In a letter to Barack Obama late last week, nine swing-vote senators outlined a set of demands that any climate action—domestic or international—must include in order to get their votes. The letter can be read as a warning to Obama as he heads to Copenhagen about what these key senators will and won’t support.
The five-page letter acknowledges that the goal of action should be to limit global warming to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, that a 50 percent reduction in global emissions by 2050 is necessary, and that developed nations must cut emissions by 80 percent. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, Tim Johnson of South Dakota, Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Mark Begich of Alaska all signed onto the letter. These senators, who mostly hail from Midwestern and fossil-fuel dependent states, are all seen as on the fence when it comes to a climate bill. They listed a set of specific conditions needed to win their support for any climate measure:
The senators insist that if the US is to act on climate, all countries must take significant, enforceable steps to cut emissions, too. “All major economies should adopt ambitious, quantifiable, measurable, reportable, and verifiable national actions,” states one demand. “These programs are essential for the United States and other nations to evaluate the adequacy, comparability and equity of proposed policies and actions.” In particular, they stressed that a system of verification is “essential” to any global deal.
Another major issue they raise is trade. This has been a flash point between Congress and the administration. The senators want tarriffs on goods imported from nations without carbon limits. Obama has previously dismissed such measures as overly protectionist, but many senators from manufacturing states insist they must be part of any bill.
The letter also calls for strong intellectual property protections to be included in any international agreements that provide new clean energy technologies to developing nations.
“The president agrees with many of the senators’ recommendations and has worked with other world leaders to advance a Copenhagen accord that reflects them,” the White House responded in a statement. The letter is a signal that this bloc of swing-vote Democrats is watching the proceedings in Copenhagen closely—and that the outcome of the talks could determine what the Senate does on the climate issue, which is likely to become a major focus of attention in early 2010.