Neither James Connaughton, Bush's Council on Environmental Quality adviser, nor his U.N. climate envoy, Harlan Watson, could be reached for comment. But other Republicans said the comparison between the Bush and Obama team goals before the United Nations were not far off.
"They acted fairly conservatively once they realized they weren't going to get any carbon legislation out of Congress. I don't think they played it very differently than, say, Harlan Watson did," said George "Dave" Banks, who served a senior adviser on international environmental affairs under Bush. He added, "It doesn't matter who is in the White House. It always comes down to national circumstances."
Creating opportunities at Doha?
As Stern and Pershing prepare to attend their fourth and perhaps last U.N. Conference of the Parties later this month in Doha, Qatar, they have developed both personal friendships and a few animosities.
Stern, observers say, is low-key but can be undiplomatic and blunt. Yet he has built up a warm relationship with Chinese delegation leader Xie Zhenhua -- even taking him to a Cubs game while meeting in Chicago in September, according to Aldy. Pershing, meanwhile, is widely described as brilliant -- yet several diplomats said he has rubbed many counterparts the wrong way, coming across as a lecturer more concerned with winning an argument than finding common ground.
Environmentalists once enamored with the team are now openly bitter. But many say they hope Obama's second term will breathe new life into the talks.
The looming question, though, is the end goal. Does the Obama team want a legally binding treaty?
Analysts and leaders close to the administration say the long sought-after goal of a global treaty to replace Kyoto might be dead. Or at least irrelevant.
"We're too hung up on the negotiations in a traditional way. We're too hung up on the traditional framework of the negotiations," said Tim Wirth, president of the U.N. Foundation and a former State Department undersecretary for global affairs.
"I think the administration has been helpful in moving away from the idea of a single framework toward what is now popularly called the building block approach," Wirth said, citing energy efficiency, building standards, renewable energy and clean cookstoves. "If I were Todd Stern and the administration, I would try to get the world to develop as many common standards as they could."
Light, at the Center for American Progress, said from his point of view, it's going to be the administration's job to prove that the "bottom up" approach can actually achieve the needed global emission reductions. He thinks it is doable. "They've got a theory that I think has proven more useful than what many critics say, in terms of getting countries to articulate their ambition and the conditions upon which they would increase their ambition," Light said.
Environmental activists who have fought for more than 20 years for a global treaty say they're not willing to give up the quest. Meyer, for one, said the goal of keeping global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius cannot be achieved by voluntary measures. Regardless, though, he insisted that if the Obama administration intends to abandon the goal of a legally binding treaty, its negotiators need to say so publicly and clearly.
"If they don't think they can deliver a deal, they need to say that and let your negotiating partners decide what they want to do with that," he said.
Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. www.eenews.net, 202-628-6500