Obama needs to engage GOP on climate bill: expert

LONDON (Reuters) - Even with the new 60-seat Democrat majority in the U.S. Senate, President Barack Obama needs to cross party lines to gather support for new climate change legislation, a U.S. climate expert said on Tuesday.

U.S. President Barack Obama adjusts his translators ear piece as he listens to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev during their joint news conference at the Kremlin in Moscow July 6, 2009. REUTERS/Jason Reed

“To get the bill through the Senate, the President is going to need to engage much earlier, directly with the Senators and reach out to the moderate Republicans,” said Elliot Diringer, a vice president at the Pew Center on Global Climate Change.

“This is as much a regional issue as it is a partisan one, and there’s a large group of moderate Democrats who are reticent ... Obama’s going to need to speak directly to the public on the issue as well to build support.”

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a climate bill by a narrow margin that would see large companies, including utilities and manufacturers, reduce their 2005 greenhouse gas emissions levels by 17 percent by 2020 and 83 percent by 2050.

Speaking at a press briefing in London, Diringer said he is not ruling out the Senate passing the bill this year, but warned that it is unlikely it will make it through the conference committee stage until 2010 at the earliest.

Conference committees are created to resolve differences between versions of similar House and Senate bills.

Diringer said the bill is likely to change in the Senate, citing new nuclear provisions, trade protection measures and a lower overall emissions target as possible additions.

“You hear people suspect that the emissions target level might actually come down under a Senate bill, but I think it’s a bit too early to speculate on that,” he said.

Some House Democrats who supported the legislation in that chamber have said they will work with senators to bring the 2020 target level down to around 14 percent.

Last Friday, China and India lashed out at the possibility of tariffs slapped on carbon-intensive exports or measures forcing exporters to buy emissions permits.

Diringer opposes the use of unilateral border measures to protect industry from international competition.

“Whether they’re tariffs or allowance requirements, we don’t think that’s a productive approach; it greatly heightens the prospect of new trade conflicts, putting us on a path of confrontation rather than cooperation,” he said

“In the long-term, the only lasting solution to the competition issue is an international climate agreement.”


Governments are scrambling to agree a successor agreement to the Kyoto Protocol climate pact, which expires in 2012.

Diringer said increased talks between the U.S. and China are needed before December’s United Nations climate talks in Copenhagen aimed at reaching a new agreement.

“I’m not expecting the U.S. and China to pre-cook Copenhagen ... in a G2 formation, but if they can have a closer meeting of minds then that opens up greater possibilities for agreement.”

“Not only does China recognize that climate change is a genuine threat, but I think as an emerging global leader it does not want to be seen as standing in the way of a solution.”

Diringer said Obama is pursuing agreement on three tracks: bilateral talks with China, the 17-nation Major Economies Forum (MEF) and the U.N. negotiations.

“You need progress in the first two to get a successful outcome in the third,” he added.

The MEF, which accounts for some 80 percent of global emissions, meets in Rome this week to try to narrow the gap between rich nations and poor ones on long-term climate goals.

To read a transcription of Diringer's press briefing, log on to here (Free registration required)

Additional reporting by Richard Cowan in Washington; Editing by Marguerita Choy