The U.S. was the number one problem in Barcelona

Feature story - November 6, 2009
On November 6th in Barcelona, Spain, United Nations climate change negotiations were supposed to conclude final preparations for the long-awaited talks in Copenhagen this December. But, after the-five day session concluded, the world was not much closer to the fair, ambitious and legally-binding treaty needed from the Copenhagen talks.Greenpeace activists hang a banner from Barcelona's Sagrada Família that reads "World leaders, make the climate call." © Greenpeace/Pedro Armestre

Chief among the problems in Barcelona was the refusal of most developed nations, especially the U.S., to:

  • Make ambitious science-based commitments to reduce its climate pollution (between 25-40% below 1990 levels by the year 2020).
  • Commit to deliver funding to developing countries so they can reduce climate pollution and deal with the effects of global warming.
  • Agree to an international treaty that will be legally-binding and enforceable.

Without these basic building blocks, significant progress cannot be made on the international stage.  Giving voice to this frustration, African nations walked out of the talks early in the week.  Their dramatic step was a reminder that while politics and polluters try to sink the Copenhagen process, lives and the future of entire nations are at stake. Read more about the African walk-out here.

Greenpeace calls out the US for obstructing climate talks

As the talks concluded, Greenpeace called out the U.S. as the biggest impediment to progress by unfurling a banner on the famous statue of Christopher Columbus at the base of La Rambla in downtown Barcelona.  The banner read "Climate Chaos - Who is to Blame?" The iconic Columbus statue points towards America.

Greenpeace banner hang on Columbus Monument in Barcelona, Spain

While the statue commemorates Columbus' voyage to the New World, the Greenpeace action makes it clear that America bears historic responsibility for climate change and has done the least to create a climate saving treaty in Copenhagen.

Commenting on the prospects for a legally-binding treaty, U.S. climate envoy Todd Stern said "it doesn't look like it's on the cards for December. We should make progress towards a political agreement that hits each of the main elements." By pushing for a weak "political" deal instead of a legally-binding treaty, the U.S. is taking the momentum out of talks, and deflating the ambitions of other parties like the European Union.

Excuses, Excuses

What is the U.S.'s excuse?  The Obama administration claims it cannot negotiate important issues without climate change legislation first being passed by Congress. There are three big problems with this excuse:

  • First, the bills have been corrupted by big polluters. They simply do not deliver anything close to what scientists say is necessary to avoid catastrophic climate change. Low emissions cuts targets and loopholes in the bills allow for dirty business as usual (read our "Business As Usual" report for further analysis of pending climate legislation).
  • Second, even if the legislation was science-based and effective, Congress does not have time before December to pass the bills.
  • Third, the President is charged with leading U.S. foreign policy and negotiating treaties, not Congress. President Obama should not take the back seat as a slow-moving Congress drives U.S. climate policy towards failure.

The clock is ticking towards Copenhagen.  Our climate and our future are too important to let political excuses get in the way of real action. Add your voice to the call for climate action now!

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President Obama: It's time to sign a fair, ambitious, and binding climate treaty.