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FP: Greening It Alone

Author: Charles Kenny, Senior Fellow, Center for Global Development
August 1, 2011

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In his piece for Foreign Policy, Charles Kenny explains how the world is building a low-carbon global economy -- with or without the United States.

It may be hard to remember amid all the news of decline, but in plenty of areas, the United States is still the world's leader. You can't propose global banking regulation without buy-in from Wall Street. And if you want to invade somewhere far away, it's probably best to have America front and center, or at least ferrying troops and supplies. But when it comes to responding to the biggest global challenge of the 21st century, the United States is no longer even first among equals. And given the complete paralysis in Washington, that's a relief.

I'm speaking about climate change, which has emerged as the most intractable issue for a U.S. Congress that apparently can't manage anything more exciting than naming a post office without threatening the country with default. With the U.S. House of Representatives busy trying to zero out aid financing for activities related to climate change and delaying any domestic regulation of carbon dioxide emissions by the Environmental Protection Agency, it would be hard to imagine how the phrases "U.S. leadership" and "global climate change" could be used in the same sentence without the word "absent" making an appearance. To be fair to House Republicans, however, it isn't as if two Democratic chambers and President Barack Obama did much better prior to the midterm elections -- which suggests that this isn't a problem that might just go away in 18 months.

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