And the Fossil of the Day award goes to...

2011-12-06 07:04

The US felt the heat in Durban at COP-17 as both NGOs and government pointed fingers at the world’s second-largest polluter for holding up the talks.

At the end of yesterday, it was awarded the Fossil of the Day for its attitude at the talks.

The pressure on the Americans mounted over the weekend when the world’s biggest polluter, China, announced that it was willing to enter into a binding international treaty on climate after 2020 if five conditions were met, one of the huge developments of Durban so far.

The Chinese had not been bound by any legally binding caps. The US has continually stated they would only join such a treaty if the Chinese were on board.

China’s announcement raised questions about whether the Americans would be willing to play ball now.

But both the US and Europe were sceptical about what the Chinese were actually putting on the table.

European Union commissioner for climate change Connie Hedegaard questioned whether the Chinese offer would actually mean cutting emissions.

Todd Stern, the US Special Envoy for Climate Change, threw cold water on the idea. “China has not been willing to do the kind of legally binding agreement that I’m talking about,” he said.

Stern said in order for there to be a legally binding agreement that makes sense, “all the major players are going to have to be in” with commitments that have the same legal force.

‘No Swiss cheese’
“And that means there’s no conditionality, they’re not conditional on receiving technology or financing, there’s no trap doors, there’s no Swiss cheese in that kind of an agreement,” he said.

Stern defended the US negotiating position, saying it had been a very important player in the negotiations in the last two years.

“I think we are trying to help move this negotiation into a paradigm that makes sense for the future, and we’re going to continue doing that, and I think the US is a big player, and there are a lot of other big players.”

He said under President Barack Obama, the US had already done a lot to move towards the promise it made in the Copenhagen Accord two years ago to cut its emissions by 17% from 2005 levels.

“Obviously, we tried to get major legislation done, and we got it halfway home and not all the way home,” Stern said. “ I think it’s quite plausible that there will need to be legislation on the road to 2020.”

Stern said the world had more than eight years to go with respect to the 2020 target.

“I think we will keep pushing on, both in the context of executive action – of the kind the president has taken – and I’m sure there will be legislative efforts as well,” he said.

The US had been singled out as holding up the finalisation of the Green Climate Fund. Stern said he was quite optimistic that the fund would “get done” here in Durban.

The US’ main issue was with the administration of the fund and it did not want it to be under the auspices of the COP-17.

“Although I love climate negotiators and spend much of my time with them, they are not necessarily the most qualified people to run a multi-billion dollar fund,” he said. “So, we are very keen on having this work in a professional way.”

Fossil of the Day
But Climate Action Network said the United States of America earns the third place Fossil.

“The United States is trying to stop progress in Durban and is succeeding in catalysing a movement against them as they delay, obstruct, and sabotage good faith efforts toward a deal,” it said.

“While some of President Obama’s policies on climate change are better than his predecessor, George Bush, US engagement in the talks remains nonconstructive.

“They say they have no problem with a legally binding agreement, but then go on to list condition after condition – many of which fly in the face of the original UN Framework Convention on Climate Change,” the network said.

Kumi Naidoo, the executive director of Greenpeace International, said the time had come for the US to stand aside.

“On Saturday, in Durban, the US eviscerated draft language on mitigation that would have offered real protection to those who are being hardest and fastest hit by climate changes that are already happening,” he said.

“If it is not willing to save lives, save jobs and save whole ecosystems then it should get out of the way and let those who are willing move on. Any failure to move beyond US obstructionism will be measured in lives.”

Celine Charveriat, Director of Advocacy & Campaigns at Oxfam International, said the US was pitching an alarming narrative to lock in a ten-year timeout with no new targets to lower emissions until 2020.

“This perilous course of action must be stopped dead in its tracks,” he said. “If the US insists on pushing this dangerous pathway, they must stand aside and allow other countries to move forward without them.”

Sharan Burrow, General Secretary, International Trade Union Confederation, said the US has got to stop blocking.

“They are either part of the global community, or they should stand aside.”

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