On Climate, Bush + Kyoto = Obama

In Bonn, Germany, on Sunday, international negotiators to the U.N. climate change treaty have started to negotiate the successor to the Kyoto Accords, which lapses in 2012. They hope to finish the work by December in Copenhagen, when a climactic meeting of the U.N. climate treaty will commence.

The U.S. team has announced it will pursue international negotiations on two tracks. This week, it highlighted its most public position, a leadership role in the path toward Copenhagen, which President Barack Obama says George W. Bush relinquished because the Republican eschewed mandatory emissions caps.

But, interestingly, on a parallel track, the Obama team is following the Bush model.

It hopes to hold bilateral or multilateral talks with the 15 or so biggest emitters around the world, an approach that owes its creation to the Bush Administration. Bush felt that the most important efforts on climate change would not necessarily come from an internationally negotiated treaty that touched on every country in the world but rather from the biggest emitters, including the United States, China, the European Union, and India. Brazil and Indonesia were included because of their rainforests.

The approach drew widespread skepticism because other countries thought that the United States had no credibility on the issue and was using what it called the "Major Economies" meeting process to delay real progress. At the same time, although they may have questioned Bush's sincerity, many experts appreciated the central logic of his approach. That's because it's a lot easier to make big progress on greenhouse gas emissions if you're dealing with only a few countries versus trying to carve out an agreement that every nation in the world has to sign.

Speaking in Germany, U.S. top negotiator Todd Stern told delegates to the meeting that the United States was serious about negotiating greenhouse emissions cuts in both forums. “My team and I came here determined to make up for lost time," he said during the meeting's opening session. Then he laid out Obama's goals to cut U.S. emissions by more than 80% by 2050.