11/24/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Copenhagen UN Climate Summit Needs to Produce

There may be climate change legislation coming out of this Congress. There may be a new global United Nations resolution guideline on global warming and carbon reduction. But there will likely not be a "Kyoto-style Treaty" emerging from the UN Summit on Climate Change in Copenhagen, Denmark early December. Despite the resolve and "leading by example" of the Danes.

The foreshadowing happened at the UN General Assembly this week as nations outlined their own, country-by-country goals for carbon reduction. One observer called this a sort of "global federalism" in which a federation provides a premise and the nations involved do their own thing. Japan is most aggressive with a firm commitment to reduce greenhouse gases 25 percent by the year 2020. Climate change advocates are not likely to see a treaty. President Obama told the assembly the U.S. wants "flexibility" in its own approach to global warming including touting the Administrations heavy investment in clean energy (see related post on DOE and ARRA stimulus funding). The call for a carbon cap continues unabated in Washington.

China is stepping-up. President Hu Jintao talked in New York about mandatory targets and said China will "endeavor to cut carbon dioxide emissions per unit by a 'notable margin' by 2020." China rules in this climate change effort due to its population, its coal burning carbon -based emissions, and its race to find solutions, technologies, and alternative energy sources. U.S. experts worry China may leave us in the dust.

Last week, The Atlantic Monthly hosted an insightful Green Intelligence Summit at the Newseum. Here we heard from Obama administration leaders including EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, global climate change policy advocates like Ira Magaziner, and industry execs including Duke Power CEO offering practical advice on solar, wind and other clean power sources. In fact, Duke's exec said that "Solar will beat wind" in deployment because of existing transmission capabilities.

Lisa Jackson said: "I am a huge believer in markets and the price on carbon (caps) creates a new paradigm." She noted investors and "entrepreneurs in the energy field" will emerge. "Working toward clean energy economy flattens the (playing field) and allows others in!" Jackson believes it is like the Internet. Kids will get "in front" of the new clean economy. Later, an example was cited that Harvard students have access to smart grid and other technologies on campus. The students have formed a contest to see who can leave a lower carbon footprint.

Administrator Jackson called for a "coalition for change." Change the "face" of environmental movement. Basically, people want to keep-out the cold and save on energy bills. "Environmentalism seems like enclave of the well-off," and must address more common concerns. The EPA and Jackson added: "72 percent of minorities live in areas that may not pass clean air standards. Many blacks and city kids have asthma."

Put Up Your "Dukes"

Jim Rogers, CEO of Duke Energy, raised some controversy at The Atlantic's Green Intel Forum. He said the EPA's old "command and control" hammer means "screw the markets" taking issue with Administrator Jackson's idea. "Universal access was a dream 100 years ago" with the early electrification of our country. Rogers: "Smart grid enables so much but it is hard to predict which technologies will be the winners. His guess is "nuclear power beats coal" citing France and "solar will trump wind" because it fits with existing smart grid and the transmission already works.

Administrator Jackson said the administration is working aggressively on energy and the environment, in tandem. She suggested EPA has already done more in eight months than the Bush administration did for the environment in eight years.

China is the Giant

The State Department weighed-in as it plans for U.S. participation in the world climate change summit in Copenhagen. Special Envoy for Climate Change Stern said we will spend the next five years pushing China (to act on emissions) and the "next 20 years chasing them." He said the U.S. is playing politics on China and has put us in a "ridiculous ideological box." Because of this political level of influence, the "U.S. could miss the greatest technology revolution." Climate change and our country's energy future is a massive opportunity for growth.

"China will do more than they are willing to agree to do," in Copenhagen on the environment, Stern said. State's negotiations are stuck at "ideological loggerheads." China is doing a lot. The diplomat added it has become "seized with the climate issue," said Stern. At The Atlantic event, on September 16, Stern made a bold call to action: "China has a choice to make. The U.S. would accept a deal (on climate change agreements) that is in really in China's own interest."

The State Department negotiator said in terms of U.S. energy efficiency there is "vast room for improvement." He called on the industry leaders at the Climate Intel Summit to focus on breakthrough technologies. In Copenhagen, I will also attend a companion "Bright Green" trade show where some of these technologies may be on display. But not from China!

Mike Smith is a political blogger. He is also CEO of Mike Smith Public Affairs, a Washington area firm focused on clean energy and climate change initiatives. Smith will take part in the Global Climate Summit in Copenhagen and file his column from Denmark in early Dec.