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Year 4 Obama Team Battles Climate Progress

  • Posted on: 4 December 2012
  • By: Connor Gibson

Written by Kyle Ash, crossposted from Greenpeace blogs.
 
We can say happy anniversary to the self-flattery and continual sabotage of the UN climate negotiations by President Obama's climate team. The tone remains the same. Exactly one year ago in the climate conference, Greenpeace distributed "Games and Puzzles for Durban" with this caricature above of the Deputy Special Envoy, Jonathan Pershing, who works for Special Envoy, Todd Stern. If Secretary Clinton retires, this political delegation would have to be reappointed.
 
We are well into the second and final week of the UN climate talks in Doha, but the outcome is still far from certain. Almost all major negotiation topics remain and we see little progress on overarching objectives. Environment Ministers and heads of delegation arrived this week to pick up the mantle. They must improve the negative trend.
 
In Durban, the global community, with the exception of the self-ostracized government of President Obama, agreed the Kyoto Protocol would continue. In part because the United States is not intervening, many countries generally expect success on this objective for Doha. Kyoto commitments end this year, so Kyoto Parties must agree on a new commitment period to start on January 1, 2013.
 
However, countries have yet to even sort out the length of the second period (five or eight years) and many have offered no pollution targets. Most of the 2020 targets so far are pitiful, such as the business-as-usual (BAU) 20% from the EU and the 0.5% from Australia.
 
Loopholes plague the integrity of Kyoto, but countries like Poland grapple to maintain the carbon market's large surplus of polluter 'rights' or AAUs (assigned amount units – dubbed hot air). This inspires despondence for the next conference, likely to be in Poland, particularly when the EU seems almost content with the Polish position.
 
The second over-arching objective was to finalize the negotiations that started in 2007 in Bali. Ideally, this was to end in a legally-binding agreement in Copenhagen, but the US killed that idea.
 
The Obama government's intransigence has postponed culmination every year since. All negotiation issues must either be agreed, or intentionally placed into a new negotiation track as was decided in Durban (the Ad-hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform – or ADP).
 
And we should see a work plan for the ADP leading to a legal agreement in 2015.
 
Despite having had three additional years to negotiate, almost every important issue is stuck between the will of countries demanding strong action and countries like the US that are visibly irritated at claims they offer almost nothing.
 
The US stands out as a culprit against progress on most issues and the self-righteous claims rattle hopes. The US delegation continues to argue US commitments on finance and pollution reductions are both sufficient and being met. On climate finance, the US continues to block debate on how to fill the Green Climate Fund, which is meant to support developing country efforts. We have seen an aversion to even agreeing to discuss how to increase ambition on emissions targets.
 
On issues where the US needs to invest little political capital at home, the US has blocked debate, for example, on how to establish common rules to account for pollution reductions. Common accounting rules are vital to understanding if collective efforts are enough. The US also remains a top blocker on negotiations to provide additional short-term financing for reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD). REDD stands to address 20% of global emissions.
 
It is not in the national interest of any country to allow catastrophic climate disruption. The hard bargaining, the specious evaluations of domestic progress, and the foot-dragging must stop.
 
We need to see a strong second phase of the Kyoto Protocol, and we need to see a workable plan that ensures a legally-binding agreement in 2015. Countries have only a few days left in Doha to show the world that there is still hope for a habitable planet.
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Weak Carbon Target Jives with Science, says Obama Team

  • Posted on: 30 November 2011
  • By: Connor Gibson

Written by Kyle Ash, crossposted from Greenpeace International.

Many people have given up hope that President Obama will take the lead on climate. This is a massive disappointment, given the hope we all had after the departure of Bush and his denial of climate change, and Obama's 2008 campaign promise to take action. Apparently, Obama was just trying to woo us.

Here at the Durban climate talks, President Obama's team has begun actively denying the urgency of global climate change. This is just another form of climate denialism.

Here's an excerpt from an article in today's ECO, the conference daily paper published by Climate Action International, the alliance of over 700 organizations including Greenpeace:

“...science says climate change is happening due to human activity, and it’s urgent. The US received a Fossil of the Day award for statements about the science of climate change by Jonathan Pershing, the US Deputy Special Envoy, in his first press briefing here in Durban. Pershing is a scientist himself, and was involved with the IPCC, but he implausibly said current collective mitigation targets are sufficient to avoid going over 2 degrees. His overall message was that the US stands on its position that avoiding runaway global warming is not urgent enough to expend much political capital on commitments in the UNFCCC.

...By saying the US is only really concerned with post-2020 commitments, the Obama Administration’s negotiators are saying their boss doesn’t need to deal with this issue, since Obama won’t be in office after 2016 (assuming he wins another 4 year term). In his 2008 campaign, however, President Obama promised to be a leader on global climate disruption.  But expectations have now fallen so low that all we can ask is for the US to agree some very reasonable steps forward in the negotiations – for example, on a mandate to package commitments into a legally binding agreement by 2015.  That would give the world four more years, in addition to the Bali Action Plan, agreed by the Bush administration, which gave the world two. The climate may not wait. The world certainly cannot be dragged down by another US administration in denial.”

When the Obama administration says the President is making climate change a priority, it is a claim with no foundation. The perfect example is the US pollution target, which is less than half target agreed by the US in Kyoto. By acting in 2009 as if the US had never signed onto anything, Obama followed the lead of President Bush who was probably the first leader in modern history to un-sign a treaty.

More importantly, the US climate pollution target is so weak that it may already have been accomplished without any new national policies aimed at reducing climate pollution. Adding up reduced CO2 from new car efficiency rules, plus closing defunct coal-fired power plants may be enough as even analysts from Shell Oil argue can happen with a recovery from the recession. Although it's worth mentioning that the recession resulted in a reduction of emissions almost equal to half of the Obama administration goal.

Mitt Romney many believe to be Obama's likeliest contender in next year's bid for the presidency. People are recalling that Romney has a record of crafting, signing into law, and implementing climate policy. And one of the best Obama appointees, who is in fact in charge of developing EPA greenhouse gas policy, previously worked in Romney's government. Despite the crazy rhetoric by Republican candidates on climate, Obama will have a very hard time arguing he has a better record than Romney.

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