Jonathan Pershing

The first thing that hits you about about America’s lead negotiator at this talk, Jonathan Pershing, is that he’s ridiculously smart, even compared to his peer group of very smart negotiators. A friend who used to work for him told me “Jonathan is the only person I know who speaks with punctuation and in complete paragraphs.” He’s also impressively busy, and has the brisk pace to show it.

Yesterday evening, after a trademark brisk walk between back-to-back events, Jonathan had a tag-team event with Lisa Heinzerling, Senior Climate Policy Counsel for the Environmental Protection Agency . Lisa is the formidable intellectual force behind the environmental fight against the cost-benefit-analysis obsession. She’s had a fascinating back-and-forth on the issue with Cass Sunstein (in perhaps more evidence of Obama’s Team of Rivals mentality, Sunnstein was appointed head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs).

Lisa made the case that the EPA is prepared to step in and regulate greenhouse gas emissions (implied: if congress/UN negotiators cant get it together). It’s clear that the legal basis exists for EPA regulation, and it appears that the EPA is largely making this case to support congressional action and signing on to whatever comes out of Copenhagen. In my opinion, though, the EPA take this tactic a step further, and could stimulate more aggressive action by congress by announcing ambitious targets fully in line with what science demands.

Jonathan discussed the Waxman/Markey targets, which are:

17% below 2005 levels by 2020

83% below 2005 levels by 2050

This 17% cut, though, is only a 4% reduction from the 1990 levels that almost everyone else is working off of – and looks pretty weak in comparison. The line goes that we’re starting late, so an earlier baseline doesn’t make sense for the US.

What this talking point ignores, though, is that the climate doesn’t care about excuses. America started late, and we need to work hard to make up for the work we’ve missed, not get an excused absence.

Jonathan is right that the US deserves credit for its quick turnaround. The Obama administration, congress, and our climate negotiating team at the UN has made more progress in the last 6 months than we saw in 8 years under Bush.

But there’s still room for more.

Up next: Jonathan Pershing says he’ll meet with American youth to hear our views on American leadership in fighting climate change.