Summary of the breakout conversation “Climate Change and the Environment” at the 2009 Annual Members’ Conference.


Chaired by Gen. Richard Lawson, USAF (Ret.),* Chairman, Energy and Environment Program, Atlantic Council
Hon. Sherri Goodman,* Senior Vice President and General Counsel, CNA; Former Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Environmental Security
Hon. C. Boyden Gray,* Former U.S. Special Envoy for European Affairs; Former U.S. Special Envoy for Eurasian Energy
Ms. Erika Mann, Former Member of European Parliament; Senior Fellow, Atlantic Council; Member, Atlantic Council Business and Economics Advisory Group


This session was held under Atlantic Council Rules, defined by President and CEO Frederick Kempe as “Chatham House Rules with military enforcement.”  Below is a general summary of the topics discussed.

The UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen this December will likely present more challenges than solutions.  The Waxman-Markey Clean Energy Bill awaiting Senate approval will not be passed in its current form, and many are expecting dramatic changes to the bill.  This will disappoint European decision-makers expecting a global example from the U.S. at Copenhagen. 

Waxman-Markey seeks to implement a cap-and-trade system for carbon use in the U.S.  However, unpopular pieces of the legislation, like an auction system for a portion of carbon emission permits and perceptions that the bill will increase taxes, will make passage in its current form unlikely.  A watered-down Waxman-Markey will cause consternation in Europe, where lack of coordination with the U.S. on climate issues continues to frustrate effective Transatlantic understanding, and will likely inhibit coordination on important issues at Copenhagen.  Europe’s dismay will only be compounded by U.S. policies of only engaging European countries on security issues through NATO, and the lack of EU-NATO dialogue.

Commitments to reducing CO2 emissions under the Kyoto Protocol expire in 2012.  A substantive agreement amongst the world’s greatest polluters is needed to combat climate change trends that only seem to be worsening.  Yet there are a number of obstacles standing in the way of a genuine agreement at Copenhagen, including financial constraints of the worldwide recession, “not our problem” political sentiment in India, and a lack of reliable data about carbon use in China. 

Yet there is some cause for optimism in and around Copenhagen, due to pressure from the business sector, and growing popular opinion in India that supports international climate change accords.  The U.S. administration is also increasingly committed to setting a global example on climate change.  Even if a Copenhagen pact and Waxman-Markey are tenuous or weak, these agreements can still have a major impact on combating climate change.  The implementation of, and global support for, a cap-and-trade system in the U.S. should be expected to engender major changes in conduct from industry at large.

– Summary by Alexandros Petersen, Dinu Patriciu Fellow for Transatlantic Energy Security and Associate Director, Eurasia Energy Center