By Ray Fleming

Whether or not the almost suffocating weather of the past two months on Majorca has anything to do with global warming and climate change is impossible to say. Perhaps it just seems worse each year as we grow older.  However, it is possible to say on the basis of solid scientific evidence that global warming remains a matter of urgent international concern. Tomorrow a
sequence of United Nations conferences that will reach a conclusion in November/December next year will begin the latest attempt to secure a binding international agreement on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and limiting global temperature increases to two degrees Celsius above current levels. I realise that last sentence will enable climate change sceptics to recharge their allegations that global warming is a natural periodic phenomenon and that there is nothing the United Nations can do about it except add to the hot air by speeches at its conferences. There are, however,  signs that solutions  may be found for earlier obstacles to international agreement, such as those encountered at the last major conference at Copenhagen in 2009.
The sequence of conferences already referred to begins tomorrow in Samoa whose Prime Minister Tuilaepa Alono Sailele Malielegoal has convened a Small Islands Summit of countries with first-hand experience of the effects of global warming as rising ocean levels eat away at their land and in some cases threaten eventual submersion. The prime minister compares  these islands to “canaries in a coal mine” and urges the larger and richer countries to take note of their dilemma. On 23 September in New York the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will preside  at a meeting of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change that will begin the final stages of the negotiations for an agreement in Paris at the end of next year. In passing, let me say that although I think Ban Ki-moon has been a  rather disappointing Secretary General, his leadership on climate change has been committed and effective within the well-known limitations of reluctance and obfuscation he has had to deal with from many quarters.
Which brings me to the United States and President Obama. It is generally recongised that the co-operation of about a dozen major industrialised countries responsible for 70 percent of the world’s carbon emissions  is essential to a universal and binding treaty on their global reduction.  The  United States is the largest offender in these emissions and it follows that its commitment to any agreement is critical. At  Copenhagen the US made much of the reluctance of China to agree to  external monitoring of emissions but in reality the main obstacle to a binding agreement is currently the United States itself -- under its Constitution the President may enter into a legally binding international treaty only if it is approved by a two-thirds majority of the Senate. It is very unlikely indeed that any such approval would be given by the present grid-locked Senate during President Obama’s remaining years at the White House.
It is perhaps a measure of the President’s belief in the need for climate change action that he is embarking on a provocative course that will not need Senate approval. He has already used what is called  “executive authority” to introduce regulations limiting American coal-fired power stations to curb their carbon emissions. These regulations are already facing legal
challenges in several states and it is probable that American approval of any wider international restrictions would meet similar opposition. Nonetheless a commitment in principle by the United States would be an important step forward and an encouragement to other countries to participate. At the same time it has to be remembered that the partial failure of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol’s first attempt at  a legally binding climate change was mainly  attributable to the US Senate’s refusal to ratify it.
Is President Obama judging the opinion of the American people on this issue more accurately than their elected representatives in Washington DC? I  have often written here about the influence of the oil, gas and coal industries in attacking the UN-coordinated international scientific research on global warming and climate change in a variety of ways, especially  through skillful and persuasive public relations activities. An interesting thing has just happened, however.  Edelman, America’s biggest PR company, has publicly declared that it will not take on campaigns that deny global warming after a number of other leading companies made similar statements. Edelman’s statement read as
follows: Edelman fully recognises the reality of, and the science  behind, climate change, and believes it represents one of the most important global challenges facing society, business and government today. To be clear, we do not accept assignments that aim to deny climate change.”
Well, I never.