The Pittsburgh G20 ended last week, and the Bangkok Climate conference has just begun. The make-or-break Copenhagen summit is only two months away. A climate policy expert looks at how much progress has been made, and finds American leadership falling short of what's necessary at this critical juncture (Media Release, Sept. 28):
Oxfam International Senior Climate Policy Adviser Antonio Hill said recent announcements by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and the EU on climate financing, and Japan and China’s stronger language last week on emissions reductions and finance, would put extra pressure on the US to step up and signal its intentions on its role in a global deal.Hill echoes what I heard Jorma Ollila, chairman of Royal Dutch Shell, acknowledge in Helsinki three months ago: the developed world bears responsibility for having damaged the earth's atmosphere, and Washington must take the lead.
“Despite good intentions and warm words over the past six months, the US didn’t deliver real leadership last week at the UN Climate Summit and G20. Either the US lifts its game, or the next two weeks in Bangkok could go down as just a holding pattern before a fatal nosedive in Copenhagen,” he said.
He said while many key countries, including China, India, Japan, African Union, the Least Developed Countries and the Alliance of Small Island States, had shown they were ready to enter the final, more detailed phase of negotiations, intransigence on the part of rich countries like the US, Canada and Australia was proving an obstacle to progress.
Key sticking points remain the emissions reductions developed countries are willing to deliver – current commitments are around 15 per cent instead of the science-based 40 per cent reductions on 1990 levels by 2020 - and the amount of financing they will put on the table for developing countries to both adapt to the impacts of climate change and develop on a low carbon pathway.
The two-week negotiations, held in South-East Asia, one of the world’s most vulnerable regions to climate change, is the penultimate negotiation session before Copenhagen in December, when a fair and safe global climate change treaty must be secured.
Mr Hill said that whilst last week’s summits in the US were forums for world leaders to signal their intentions, the UN negotiating process continuing in Bangkok was the only place where countries could forge an agreement to avoid catastrophic climate change.
“It’s crunch time,” Mr Hill said. “What is needed for a breakthrough is a clear commitment from developed countries – responsible for three-quarters of the carbon in the atmosphere - to commit to substantial finance, additional to existing aid levels, to developing countries.”
Health care, the war in Afghanistan, and climate change: these three big issues confront the Obama presidency simultaneously. Who does not believe that the success or failure of Obama's entire presidency rides with how competently the president handles one or another of these matters?
But which decision will be the most significant? Of the three issues, two are largely yesterday's fights, only one concerns the challenge of the future. Moreover, on two issues -- the same two -- the cost of waiting for a second chance is manageable. Other countries have solved the problem of providing universal health care, and the US will have other opportunities to solve it. The rest of the world has "given up" on the cause of bringing freedom to Afghanistan, but supposing Obama hesitates to defy his generals and sends in more troops, Congress can still bring them home at any time. For the rest of the world, Afghanistan is yesterday's war; universal health care, a social policy worked out generations ago. There will be second chances.
But if the American economy -- and by extension, the world -- is not set on a path towards sustainable growth, then wars and health care costs are bound to spiral out of control. Furthermore, the cost of setting the world on a sustainable path with respect to climate change increases with every lost decade. And on this issue, alone, there is a "point of no return." Therefore, hands down, if the Obama Administration must get just one issue dealt with properly in 2009, it's energy and the environment. To get beyond yesterday's problems, the United States must take the lead by solving tomorrow's.
Photo by Jotman shows the US Congress.