Thursday, November 26, 2009

Copenhagen--and Kabul

President Obama will go to Copenhagen with a proposal to reduce US greenhouse gas emissions by 17% -- from its 2005 level. Le Figaro points out what The Times does not, namely, that Europeans measure their reductions against 1990 levels, not 2005. By this standard, Obama's proposal looks much more modest: just 4 percent. This sets up the possibility of a clash between Sarkozy and Obama, since, rhetorically for sure and to some degree in practice, Sarkozy has been quite aggressive on this front. It will be interesting to see how the two men handle their differences. Of course by the time they meet in Copenhagen, another difference--over troop levels in Afghanistan--may well overshadow the climate issue.

And of course no matter what agreement is reached (or not reached) in Copenhagen, Obama has one problem that Sarkozy cannot begin to imagine: the US Congress. It is not difficult to imagine how the Republicans--and some Democrats--will go after any emission reduction proposals in a time of high unemployment and fiscal distress. What is more, popular support for new environmental protection legislation has been declining in the US. President Sarkozy often complains, not without reason, about the difficulty of overcoming tous les conservatismes, but if he wants to sample a real political dogfight, he should try confronting tous nos conservateurs.

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