The U.N. climate-change summit in Copenhagen ended with a resounding thud. But what could anyone reasonably expect?
When 193 nations — large and small, rich and poor, polluting a lot and not so much — are crowded into a convention center with their delegates keeping both eyes on political agendas back home, it was always a stretch to think that this latest round of climate talks could end differently.
But the chaos in Copenhagen is by no means limited to Denmark.
Consider how a divided U.S. Senate puts Minnesota’s Iron Range into a pivotal role in determining the fate of climate legislation in Washington and St. Paul, where lawmakers can think about little else than jobs, the economy and strained budgets.
But before getting to the climate-change politics of the Range, let’s review what happened in Copenhagen. It was hoped that delegates might agree on a framework for an international accord that nations could work on next year when they meet in Mexico City. Instead, the summit that concluded last week showed how impossibly complex the climate problem is, making agreement on a worldwide accord uncertain at best.
Even if world delegates could agree on an accord, chances are remote that the leaders in China, the United States, India and the countries of Europe could set aside growth plans and agree on a meaningful plan to curtail what scientists generally agree are serious climate-warming issues. Just look to the hostile response to the U.N.’s Kyoto Accord of 1997 to understand how remote it is that the world will ever come to accept a single accord.
Help for developing nations
Delegates to Copenhagen agreed broadly that “rich” nations should provide $100 billion over 10 years to aid developing countries to mitigate things like sea-level rises or drying water supplies due to disappearing glaciers. They also agreed to aid Brazil and Indonesia, among others, in addressing deforestation, and they adopted a goal to hold world temperature increases to 1.5 degrees Celsius (without securing anything close to the commitments needed to meet that lofty 2050 goal).
Delegates left emissions-reduction targets to individual nations and, owing to China’s resistance, they failed to require nations to verify that targets are met. Environmental advocates, joined by European nations, where dealing with climate change is a priority, were critical of what most see as the summit’s dismal performance.
In addition, there’s the U.S. Senate’s new reality that a super majority of 60 votes are needed to advance significant legislation. The smack-down over the health bill shows that getting 60 votes will be extra difficult to pass any climate legislation, let alone getting 67 for treaty ratification.
The political upheaval that now reigns in the Senate gets to why Minnesota’s Iron Range may hold sway in national and state climate legislation.
A political fact in Minnesota is that DFLers simply can’t get elected to statewide office without carrying the Iron Range, as Don Fraser (1978) and Anne Wynia’s (1994) discovered in their failed bids for the U.S. Senate.
Last year, Al Franken tasted the fickle sting of Range politics when a former DFL powerhouse in the state Senate, Doug Johnson of Cook, endorsed Republican Norm Coleman for the U.S. Senate seat that Franken won after a protracted recount.
Franken campaigned hard on the Range, and even told a news reporter that he would not welcome the support of the Sierra Club — an organization that, like other environmental advocacy groups, has few friends among Range politicians because of disputes over mining, forest management and protecting the Boundary Waters Canoe Area.
Range politicos fear that climate change legislation would drain jobs at a time when unemployment runs high because of low demand for iron ore. Franken knows he has to mind his miners, and in the Senate he’s joined with 12 other Midwesterners — dubbed the “brown dogs” — who have warned that any climate bill perceived to hurt jobs or manufacturing will face close scrutiny.
Franken key vote
With the Senate in super-majority status, individual senators like Franken become key votes. Already, things like “cap and trade” (capping carbon emissions and driving up the cost of pollution through a market-based trading) and carbon taxes are a much lower priority than dealing with unemployment in an economy that’s struggling to rid the stubborn yoke of recession.
Regardless, Franken has said he’ll take a hard look at the economic and employment effects of energy and environmental legislation (he’s an unabashed supporter of copper-nickel mining in the Arrowhead while environmental advocates raise concerns over the potential for sulfuric acid damage).
In St. Paul, the Range delegation has united to stop environmental and energy legislation, especially in the state Senate.
The Senate’s Business, Jobs and Industry Committee, chaired by Jim Metzen, DFL-South St. Paul, killed the so-called clean cars bill and has shown distaste for environmental initiatives. Metzen lays jurisdictional claim to environmental and energy bills, and these measures are often shredded by Metzen and Iron Range DFLers Tom Bakk of Cook and David Tomassoni of Grand Rapids.
It’s likely that at least two energy bills will be pushed in the upcoming legislative session: a “low carbon fuel” initiative patterned after one adopted in California and a “cap and trade” bill that’s been tried several times before.
The early line is that energy bills in the Legislature stand little chance of progress. In addition to the blunt force of Metzen’s committee standing in the way, several legislators are running for governor and will try to avoid tough environmental votes that could be portrayed as anti-job.
Through it all, Gov. Tim Pawlenty has all but disappeared. In 2007 he made headlines when he signed major energy legislation and took time to criticize the Bush administration and Congress for doing little to address climate change. Pawlenty also joined with Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle in initiating an energy policy task group through the Midwestern Governors’ Association (MGA).
The MGA’s report was issued last spring, and since then Pawlenty has been stone silent on anything to do with energy. Bill Glahn, head of the state’s Office of Energy Security, declined to answer questions about what, if anything, the governor may do to advance the MGA’s recommendations.
But doesn’t a green economy produce jobs?
It can, as Denmark has shown. That country has reduced reliance on coal for power production and turned to natural gas and alternative energy like wind, becoming an exporter of windmills.
But the unions that dominate the Iron Range don’t give importance to “green” industry initiatives because those jobs tend to be lower paying and non-union.