As you may have heard, President Barack Obama gave a speech at the United Nations about climate change yesterday. Now, just to get it out of the way, he had nothing or next to nothing to say about nuclear energy. If nuclear is there, it is there implicitly only.
We can assume Obama would like to have come with more to offer – above all, an energy bill that addresses climate change. If the tea leaf readings about cryptic statements from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (R-Nev.) are correct, there will be no bill this year.
Much of the speech echoed the health care speech Obama gave last week in that it focused on the need for action.
But I'm here today to say that difficulty is no excuse for complacency. Unease is no excuse for inaction. And we must not allow the perfect to become the enemy of progress.
That does sound more directed to Congress than the U.N., but Obama talked to the international community as well.
But those rapidly growing developing nations that will produce nearly all the growth in global carbon emissions in the decades ahead must do their part, as well. Some of these nations have already made great strides with the development and deployment of clean energy.
Asking developing countries to forego the rewards of cheap fossil fuel based electricity because the developed world created a potential disaster reaping those rewards first has a tinny ring to it. (Which doesn’t mean Obama isn’t right – renewable and sustainable energy sources give the developing world a head start the developed world did not have.)
China's new national plan on climate change offered few new targets on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but outlined how it intended to meet the goals it has already set, analysts say.
This includes the use of more wind, nuclear and hydro power as well as making coal-fired plants more efficient, the document outlined.
"China is a developing country. Although we do not have the obligation to cut emissions, it does not mean we do not want to shoulder our share of responsibilities," Ma Kai, chairman of China's National Development and Reform Commission, said.
There’s some significant wiggle room in there. And we’re pretty sure this didn’t de-wiggle it:
"We must reconcile the need for development with the need for environmental protection," he said, adding that China wanted to "blaze a new path to industrialization".
But one has to say this knocks the wind out of the argument that China (and India) have to go first if America is to move. Point to China.
The gap in rhetoric and action between the U.S. and China didn’t go unnoticed.
“China and India have announced very ambitious national climate change plans — in the case of China, so ambitious that it could well become the front-runner in the fight to address climate change,” U.N. climate chief Yvo de Boer told The Associated Press on Monday. “The big question mark is the U.S.” [India announced its climate change plants last year at a G8 summit.]
Gulp! Never doubt the U.N.’s ability to slap the North American beast when it gets a chance. Remember, too, that the administration has the EPA ready to do some heavy duty regulating if Congress gets cold feet.
Um, so how’s that going?
[Sen. Lisa] Murkowski [R-Alaska] is one of several senators planning to use the measure to limit the Obama administration's authority to regulate greenhouse gases. She may introduce an amendment [to the 2010 EPA funding bill]that would prohibit EPA from regulating heat-trapping emissions from stationary sources like power plants and industrial facilities for one year.
Presumably, that one year ban aims to give Congress a chance to act. We don’t know how likely such an amendment is to succeed or how Obama might respond to it.
Today, Obama spoke about North Korea and Iranian nuclear ambitions, but aimed for an overall more conciliatory tone than the Bush administration had done. He also made note that the U.S paid its dues to the U.N., a change from several previous administrations. He was followed by Libya’s Muammar el-Qaddafi, who overshot his 15 minute speaking limit by over an hour. Coming up: Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Interesting times at the U.N.
A Chinese nuclear plant. It’s worth noting that China, India and other countries that adopt nuclear, hydro, etc., are starting with the very latest technology. Not that Europe and America need fear fuel rods crashing through containment walls, but very soon, there will be a notable disjuncture between “developed” countries and “developing” countries when it comes to the latest and greatest technology. We’ll let you decide how worrisome that is.