Climate change policies should come domestically

The 2009 Copenhagen Climate Change Conference took place in December and ended in what many considered to be, if not an utter failure, a near disaster. Pressure from the European Union, the United States and China resulted in an inability to agree on a pact for limiting future carbon emissions. President Barack Obama’s pleas to the Chinese Prime Minister resulted in a skimpy five-page document.

The positive result is that an accord was agreed upon. Efforts are being made to lower the impact of carbon fuel emissions by industrialized countries, but a consensus is far from being reached on what policy measures should be instituted. China claims that it will soon be the largest contributor to carbon emissions on the per capita level, but aligned with economic growth, it is actually diminishing its impact by a significant percentage. According to the U.S. and the European Union, which currently account for one-third of total output, China’s carbon emissions reduction is the only way to achieve their goal of preventing a global rise in temperature.

Within the U.S., businesses worry that newer technologies will have a negative effect on their profit margin. As countries industrialize, they use the cheapest, most cost-efficient technology, which at the moment happens to also be harmful to the environment. These issues have resulted in a stagnant effort by the leading economic powers to impose restrictions in an effort to “improve” the climate change issue.

The U.S.’ refusal to participate in the Kyoto Protocol left a bad taste in the mouths of many diplomatic representatives. Its abstention from this policy stems from a variety of reasons, but perhaps the most important was the fact that other countries would not be signing.

As Obama puts this issue at the forefront of his policy initiatives, he must take these issues into consideration. The U.S. is a dominant economic power. By instituting a system of cap and trade, in which large businesses can buy their way to more legal carbon output, such future agreements jeopardize the potential of smaller, developing nations. If the U.S. is going to abstain from one policy and embrace another, it must be done without regard to self-interest. Leading a convention on climate change is an ambitious goal, but the foreign perception is that the U.S. is once again trying to create a positive situation for itself and continuing to increase its global influence.

If Obama is serious about promoting this issue, he must take the necessary steps to reform even if an agreement cannot be reached on the global level. By instating national changes on carbon output, the U.S. would set an example not only for developing nations, but also distrusting larger countries that we are competing with economically.

A treaty certainly looks nice on the wall, but if the larger issue is change, then the most effective results will be achieved through domestic efforts. From there, decrying the U.S. as hypocritical will be a null point, and the remaining nations will have to look to themselves for change.

Matt Boaz is a senior political science major from Edmond, Okla.