After traveling to London and then attending the Swiss Futures & Options Association conference in Interlaken last week, one thing is clear from Europe. They have their attention on the United States and what may be coming from Congress regarding climate change. But what is also apparent from the discussion on the carbon market and sustainable investment is that there is a misunderstanding about what President Obama can do, and what legislators will likely do. Some panalists at Interlaken said it was a good sign that Obama has verbally committed to climate change policy. But what is often misunderstood outside of Washington, and particularly in the international community, is that Obama does not control policy in the United States, Congress does. Right now, Congress is not the first choice to get things done. The growing group of Senators who now say they can not finish off healthcare reform and the climate and energy bill this year is proof of that.
So the impact on the UN meeting at Copenhagen is fairly significant. Grossly exagerated expectations aside, the UN meeting will at best make incremental progress toward a global carbon treaty. At worst, it will point fingers at Obama as disingenuous and at China and India for being obstinate. Some countries will throw their hands up and say why bother if the major polutors refuse to participate? Those on the fence and opposed in Congress will point at the UN as a classic example of disfunctional international politics that should be avoided by the US anyway.
Sometimes the pressure of the moment produces leadership and solid policy. Sometimes it produces more politics and procrastination . December inches closer.