US Seen As Stalling On UN Climate Talks
Environmental groups and government officials complained to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday, warning that U.S. negotiators at this week’s U.N. climate talks in Durban, South Africa, risk portraying the U.S. as an obstruction to fighting global warming due to its stalling on critical issues.
In two separate appeals, the groups warned that the U.S. could derail progress at the 192-party talks if it blocks moves toward a climate change fund, worth up to $100 billion per year, to assist poor nations in dealing with the effects of global warming.
“This is a critical meeting, and we are rapidly running out of time to avert the worst impacts of climate change,” said one of the letters, which was signed by the chief executives of 16 nonprofit aid and environmental groups.
The letter referenced President Barack Obama’s campaign promise to move the U.S. back into the forefront of international cooperation on global warming.
“Three years later, America risks being viewed not as a global leader on climate change but as a major obstacle to progress,” read the letter, which was signed by the heads of the Environmental Defense Fund, the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council and other major environmental lobby and activist groups.
“U.S. positions on two major issues – the mandate for future negotiations and climate finance – threaten to impede in Durban the global co-operation so desperately needed to address the threat of climate change.”
“We urge you to instruct US negotiators to show much greater flexibility,” the authors of the letter wrote.
A second warning, from the Climate Ethics Campaign, said that America had a moral obligation to cut greenhouse gas emissions since it emits more CO2 than any other nation.
Some 1,200 elected officials, business leaders and activists endorsed the letter, which was unveiled on Wednesday by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), the head of the Senate environment committee.
“People from all walks of life across the US are extremely concerned about global warming. But progress has stalled because our government keeps debating whether addressing the issue makes economic sense and whether the science is settled,” said CEC coordinator Bob Doppelt in a statement.
Both appeals show frustration that President Obama will be more focused on avoiding any damage to his re-election prospects than on making significant progress on a global climate pact.
The U.S. has said it prefers voluntary pledges, rather than any binding agreements, by countries to do as much as possible to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
During last year’s climate talks in Cancun, Mexico, some 80 nations listed the actions they were taking to cut emissions, or at least lessen their rate of growth.
U.S. negotiator Jonathan Pershing told reporters this week he did not believe those pledges would change in the near future.
The U.S. has pledged to reduce its emissions by 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020.
However, Artur Runge-Metzger, the European Union’s chief negotiator, said those voluntary pledges amount to just half of what experts say is needed to avert potential climate disaster.
“Those who seem to think that it is enough for current pledges to stay as they are up to 2020 seem to be overlooking those facts,” he said.
“The longer you wait, delaying action, the more expensive and disruptive it will be and the greater the risk” of missing the target set by Rajendra Pachauri, the U.N.’s top climate scientist and head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Pachauri had warned the conference’s 15,000 participants that global warming is leading to human dangers and skyrocketing financial costs. While stopping short of giving an explicit timeline, he implied that there were only a few more years before the world is irreversibly damaged by accumulations of carbon in the Earth’s atmosphere.
Runge-Metzger conceded that the U.S. delegation might be constrained by the domestic political environment, where climate change is perceived as an unpopular issue.
“The U.S. could set a good example, but we all know the situation of the U.S. at home. It’s very hard for the Obama administration to move forward with climate change because of the situation in Congress,” Runge-Metzger said.
Meanwhile, European delegates and the head of the African bloc at this week’s negotiations also denounced the U.S. for its climate stance.
“Developed countries as a whole are not taking climate change seriously as a global issue,” said Seyni Nafo, of Mali, in an interview with The Associated Press (AP).
“Look at the U.S. We use and we welcome their leadership on democracy, on access to markets, on human rights issues. We would want to have the same leadership to tackle climate change, because for us in the developing world the biggest threat, the biggest enemy, is climate change,” he said.
Separately, Brazil and China said that no new deal was possible during the negotiations unless new targets were set for industrial nations under the Kyoto Protocol – the only international treaty limiting emissions of greenhouse gasses.
The pact caps fossil fuel emissions through 2012 and remains the focal point of efforts to mitigate global warming.
Asked whether he could envision any agreement at the conference without industrial nations agreeing to a new round of reductions under Kyoto, Brazil’s envoy simply said, “no.”
Su Wei, China’s lead negotiator, told Bloomberg News on Tuesday that failing to extend the pact would put the international system of climate rules in “peril.”
“A second commitment period is a crucial outcome,” said Andre Correa do Lago, Brazil’s chief envoy at the negotiations, during an interview on Wednesday.
“It would be wasting a unique opportunity to create new momentum in these negotiations.”
China and Brazil are critical to the talks because they are among the fastest-growing emitters of greenhouse gases. However, the two countries — along with other developing nations – currently have no limits under the Kyoto pact, which requires industrial nations to curb fossil fuel emissions 5 percent through 2012.
The EU said it would not agree to extend Kyoto beyond next year without a firm timeline from the largest developing nations on when they would also agree to the cuts.
The issue over Kyoto nearly ruined last year’s conference, and makes an outcome in Durban more challenging.
The EU has said it wants to link any new commitments it would take under Kyoto with a road map that would lead to all nations agreeing on a binding deal by 2015, which would take effect by 2020.
But yesterday China said that idea goes back on the plan agreed to in 2007, which envisioned Kyoto’s extension.
“If we cannot get a decision for the future of the second commitment period, the whole international system on climate change will be placed in peril,” said Su.
“We think the EU is just shifting the goal posts to another place.”
Speaking on behalf of the EU today, Runge-Metzger noted that the backdrop of the negotiations has changed since 2007 because delegates have failed to approve a new treaty.
“The goal posts have been shifted already, and not by the EU,” he said, adding that the 2007 plan had envisioned a new legally-binding pact to supplement Kyoto by now, which “has not materialized.”
Brazil’s Correa do Lago said he could only accept discussions on the EU’s roadmap proposal if the plan was endorsed by the United States.
“No other party wants to get involved in some kind of negotiation that will end up with absence of the U.S.,” he said.
“We want something that is effective rather than something that simply by using a certain expression — legally binding — becomes satisfactory.”
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