Posts by: Alex Stark

It’s the end of another COP, and the beginning of another new year.  All over the world, 2011 was a year of protest, and yet progress on climate policy seems to be moving backwards instead of forwards in the United States.

Images from 2011: protesters against the Tar Sands Pipeline surround the White House

In December, Durban concluded on a decidedly mixed note, and has been heralded as everything from a thrilling breakthrough to a profound failure.  Durban does represent a breakthrough on the political level, in that governments of developed countries, including the EU and US, and emerging developing countries, including China and India, agreed to eventual legally binding emissions reductions.  This may represent a paradigm shift from the US’ position going into Durban, that developed countries need only sign on to voluntary pledges.  However, the Durban Platform states that countries will agree to a new legal treaty by 2015, which will come into force in 2020.  We already know that this is too late to avoid catastrophic and irreversible effects from climate change-2020 is simply too late.

Looking ahead, the news over the past few days has been a frenzy of coverage of the Republican Presidential primary election, through which the Republican Party will choose its candidate to run against President Obama in the 2012 presidential elections.  And frankly, the slate of candidates is depressing.  Grist published an article describing the current two frontrunners’ positions on climate policy, with the self-explanatory title “Santorum vs. Romney: The climate is screwed either way.”

Tar Sands protest at the White House

Mitt Romney, the presumptive nominee, used to at least acknowledge that climate change is a problem, even if his ideas for what to do about it weren’t particularly progressive.  Now, however, Romney claims that “my view is that we don’t know what’s causing climate change on this planet. And the idea of spending trillions and trillions of dollars to try to reduce CO2 emissions is not the right course for us.”

Rick Santorum is even worse.  A climate denier, Santorum has said that “there is no such thing as global warming,” and that climate change is “just an excuse for more government control of your life and I’ve never been for any scheme or even accepted the junk science behind the whole narrative.”

Sadly, President Obama may be better in words, but doesn’t have much to offer in practice.  The President who promised that his administration would “work tirelessly to… roll back the specter of a warming planet” in his 2009 inaugural address is now flip-flopping on whether the Keystone XL Pipeline, which NASA scientist James Hansen has called “game over for the planet,” should be built.

Syrian protesters; image by Flickr user Gwenaël Piaser

The need to take action to halt climate change became more apparent than ever in 2011.  And while many Americans feel that climate change doesn’t affect them personally, climate has become more inextricably woven in to American interests, from national security to American jobs and economic growth.  For example, the Climate Progress blog named food insecurity due to drought and extreme weather events the “climate story of the year” for 2011, concluding that “feeding some 9 billion people by mid-century in the face of a rapidly worsening climate may well be the greatest challenge the human race has ever faced.”  In an  article in Foreign Affairs earlier this year,  Annia Ciezadlo made the connection between the Arab Spring and food security, saying that “change is sweeping through the Middle East today, but one thing remains the same: the region once known as the Fertile Crescent is now the world’s most dependent on imported grain. Of the top 20 wheat importers for 2010, almost half are Middle Eastern countries. The list reads like a playbook of toppled and teetering regimes: Egypt, Algeria, Iraq, Morocco, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Tunisia.”

In 2012, climate change will confront us more urgently than ever, through links to increasingly common, seismic global events like the Arab Spring.  It’s time that US climate policy, international and domestic, reflects that reality.  2012 must be the year for climate progress.

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New Year, New Climate?

On January 5, 2012 By

It’s the end of another COP, and the beginning of another new year.  All over the world, 2011 was a…

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protestors on the final day of talks at the ICC; image: Oxfam International

It’s the not-so-hidden secret of the UN climate negotiations: the United States has consistently blocked progress on reaching a deal to limit global greenhouse gas emissions and avoid catastrophic, irreversible climate change.  Surprisingly, the US stance here hasn’t changed much since the black hole days of the Bush administration.  In President Obama’s first inaugural address, he promised that his administration would “work tirelessly to… roll back the specter of a warming planet.” Yet since that euphoric moment, the administration’s vision for a new climate future has foundered.

On this last day of the climate negotiations (well, the day after the last day, but who’s counting), the US is playing the same old role.  While other countries have shifted in an effort to find points of compromise, the US is a broken record, harping on the need for other major emitters to commit, and for a new legal regime that begins in 2020, long after a more ambitious deal is needed.  As top-secret negotiations continue behind closed doors to hammer out a final text, it is unclear precisely what is going on.  But it is fairly easy to infer that it is the US, perhaps giving political cover to India and China, who is holding us back.

The good news is that the US is increasingly isolated here.  While parties spent the first week and a half of COP17 split in a number of coalitions around each issue, there was a sudden shift on Thursday night, when some 120 countries, including Brazil and South Africa-half of the powerful BASIC negotiating block-fell behind the EU’s roadmap for a new legal regime by 2015. As everyone from diplomat Connie Hedegaard to a particularly brave young American woman put pressure on the US to move, US stalwartness began to crack, and US negotiator Todd Stern made ambiguous remarks about the EU roadmap that the State Department was forced to clarify.

