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From Washington to Cancun to British Columbia, the climate issue is heading for the deep freeze.

And now for the climate weather: It may be hot outside, but the political environment for climate science is in a deep freeze. In Washington, plans for a national carbon-trading system are colder than the ice in the mint juleps at the Round Robin Bar. The economy comes first in the U.S. Senate, where a new climate bill ran into a brick wall, putting an end to environmentalists’ hopes for a national cap-and-trade system any time in the next few years. “We fell victim to much broader politics that were beyond our control,” said a leading green activist.

In Bonn last weekend, climate politics got so cold that negotiators working on a new global climate treaty to replace the soon-to-expire Kyoto Protocol walked away from the talks, saying that the policy direction was going backward rather than forward. As part of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Control, the Bonn talks were aiming at recovering from last year’s Cop-out in Copenhagen. “These negotiations have if anything gone backwards,” said Connie Hedegaard, the EU’s climate action commissioner. The world is still divided over — among other issues — carbon-emission reduction targets, without which any convention would be useless. Another attempt to regroup will take place in China in October in preparation for a grand Meeting of the Parties in Cancun, Mexico, in December.

Forecast for sunny Cancun in December: Pack a parka.

Meanwhile, across parts of the United States and Canada, the Western Climate Initiative is struggling to keep its agenda alive. Made up of California, Arizona, Montana, New Mexico, Utah, Oregon, Washington, Manitoba, Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia, the WCI recently produced a formal “design” for a market-based system that would cap carbon emissions in member states and provinces. The caps would be based on emissions allowances issued in each jurisdiction, but which could be applied through the WCI group and freely traded on open markets.

The design agreement looks dense and is filled with regulatory proposals and enough busy work to keep bureaucrats in each member state and province fully occupied for years to come. Fortunately, the WCI initiative hasn’t a chance of coming into existence. Many of the member states, notably California, are in the midst of gubernatorial elections and the climate issue isn’t exactly top of mind among voters. Arizona and Nevada are already reported to be opting out of the WCI, with Montana possibly set to follow. New Mexico’s continued adherence to the initiative is also doubtful following the coming November elections.

As for the Canadian provinces, their participation in the WCI has always been a political mystery, given the improbability of, say, Quebec and Ontario getting into a compulsory carbon-control regime and trading system in conjunction with far-off states such as California and New Mexico. Cap-and-trade programs across borders present international trade issues that are irreconcilable between states and provinces. There are also trade and development issues within each country. A cap-and-trade regime between B.C. and Ontario that damaged Alberta’s industrial development would be highly divisive, if not legally suspect.

The trade risks are well known. Ottawa has said it will only adopt cap-and-trade in conjunction with the United States. Since the United States now will not have a system, nor will Canada. Any provincial pacts that are not part of a national Canadian system make no economic sense.

WCI forecast: All member plans will freeze in the dark.

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