STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Many scientists say energy consumption is a leading factor, if not the leading factor, in climate change. And President-elect Barack Obama is likely to find climate change one of the toughest issues he'll face. NPR's Richard Harris surveyed some experts to see what they might say if asked to write a memo to the incoming president.
RICHARD HARRIS: The first thing a memo to the president would say is climate-change veterans are delighted to hear that you consider this a top priority. We all know that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are building up rapidly in the air and pose a serious risk to the planet over the coming century. The bad news is you don't have much time to help move the world forward on this issue. At a recent meeting in Washington, Danish climate negotiator Thomas Becker said the world is waiting for America to take a strong stand.
Mr. THOMAS BECKER (Climate Negotiator): There is little doubt that without a strong commitment from the United States, with comparable emission cuts there is not likely to be a new climate-change agreement.
HARRIS: You'll have to work fast, Mr. President-elect. Elliot Diringer at the Pew Climate Center says the United Nations deadline for a new climate treaty, in December 2009, may make it seem like there's some breathing room.
Mr. ELLIOT DIRINGER (Pew Climate Center): But I think from a Washington vantage point, this is, in fact, a very, very tight timeline.
HARRIS: It's not simply a matter of sending out diplomats to cut a deal with a 180-odd nations around the world. Diringer makes it clear your response internationally will depend on the pace of actions here at home to address climate change.
Mr. DIRINGER: And I think the new administration will face some significant challenges there - the first and foremost being, getting itself organized.
HARRIS: People who have been thinking about this problem for a long time suggest you need a fresh strategy for working with the U.S. Congress. Fred Krupp is president of the Environmental Defense Fund.
Mr. FRED KRUPP (President, Environmental Defense Fund): The previous administrations began with the international negotiations, and viewed the treaty or protocol as the beginning of a conversation with Congress that could, in turn, drive domestic legislation.
HARRIS: That flat out didn't work. Vice President Al Gore returned from Kyoto with that protocol that was dead on arrival on Capitol Hill. So, Krupp speaks for a lot of folks when he advises you, Mr. President-elect, to work out a deal with Congress on domestic climate policy first, and then take that to the international bargaining table. Dealing with Europe will also require some finesse. Western Europe is pushing hard for very ambitious, binding emissions targets, and has relentlessly pushed the U.S. to match them. But Margo Thorning, an economist with a group called the American Council for Capital Formation, says Europe is starting to feel the pain of switching to cleaner but more expensive forms of energy.
Ms. MARGO THORNING (Economist, American Council for Capital Formation): So, I have a feeling that going forward, there's going to be a softening of the new targets that the European Union has tried to adopt, because politicians understand the link between high energy prices, consumer unhappiness, industrial job loss and so forth.
HARRIS: Be prepared, Mr. President-elect, to answer critics like Thorning, who fear that pricier energy will kill more jobs in America than you will create as you set out to expand the renewable energy industry - that argument will no doubt play out in congressional debates on climate change. With all that to sort out, climate policy veterans like Elliot Diringer at Pew don't expect that you'll be able to have a complete climate policy in place by the time diplomats convene in Copenhagen in December of next year, supposedly to seal a deal.
Mr. DIRINGER: That would suggest that the odds for a full and final agreement in Copenhagen are not very high and might, in fact, be quite low.
HARRIS: So ultimately, Mr. President-elect, you'll need to have a plan to reassure the world that the United States is, indeed, serious about climate change, even if you can't meet the United Nations' tight, tight deadline. Richard Harris, NPR News.
INSKEEP: This report is part of a series of memoranda to the president, and you can read more of them, or listen to them, at npr.org.
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