Year 4 Obama Team Battles Climate Progress
by Kyle Ash
December 4, 2012
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.