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Congress Skips Durban Climate Talks: Is That a Good Thing?

By Stephen Lacey  

"Congress Skips Durban Climate Talks: Is That a Good Thing?"

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At least we know Senator Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) — one of the fiercest climate deniers in Congress — won’t be making a side show out of the Durban climate talks. He won’t be attending this year.

But neither will anyone else in Congress.

Greenwire reports today that only one Congressional staffer and zero members — yes zero — have plans to attend the COP 17 climate conference in South Africa next week. With the press prematurely declaring the talks all but dead, members of Congress seem to have latched onto that storyline:

This year’s talks did not even appear to be on members’ radar as they prepared to leave for Thanksgiving recess last week.

“It’s awful to say, but I haven’t focused on them at all because first of all we’ve hit a wall here for now on climate change,” said Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), adding that Congress’ focus is now on debt and economic issues.

International climate issues are “basically happening through the administration now,” he said, “although I think Congress has to stay involved.”

Waxman, who sponsored a cap-and-trade bill that cleared the House in 2009, said he “hoped for the best” from Durban.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I haven’t thought about it.”

“It hasn’t been brought to my attention,” said Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.).

Asked whether she planned to go, Boxer said she could not. “I’m too busy here,” she said.

The Durban conference starts on Monday. Many journalists and pundits have already written off the conference, believing that nothing will happen. If past experience is any indication, the chances of a comprehensive deal of carbon emissions are next to zero. But there has been a lot of progress in putting together packages for helping fund mitigation and adaptation projects in developing countries — an important piece that will be central to the negotiations.

Andrew Light, coordinator of international climate policy at the Center for American Progress, says that the absence of Congress may be a good thing, as it will make it less likely to bring politics into play:

Two things make it appropriate that we’ll see a smaller congressional delegation at Durban than in previous years at the UN climate summit.  First, gridlock in Washington has made it virtually impossible for congress to take a meaningful role in shaping national climate policy so there are fewer messages for staffers to bring to the negotiations by way of representing U.S. efforts and fewer parts of the process that will be of concern to their members.

Second, and more important from the perspective of the negotiations, there are good reasons to believe that success in Durban will mean a continuation of the step-wise approach started in Cancun last year with slow but steady progress on the building blocks of a new international climate regime.  Like Cancun I hope to see a quieter productive meeting rather than a loud and contentious one.  This is the best hope for getting a future climate agreement rather than putting all our bets down on a big win in one meeting as we did in Copenhagen in 2009.  This meeting should be a venue for diplomats, and increasingly finance and treasury ministers.  It will likely make more progress if it’s not used as soap box for anyone’s political agenda

Members did said they would consider sending staffers if the negotiations started taking off. But it’s likely that the politicking won’t be very intense. We hope.

Spoiler alert: Greenwire reports that Inhofe may actually go if there is progress during the talks.

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7 Responses to Congress Skips Durban Climate Talks: Is That a Good Thing?

  1. Mike Roddy says:

    Durban is farther away, and not nearly as fun a town as Copenhagen. It’s the holiday season.

    Congressmen are lazy, and would rather get votes from talking points than do homework.

  2. Don’t kid yourselves, deciding not to attend is a deliberate decision. The US avoids embarrassment. And there is little danger in not attending. And this is totally consistent with Congress’s head-in-the-sand lunacy.

    The looming issue is climate refugees — also approached with willful ignorance — well practiced by US politicians.

    The danger to the US is that Durban will unify the world around the issue. Not very smart of Congress.

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      The US still thinks that it calls the shots everywhere. They imagine that going to Durban, like Copenhagen, intent on derailing procedings will work. They and their handful of accomplices (Canada, Saudi Arabia, Australia etc)have no intention of interfering with their business owners’ fossil fuel wealth. Durban will be sabotaged, be sure of that, then the MSM will verbal China and the poor world as the culprits.

      • Zach says:

        Well on the contrary, Australia passed laws to reduce emissions recently. However, Australia still makes a lot of money exporting coal and other fossil fuels.

        I think no deal would be reached with the U.S. even if we did decide to attend. So really, it would be a waste of time and the carbon spewed to get here. The congress we have now would not pass any kind of carbon-reduction bill, so by this we’re looking at 2013 at the absolute earliest. And because fossil-fuel interests have so much power and influence in this country, IF something gets passed, it may very well be heavily watered down. It’s sad but true. We have an incredibly ineffective government.

        My theory is that Obama is waiting until after re-election to start to really push for climate change laws to be passed. Pushing for it now gives the retards on the right lots of time to think of ways to twist/manipulate what he says, and misinform the public in the process.

        • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

          Zach, actually Australia introduced a carbon pollution tax, to be replaced later by carbon pollution ‘trading’. Nothing in the legislation guarantees falling emissions here. And, at the same time, the so-called ‘Labor’ Party regime explicitly promised the coal industry that its tens of millions of tons of exports would grow, and Gillard promised miners that coal would be mined in Australia for generations. Moreover, since the election of Labor in 2007, Australia has been every bit as obstructionist, at Bali, Poznan, Copenhagen and Cancun as it ever was under John Howard’s ‘Liberals’. Furthermore, at Copenhagen the ghastly Kevin Rudd, then PM, was one of the leading conspirators in the Western attempt to foist a fait accompli detrimental to the poor world on the conference, then led the vicious abuse of China for leading the majority world in standing up to the Western plot.

  3. David B. Benson says:

    Saves $$.

  4. Tommy Tolson says:

    All of this must have preceded the IEA’s release of its 2011 report, which says that global fossil fueled energy infrastructure will, within 5 years, emit 450 ppm by itself.

    Fatih Birol of IEA said if we don’t get a deal in Durban that we lose our chance to mitigate climate change.

    How does that fit with the complacency in these posts?