Where’s the bill?

31 May 2010

As delegates return to the Maritim today for another round of climate talks, the Gulf Coast is busy coping with the biggest environmental catastrophe in the history of the United States. This catastrophe was caused by oil, which likewise is a leading cause of the climate catastrophe all at the Maritim are working so diligently to avoid. What started as an explosion in an offshore rig that killed 11 people, has now turned into over a month of oil gushing into a fragile yet highly productive marine environment housing important fisheries that employ and feed thousands of people, attract tourists to its beaches, serve as a spawning ground for the endangered Bluefin tuna, just to name one of hundreds of notable fish, birds and invertebrate species that have heretofore been mostly oil-free.  Now, sadly, the spill is swirling around in one big oily mess.  Only time, the Gulf currents and the unpredictable course of a very active tropical storm season will tell the final tale, but the financial impacts are already calculated in the billions, as well as uncountable losses to already overstressed ecosystems.

So ECO is left wondering at this point: will the US learn from this catastrophe and finally pass its climate bill to reduce emissions and provide finance for climate action? Will this be a wake up call for the US that helps realize the benefit of strengthening their 2020 target?

It has been nearly a year since the US House of Representatives passed its version of a climate-energy bill.  And since that time, ECO has eagerly searched for signs that the US administration is making progress in prioritizing climate change on the Senate’s agenda. Some were even naive enough to believe that a bill would be done in time for Copenhagen last year.

But as we all know, it wasn’t. The Senate had other fish to fry and could not be bothered with climate change legislation.  But now that seafood from the Gulf, which provides 30% of the national total, may be coming with more than enough oil to fry itself, will the picture change?

On one hand, the news is good: Americans are waking up to the costs of their dangerous addiction to dirty fuels and looking for a new way forward. The President is finally feeling the public pressure to pass a bill that will promote clean energy and reduce emissions.

But in other ways, the news does not look good.  Some is primarily domestic in scope.  The most recent version of the Senate bill allows revenue sharing of oil royalties with the states, which will increase pressure even more dangerous and expensive offshore drilling.  ECO guesses that potential compromise will be less popular now.

But also very disturbingly, as we warned in April during the previous UNFCCC session, this version of the bill also strips most of the provisions for developing country climate finance that were in last year’s House bill. Let us say that again: the recent version of the Senate bill has much less funding for developing countries to cope with climate change than even the modest contributions of the bill passed last year by the US House of Representatives. Adaptation funding is now only provided from 2019 to 2034, and is only allotted about $1 to $6 billion a year in total to be split between domestic US adaptation and the entire rest of the world. And there is no funding at all for REDD and clean technologies for mitigation.

It seems to ECO that if the President and his administration are truly concerned about global climate change, they will insist that the Senate bill include more substantial amounts of funding for adaptation and reinstate the funding for clean technology and REDD. If the adminstration does not support more funding in the bill, ECO is wondering how on earth they will meet their commitments to long-term finance? One billion dollars is a more than an order of magnitude off what President Obama was talking about in Copenhagen.

So, a message to the delegation to be forwarded to the US administration: where’s the bill? Have you learned anything at all from this oil spill? And where is your plan for securing that finance you’ve been talking about? Can you in fact show us the money?

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