The US must yield to this global pressure and step aside, letting the rest of the world adopt a hard-won compromise to fight climate change.  There is a precedent for this: in 2007 in Bali, the Bush administration caved to pressure from the global community- saying “we will go forward and join consensus”- at the last moment and allowed the Bali Action Plan, a mandate for a new treaty regime, to go forward.

The Bali negotiations have another ironic resonance with today as well.  In Bali, Al Gore said “over the next two years, the United States is going to be somewhere it is not right now. We are going to change in the US.” But we haven’t changed.  But to save the planet from an unacceptable climate future, we need to change. What we need in Durban is another Bali moment.  The US must stand aside.

US: Stand Aside

On December 10, 2011 By

It’s the not-so-hidden secret of the UN climate negotiations: the United States has consistently blocked progress on reaching a deal…

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We’re back in the ICC this morning, as talks failed to wrap up as planned last night.  The mood here is a bit more optimistic (and also a bit more sleepy) than last night, when countries rejected a draft text that many saw as too weak, which put off a new legal regime until 2020 and only weakly supported the continuation of the Kyoto Protocol.

Last night (or this morning!), the Ministerial Indaba (informal meeting to consider the entire package) broke up around 2am, with ministers turning at that point to consider the KP text.  A new LCA text was supposed to be available at 6am this morning, and ministers were expected to reconvene the Indaba around 9 or 10 am.  The COP closing plenary will presumably get started when the Indaba lets out.  For more on what happened last night, check out Séb’s excellent summary.

The latest Green Climate Fund text, Kyoto Protocol text, and bigger picture text are available on the UNFCCC website (we’re still waiting on the LCA).

The text that is currently on the table calls for the launch of an Ad Hoc Working Group with a mandate to negotiate a new legal instrument, to be completed “as soon as possible” and no later than 2015, and to be adopted at COP21.  Kelly Rigg, Executive Director of GCCA, argues that the new bigger picture text is much stronger than what was on the table last night, but that it may be “too strong” for the US and other major emitters like China.  The Green Climate Fund still has two outstanding issues-where the Fund will be located, and some brackets remaining in the text-but Oxfam International’s Tim Gore suggests that “once the whole package comes together it’s going to sail through no problem.”

The problem of course is that ministers still need to consider the texts as an entire package of decisions, and there is little chance that one piece will move without all of the others. On the other hand, this means that negotiators may have some wiggle room to work out a final bargain today.

For more on the state of play, check out The Guardian and AFP‘s latest coverage.

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We’re back in the ICC this morning, as talks failed to wrap up as planned last night.  The mood here…

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Hundreds of protestors marched through the ICC just minutes ago, demanding climate justice and a treaty deal now.  Protestors, borrowing “mic check” chants from the Occupy Wall Street movement, spontaneously assembled in the ICC and streamed through the hall, carrying banners reading “don’t kill Africa” and echoing the main speakers’ voices: “we are here…for Africa/for the island nations” and “the people, united, will never be defeated.”

Kumi Naidoo, head of Greenpeace, Mohamad Aslam, Minister of the Environment of the Maldives, and the group of protestors are currently fenced into a space near the main plenary hall by a wall of UNFCCC security personnel.  How will this peaceful standoff end? We’ll keep you updated!

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Hundreds of protestors marched through the ICC just minutes ago, demanding climate justice and a treaty deal now.  Protestors, borrowing…

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Connie Hedegaard surrounded by a media scrum

The EU’s Commissioner for Climate Action Connie Hedegaard kicked off the final day of the Durban talks, giving the first press conference of the day.  Her strident remarks focused around the EU roadmap that has now been endorsed by AOSIS and the LDCs.  Some 120 countries are now said to be on board with the proposal, and Brazil and South Africa have made positive noises as well. Hedegaard came out more forcefully than usual, saying “today, an agreement is within reach…EU’s roadmap is at the core of the intense negotiations,” but that “we must commit, and we all must commit in the same legal form.”

She indicated that “success or failure in Durban hangs on the small number of countries [read: the US, China, India] that have not yet committed to the roadmap.”  A reporter also noted that last night, the US State Department “clarified” a statement that the visibly shaken Todd Stern made yesterday, saying that the US does not in fact support the legally binding EU roadmap. Hedegaard was hopeful that a deal can be reached here in Durban, but warned that “if there is no further movement than what I have seen at 4am yesterday, then I must say I don’t think there will be a deal in Durban.”

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The EU’s Commissioner for Climate Action Connie Hedegaard kicked off the final day of the Durban talks, giving the first…

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