The Barcelona Climate Talks are wrapping up, and the world is disappointed. We have seen two vocal protests in the first hour inside the closing plenary and expressions of frustration and disappointment from one developing country after another. The Alliance of Small Island States says simply: ‘the level of ambition called for is both technically and financially feasible, the only remaining obstacle is political will.’
So what’s the bottleneck? By all accounts, on all sides of the debate except one, the single largest problem to solving the climate change problem is the United States. Everyone except for Jonathan Pershing, deputy US climate envoy, that is, who fiercely defends the US’s actions, which include proposing to end the Kyoto Protocol altogether in favor of a ‘pledge and review’ system of voluntary commitments from nations.
‘We know that the US needs to act, AND the US needs to be part of the deal,’ said a staffmember of the US congressional delegation attending the conference. Unfortunately that means acting as in the Waxman-Markey bill, with targets too low for most of the world to accept. In response, twice during this week’s meetings the African Union walked out of the Kyoto Protocol process; activists including RAN staged a string of actions, including blockading the exits of the convention center. The EU meanwhile seems committed to get the US into the deal at any cost. The US is in an unprecedented bargaining position – we are literally holding the rest of the world hostage to our inaction on climate change.
In defense of an indefensible position, the US negotiators I spoke to this week threw up their hands and said ‘what would you have us do? 350 ppm is not politically achievable in the US.’ A combative Jonathan Pershing, briefed us on the US position and blasted civil society for criticizing the Waxman-Markey commitment of 4% reduction targets from 1990 levels by 2020. (Climate science calls for a 40% emissions reduction target from 1990 levels by 2020. You’d think we could get at least a little bit closer.) Pershing denigrated the Kyoto Protocol, insisting that compliance for climate commitments will only be successful when done on a national level. This is the ‘fox guarding the henhouse’ proposal from the US which so frustrated the nations of the world.
Pershing claimed that while the climate deal will be negotiated by the executive branch, but without a national law we cannot comply. Not true: the US can deliver a great climate regime without any help from congress at all; after all, the US Supreme Court ruled that CO2 is a pollutant to be regulated by the EPA.
We have our work cut out for us. Political will doesn’t come from thin air, and it doesn’t tolerate hot air either. It’s time to build a true global movement against climate change, building on the great work done throughout this year, and bring some street heat to these decision makers, especially the obstructionists in the US that our preventing our climate bills from being robust and our negotiators in Copenhagen from embracing true global leadership.