Even though the climate change PR machines are spinning away in the aftermath of Copenhagen’s COP 15, a few of the Copenhagen Accord’s more troubling consequences are not getting the attention they deserve.   

Senator McCain called “the agreement to take note of the accord” reached by the United States and a handful of developed nations a “nothing burger.” Senator Kerry, on the other hand, believes the accord is important and called China’s participation “the most critical thing” to ensuring Senate passage of the national energy tax, even though few observers believe China will actually do anything to curtail their growing use of carbon-based energy.  Meanwhile, the question of whether the outcome in Denmark was enough to advance international efforts to control emissions can best be summarized by Henry Derwent, president of the Geneva-based International Emissions Trading Association, who noted that the climate talks were a “step backward” in terms of a signal that will support carbon prices.

While the Copenhagen Accord does not represent a major change from the status quo, there are a few troubling aspects of the U.S. effort in Copenhagen worth noting.   

First, U.S. negotiators opposed efforts from China and India to ban the use of border tariffs on energy-intensive exports.  That means the U.S. actively fought to leave the prospect of Smoot-Hawley-type trade wars on the table for Senate cap-and-trade negotiators. The United States has benefited greatly from free trade; now the U.S. government is opposing free trade. 

Second, unlike China and other developing countries, the U.S. will allow “international consultations and analysis” of our greenhouse gas emissions. It is not clear how intrusive these international consultations will be, but with millions of sources of greenhouse gas emissions, it’s hard to believe that they won’t in some way encroach on U.S. sovereignty.

Third, the U.S.’s commitment to hand over billions of dollars a year in taxpayer money was a premature gesture that will only serve as the new floor for developing nations in the next round of international talks.  Why would nations in the third world operate under this agreement if they can now see that the starting point for COP 16’s bargaining talks is $30 billion?

Fourth, we must consider the sheer size of the U.S. delegation; press accounts reveal that in addition to the President, five cabinet officials, four other high ranking officials, one czar, over thirty Members of Congress and a host of staff attended all or part of the conference. The United States spent millions to send a small army to Copenhagen to forge a non-binding “accord” that very few Americans view as a priority.

Finally, contrary to Senator Kerry’s hopes, China’s willingness to sit at a non-binding negotiating table will not ease the pain a national energy rationing cap-and-trade tax will cause for American families and is certainly not a sufficient gesture to justify its passage.

Ultimately, Copenhagen will have no impact on the outcome of the cap-and-trade legislation moving through Congress.  As we have just seen in the health care debate, Senate passage of this increasingly unpopular measure will depend on how much taxpayer money Majority Leader Reid is willing to give away to his fence-sitting colleagues to reach the 60 votes necessary to move this bill forward.

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