President Obama Should Host a UNFCCC Climate Change Summit

01/02/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

With an eye on the next US administration, and on international climate policy, two things are clear.

The world needs US leadership on climate change. The US is now poised to become that leader.

In his transition, President-elect Barack Obama has pledged that his administration will mark a "new chapter in America's leadership on climate change." The question is: What will open that first chapter?

We have a suggestion. The US should host a UN climate summit.

New York. Chicago. Boston. Austin. All would be good choices. All would confirm the promise of support. All would carry huge symbolic resonance.

Consider that Obama's remarks were notable not only for their content -- which marks a dramatic shift from the crippling climate policy of George Bush -- but also for their timing. He addressed them to the members of the Global Climate Summit, and all those who are gathering at the UNFCCC's COP14 meeting in Poznan over the next two weeks. To them he said, "Your work is vital to the planet."

If the work of climate delegates is so vital, then we should bring that vitality back to the United States. We should pursue this work here at home and support global climate objectives.

Hosting a United Nations climate conference would focus attention on the US response to climate change. On home turf, the media, civil society, and other actors would bring to bear the kind of pressure needed to stimulate domestic US action and raise its leadership profile in the international arena. Leading the global response will not only help our economy, cities, and overall public health, it will also reaffirm America's progressive position in international diplomacy.

There's only one question. If the US did host an official United Nations Climate Change Conference, what cities might make the most sense?

New York:
Gotham has, by some measures, become a leader in the call for climate governance by cities. It's not simply that Mayor Michael Bloomberg has demonstrated leadership by strongly advocating for action on behalf of the signatories to the "World Mayors and Local Governments Climate Protection Agreement" at the 2007 UN climate meeting in Bali, Indonesia. Nor is it his broad series of sustainability initiatives, including a plan to cut emissions 30% by 2030 and to plant one million trees. Beyond these, NYC is also the US finance capital. It hosts the UN. And it is, nearly without argument, the cultural capital of the US. For its ability to engage a wide array of stakeholders, and its demonstrated leadership, NYC would be a good choice.

Chicago: For Obama, there would be many incentives to host the conference here. Mayor Richard M. Daley has indicated a desire to make Chicago the "greenest city in the US." Under Daley, the city has reinvigorated its parks, neighborhoods, and rooftop gardens, while being progressive on energy standards and green incentives. Chicago is also home to the world's first and North America's only emissions trading system to reduce GHGs, the Chicago Climate Exchange. The windy city may well be a symbolic choice for Obama.

Other cities make sense, too. Austin, as an emerald in a bed of coal, would also be a wise choice for its leadership on green technology. So, too, would Portland, Oregon, often listed as the greenest city. Boston, MA, home of Senator John Kerry, who will attend the Poznan conference, could also enter the list.

As we said before, all would be good choices. What matters is simply that Obama's first climate chapter be written at home.

This blog was co-written by Ben Carmichael and Derek Pieper. Ben is a regular contributor to the Huffington Post and to On Earth. Derek is a member of the Canadian Youth Delegation to COP14 in Poznan, Poland. Both are masters students at Oxford's Environmental Change Institute. You can follow Derek's progress at the UN meeting here. This post was cross-posted here.