Post image for More Feckless Climate Diplomacy: Rich Countries Say to UN, ‘The Check’s in the Mail’

For years, I’ve been arguing that a multilateral response to global warming is a pipe dream. According to the International Energy Agency, the “solution” to this supposed problem would cost $45 trillion through 2050. Yet there is ZERO historical precedent for burden sharing of this magnitude, short of war, and the specter of warmer winters simply doesn’t engender the sort of desperate international cooperation as does a threat like the Nazis. (See here, here, here, and here for my take on the fecklessness of climate diplomacy)

So it was with no surprise that I saw this Reuters headline last Friday: Rich Nations Miss Climate Finance Deadline.

By way of background, the December 2009 United Nations Copenhagen Climate Conference was supposed to have been the deadline for a legally binding, multilateral treaty to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. Of course, the Conference was a complete and total bust, for the reason explained above. Instead of a concrete pledge, the Copenhagen Conference ended with nations agreeing to commit $100 billion to a global warming adaptation fund for poor countries. The deadline for contributions was May 1, 2011. Only two countries, Russia and the Ukraine, bothered to acknowledge the deadline, and they did so by sending a letter to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, informing it that they would not be donating any money.

There has been a technological revolution in the natural gas industry over the last decade. In that time, a drilling process known as hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” has become economically viable, thereby allowing for the exploitation of huge natural gas reserves that had been too expensive to recover. As a result, America’s natural gas supply has roughly doubled.

In his post-election address last Wednesday, President Barack Obama indicated support for the fracking revolution. His administration’s record, however, is decidedly mixed on the issue.

On the one hand, the State Department is a big proponent of the technology, which it sees as a long term deterrent for Russia. As I’ve noted elsewhere, environmentalist policies in some European countries-but especially Germany-have rendered them increasingly reliant on Russian natural gas, even as Russia has proven willing to use its energy resources as a geopolitical bargaining chip. By exporting the fracking revolution to continental Europe, the State Department hopes to weaken Russia’s influence.

Moreover, Obama’s EPA has kept away from regulating fracking, although it easily could. Indeed, with the Clean Water Act precedent set by the its assault on mountain top removal mining, the EPA could shut down whatever industry it wants to in all of Appalachia, which is home to the largest and most promising natural gas resources made available by fracking-the Marcelus Shale in Pennsylvania and New York.

On the other hand, different agencies within the Obama administration are cracking down on fracking. The Bureau for Land Management (within the Department of the Interior), for example, refuses to grant leases to drill natural gas along the Rocky Mountains. Under a new Interior Department instruction memo for implementing the 1987 Federal Onshore Oil and Gas Leasing Act, the BLM can (and is) withholding scores of millions of dollars of leases, pending completion of National Environmental Protection Act litigation. Contemporaneously, the Council of Environmental Quality is making NEPA challenges even easier.

So what to make of these conflicting signals? At first I thought that Obama saw himself as a visionary problem solver, and that his vision was to address supposed global warming by embracing gas at the expense of coal. Now, I’m not so sure. It looks like he’s being jerked around by people who know better how the executive branch works.