Naked emperors: the Greenpeace Guide to Climate Politics

Feature story - November 7, 2009
You know the story. The clever tailors that convince a kingdom that only intelligent people can see the clothes they make. Everyone talks about how fine the emperor's outfit is, until one audacious voice pipes up to say there's nothing there, the king is naked. When the reality of climate change politics is stripped of rhetoric, most of the industrialised world's leaders are seriously underdressed, and Obama isn't wearing a stitch.

This is what climate inaction looks like. Greenpeace stages an extreme weather event for delegates arriving at the talks in Barcelona.

Greenpeace's new Guide to Climate Politics shows just how badly the leaders of rich, industrialised nations are failing in their efforts to address climate change.

In the last year developing nations have made real progress and put a series of offers on the table during the UN climate negotiations. With the final negotiating session just a month away the response of the developed world has been to throw up more obstructions.

Explore our Interactive Guide

Read the country by country briefings

A year in office should have been long enough for Barack Obama to turn the United States from climate destroyer-in-chief to at least a mid-table performer. Alas, he ranks at the bottom. For everyone who hoped to see the political promises made during his campaign turned into real action, this is a disappointment. "Yes we can!" has been replaced with "No we won't."

In recent weeks the USA has lobbied to turn the planned climate treaty from a binding contract to a political promisen - to replace targets based on science with ones based on expedience, and to build a carbon market based on licences to pollute (or 'offsets', as they're usually known).

Another master of political announcements is Nicolas Sarkozy, President of France. In speech after speech, he has announced his political commitment to saving the planet - it was a key plank of his election campaign. All these political promises have turned out to be nothing more than greenwash, and he scores just 37 out of 100.

In the rest of Europe, Merkel, Brown, and Tusk don't do much better, and Spain's Jose Luis Zapatero closes the march with a shameful 28 out of 100.

In stark contrast to the backsliding of developed nations, the developing world has been making strides. South Africa, India, China, Brazil and Indonesia have all offered to restrain the growth in their carbon emissions if the right deal is done.

While these nations all face domestic challenges when it comes to delivering on their promises, they have said that with the right support they're willing to make the effort. In a world where the average American uses around 60 times as much CO2 as a Kenyan, it's only right that the industrialised world take the lead.

No wonder African nations walked out of climate negotiations this week after industrialised countries continued to refuse to discuss how much they were willing to do.

The leader making the best showing in our guide is… Apisai Ielemia, of the small low-lying Pacific nation of Tuvalu. His country is directly threatened by climate change. If a good deal isn't done, he and his 11,000 citizens will have to abandon their entire country. If only other world leaders had the interests of their citizens so clearly in mind.

To develop this guide, Greenpeace has assessed the world leaders according to the following criteria:

  • Targets - do they support emission reduction targets strong enough to avoid catastrophic climate change?
  • Finance - are they prepared to ensure a climate deal has sufficient funding to be implemented?
  • Forests - are they prepared to end deforestation, and the emissions it causes?
  • Legal Framework - do they support a legally binding deal?
  • Domestic Action - are they walking the talk at home?

(For more details on the criteria, view the detailed guide to climate policy).

We will update this guide as the Copenhagen talks go forward.

As the last pre-COP 15 conference is taking place in Barcelona, the idea of a 'politically binding' agreement - as opposed to a legally-binding one - is being pushed. But Copenhagen needs to be more than a photo opportunity and an empty promise. Only a truly legally binding treaty will force each and every one of these politicians to take their mission seriously and become the leaders we expect them to be.

And frankly, we expect them to get some clothes on.

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