Thursday, 10 December 2009

Obama's troublesome shadows


Barack Obama won’t be the only high level American politician flying to Copenhagen next week. Shadowing him at the talks will be a determined group of US congressmen who have one mission: to convince the gathering that like Al Gore after Kyoto, Obama will not be able to have his commitments confirmed by the US congress after Copenhagen.

Senator James Inhofe, who once called climate change the “greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people,” will be leading a group of Republican congressmen to deliver just that message. Climate change legislation is currently struggling in the US senate and it is by no means certain that it will pass. Polls show the number of Americans who believe climate change is caused by man is actually decreasing, falling to its lowest point in three years in October. With the entire House of Representatives and many senators up for reelection next year, it could be a tough sell to convince conservative Democrats to back legislation with teeth - particularly those from coal states. Many in congress have said they will fight any effort by the Environmental Protection Agency to bypass congress by regulating GHG emissions under the Clean Air Act.

The Republican lawmakers at the summit next week won’t be just a sideshow distraction, they will be a reflection of political reality. Much of the American media coverage to the summit has been sceptical, with the hacked email scandal receiving a large amount of attention. An editorial by potential 2012 Republican presidential candidate Sarah Palin calling on the US to boycott Copenhagen saw wide circulation on Tuesday.

Certainly the US won’t be the only country with opposition parliamentarians grumbling in the background next week – the Australian government faces some of the same challenges. But given that the US is key to any successful outcome, the American opposition may receive quite a bit of attention, particularly at home.

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