the legislature. The House and the Senate are passing legislation on issues almost every week and they are very well staffed up, they have plenty of resources for studying issues. So, I don’t really think that it is adequate to say well because we are dealing with healthcare, we can’t deal with climate change as well. I think that a legislature that clearly has in both cases a majority of the same party as the President, ought to be in a position to deal with both items on the President’s agenda. Particularly on climate change because there is a deadline, and that deadline is December in Copenhagen by which the United States has to show that it’s willing and able to act on this subject.

Question: What role does the U.S. need to play in Copenhagen?

John Bruton: I think the United States needs to lead by example in Copenhagen. I think, if you are a country as the United States is which is responsible for a disproportionate amount of the greenhouse gasses that are already in the atmosphere, as is Europe as well, and if you are currently emitting 20 tons of greenhouse gasses per person per year into the atmosphere, and if you’re emissions constitute a quarter of all the world’s emissions, then clearly you can’t just say you’re going to lead by prescription, you’ve got to lead by example as well as prescription. And the background to this, of course, is, that the United States wasn’t able to join the global consensus in Kyoto, so there’s a big fear that we could have [that] all over again, that everybody else would come wanting to make commitments and the United States might agree to something at the conference, but then when it goes back and wants to get that treaty ratified in the Senate and the House, that it won’t be able to deliver. So, that’s why it is important that the Senate and the House should do their business before the U.S. delegation goes to Copenhagen because otherwise, the U.S. delegation may be giving commitments that the world will not be satisfied the Senate and the House will subsequently be able to validate.

Question: Are you confinement Congress will bring at least something to the table?

John Bruton: Well, there is something on the table now, and that is in the actions that are being taken by the Environmental Protection Agency that were announced this week. And that is a step forward, I don’t think it’s enough to get China and India and all the other countries on board, but it’s at least a sign of willingness on the part of the Administration. But for the result of an international conference to be binding in the United States, it’s not enough for the Administration to sign up to it. The Senate and the House must be willing to do so and those others who are committing themselves in Copenhagen want to know that if they commit themselves to something in response to something that the United States is committing itself to, then what the United States is committing itself to is real and will really be adopted by the House and the Senate. And that’s why the House and the Senate need to act on this before Copenhagen, not after.

Recorded on October 1, 2009