There have been several positive announcements, in the past two days, from the world's largest emitters of carbon dioxide, namely the United States and China. First, the US announced that President Obama will attend part of the upcoming global conference in Copenhagen, and second, both the US and China finally announced targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Unfortunately, they've basically handed the rest of the international community a bit of a snow job. President Obama, shackled by a Congressional House with questionable foresight and a lack of long-term economic clarity, announced that the United States will reduce its emissions 17% by 2020. China, apparently unwilling to be undone, has stepped up and promised a massive 40+% reduction over roughly the same period of time. These figures seem to be in line with, or absolutely blow away, the 20-25% promised by various members of the European Union and other nations. But wait a minute. The EU and other nations based their promises relative to emission levels in 1990. The US and China have based their promises on levels since 2005! Given that emissions have been increasing since 1990, very rapidly in the case of China, the 17% and 40% promises amount to a couple of percentage points when measured against the rest of the world. One cannot help but get the feeling that the US set a very low bar, well-suited to our short-sighted, near-term habits, and that China was only too willing to take a baby step over that bar.

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