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Don't Forgive Them -- They Know What They Do

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Nusa Dua, Bali -- From all the evidence, the U.S. government is now determined to ensure that as little international agreement emerges from this conference as possible. Worse, the U.S. delegation's presentation made it clear that the Administration's representatives know that climate change is real, appreciate the magnitude of the challenge, understand the policy and technology changes needed, know how little time is left -- and yet are simply running out the clock until the next election.

Yesterday, first at a private breakfast with U.S. environmental groups, and then in a public presentation, James Connaughton, the chairman of the Whitehouse Council on Environmental Quality and head of the U.S. delegation, presented the U.S. analysis, showing that to stabilize the climate by 2050, the world must reduce its carbon emissions below a business-as-usual scenario: by between 25 and 40 gigatons. He laid out a wide variety of policy changes needed to achieve that goal, emphasized the need to understand that carbon pricing alone will not meet the need without regulation and investment, and emphasized repeatedly that while this is tough, "it can be done."

Connaughton also emphasized, at the breakfast with environmental groups, his deep anxiety and expressed concern that the developing nations would pull back from the progress that China, in particular, has made in recent months by recognizing that concrete, measurable actions on its part are essential in a post-Kyoto world. It was an extraordinarily effective presentation, most of which I would have been proud to give.

So the head of the U.S. delegation understands the problem, its urgency, the solutions, and the global politics of getting the world on the same page. What does his delegation then do? Well, about an hour after the PowerPoint presentation, a story shows up in the Washington Post in which the U.S. delegation is quoted as saying that it will leave the problem of global warming for the next Administration to solve, that it refuses to make any commitments not only here but also at its own alternative -- the "major emitters meeting." And as the reports come back from the negotiating sessions on the various "tracks" that make up what Connaughton called "the Bali road map," it's clear that the U.S. and its allies have been refusing to permit closure or progress on anything -- technology transfer, deforestation, financial incentives, or targets and timetables.

Fifty-four members of Congress weighed in to urge the Administration to help this conference succeed. Al Gore arrives this afternoon to speak to the delegates tomorrow. The entire world is watching and, after showing how much they understand, the Administration is now sending an even more powerful signal of how little they care.

Meanwhile, neither the American people nor the rest of the world are giving up. It appears that the U.S. has now agreed to a modest deal on protecting forests, and that the technology transfer debate is still going on. Mayor Michael Bloomberg is here to send a strong signal of how much progress American cities are making on climate change, as are a team from Google, and representatives from the student climate movement.