Q&A With Michael Levi on the Copenhagen Conference

Michael Levi

  • Country: The United States
  • Title: Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations
  • Education: Queen's University, Princeton University, University of London
  • Books: On Nuclear Terrorism (2007), The Future of Arms Control (2005)

Dan: In your articles leading up to the Copenhagen conference, there is a fair amount of criticism of other countries, especially China. There does not, however, seem to be an equally critical view of the United States, both for its status as the world's largest historical polluter and the lukewarm attitude of the U.S. government and people in addressing this problem. Many people around the world have concluded that the United States is trying to evade its responsibilities. Do you think the United States can continue to dictate the behavior of others while not doing anything substantial itself?

A: The United States needs to step up its own efforts if it is to be effective internationally. Recent moves to tighten automobile fuel-economy standards, bolster clean technology through the stimulus package, and threaten Environmental Protection Agency regulation are steps in that direction, but the United States will need comprehensive climate and energy legislation if it wants to be a genuine leader. This will be necessary not only to cut its own emissions but also to deliver on promises of money to help with mitigation and adaptation that it has recently made to others.

Daniel Gyurta: Copenhagen revealed huge gaps between stakeholders when it comes to the scale of the climate crisis and what individual countries must do about it. Does that mean that the United States should give up the idea of international agreements and instead pursue bilateral talks that could form the basis of international norms one day?

A: The United States should not give up on the idea of international agreements, but it needs to pursue its international climate policy through a wide variety of forums. The UN process is severely limited, as I argued in an essay earlier this week. But bilateral talks are not the only substitute. The United States should also work through multilateral institutions such as the G-20 and the Major Economies Forum, as well as through global operating institutions such as the World Bank

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