Copenhagen Sans Congress

KQED’s Los Angeles Bureau Chief and frequent Climate Watch contributor Rob Schmitz is spending six weeks in Japan, as part of  the Abe Fellowship Program. He’s filing a series of blog posts and radio reports on Japan’s extraordinary strides in energy efficiency–and what we might learn from them.

...And a message for the US from Yvo de Boer--An official program from last week's Asahi World Environment Forum in Tokyo.

...and a message for the U.S. from Yvo de Boer: An official program from last week's Asahi World Environment Forum in Tokyo.

With the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen two and a half months away, it’s becoming increasingly likely that lawmakers on Capitol Hill will not pass legislation on greenhouse gas reductions in time. A commonly accepted premise seems to be that without domestic climate legislation enacted at home, the U.S. won’t be able to sign a global deal on climate change in Copenhagen, either.

Not true, said UN Climate chief Yvo de Boer last week at the Asahi World Environment Forum here in Tokyo. de Boer told a packed house that in recent conversations he’s had with Senator John Kerry (chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee) and senior advisors to President Obama, it was clear to him that the United States doesn’t need Congress to act in order to sign a deal in Copenhagen. (Listen to an audio clip of his remarks using the player below.)

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This isn’t the first time de Boer has said this, nor is it the first time this notion has been floated. Last year, Marc Ambiner, political editor for The Atlantic, wrote in his blog about how the administration could bypass Congress for comprehensive energy reform by using the Clean Air Act as a platform. It seems that some of Obama’s environmental advisors believe that the act not only gives the Environmental Protection Agency the power to regulate greenhouse gases but also to institute a cap-and-trade regime on its own. Going around Congress for such an important policy shift would no doubt be a controversial step, but if such powerful and influential figures are hinting at it to de Boer, maybe we’ll see a little Copenhagen surprise on the part of the American delegation.