Kerry, U.N.'s Ban upbeat on climate prospects

U.S. Senator John Kerry says he'll try to outline a compromise climate control bill, and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is upbeat on Washington's intentions.

3 min read

U.S. Senator John Kerry said on Tuesday he will try to "outline" a compromise climate control bill before December's international global warming conference and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon gave an upbeat assessment of Washington's intentions.

"From what I heard today, there is great support in the Senate for action on climate change," Ban told reporters following a meeting with a small group of senators in the U.S. Capitol to encourage them on.

Ban repeated a prediction that the December 7-18 U.N. global warming summit in Copenhagen will not produce a final deal on a new international regime for severely reducing harmful greenhouse gas emissions.

But he said he held out hope for a "robust" foundation being built in Copenhagen and said further progress by the U.S. Senate on domestic goals for reducing carbon dioxide pollution would send a "strong message" to the assembled 192 countries.

Kerry, a Democrat who is coordinating work on a Senate compromise bill, told reporters: "We are engaged in a process that will hopefully put us in a position to go to Copenhagen with a framework or outline of where the Senate will be heading in legislation."

Kerry added that Ban "made it crystal clear that leadership by the United States of America is critical" to Copenhagen and beyond.

Democrats on a Senate environment committee last week approved a bill to reduce U.S. industry's carbon emission by 20 percent from 2005 levels by 2020.

But that measure does not have enough support to pass the Senate. Kerry is working with Republicans and moderate Democrats on a bill that could reduce the 20 percent target as well as give new incentives for expanding U.S. nuclear power generation and domestic oil and gas production.

Despite the upbeat talk, deep political problems were on display in Washington.

Democratic Senator Max Baucus, who chairs the powerful Senate Finance Committee that will write portions of a climate bill, warned on Tuesday that tough trade protections would have to be part of any legislation.

"We can not allow our manufacturing industries to fade as a result of trade with countries that refuse to negotiate global solutions to global concerns," said Baucus.

Debate over jobs
U.S. moves to protect energy-intensive industries like steel, glass and cement have angered trading partners, including China, and many observers argue such provisions likely would violate international trade rules.

"It may not be what they (China) want to hear, but it isn't anything they don't already know," Dave Hamilton, a global warming expert at the Sierra Club environmental group, said of Baucus' new warnings.

Baucus said a "border measure" would be consistent with Washington's international trade obligations. Such language is seen as key to gaining the votes of moderate senators from industrial states.

Republican Senator Richard Lugar, a moderate who in the past has voiced fears that global warming could lead to conflict and instability in developing countries, had domestic concerns on his mind on Tuesday.

He said the meeting with Ban provided an opportunity to discuss "problems of recession and unemployment in our country." Many lawmakers fear that moving the U.S. away from cheap polluting fossil fuels to cleaner alternative energy will cost jobs and raise consumer prices.

A climate change bill already has passed the House of Representatives, where President Barack Obama's Democrats have a large majority. Although Democrats also control the Senate, it's easier for opponents there to delay legislation using procedural hurdles.

Baucus' Finance Committee held a hearing on Tuesday focusing on the job creation that could flow from a climate bill.

Van Ton-Quinlivan, a director of jobs development at Pacific Gas and Electric Co, a major California-based utility, said designing and creating a U.S. low-carbon energy system could require as many as 150,000 workers by the 2020s.

About 60,000 people will be needed to operate and maintain things like wind and solar farms by 2030, she said.

Margo Thorning, chief economist at the American Council on Capital Formation, said job losses under the House climate change bill may total 80,000 in 2020 and between nearly 1.8 million to more than 2.4 million in 2030.

At that hearing, Kerry shot back at Thorning: "Your studies aren't credible. You don't take into account the cost of inaction."