Taking Stock

Taking Stock

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Agreement was reached and the conference ended this afternoon around 5:30 pm — a full day late.

Never in my life have I seen such a display of political bullying as the United States undertook over the two weeks of this conference. The U.S. delegation, representing the richest and most capable country in the world, gutted just about everything of meaning from the roadmap going forward to tackle global climate change. For much of the last day, the U.S. negotiators continued to nitpick — in plenary, with all the nations present and in front of outside observers. The delegation persisted in blocking language that India and Bangladesh spoke to on behalf of developing countries, and that many understood had been agreed to the previous night.

The United States said it could not accept the changes because the text had been carefully negotiated in a way that they felt ‘balanced’ the statement. South Africa then asked the United States to reconsider, stating very clearly that developing countries had made substantial compromises over the course of negotiations, not the least of which included accepting “measurable, reportable and verifiable” obligations on climate change — a very serious step for developing countries.

A number of impassioned interventions followed in the plenary session with Uganda literally begging the United States to change its mind and Papua New Guinea stating, “if you are not willing to lead, then get out of the way.” Following this round of interventions, the United States finally conceded the point. While this show of “goodwill” and “cooperation” received a loud applause, and there was clear elation that a compromise had been reached and the United States had been forced to back down, I can’t help but be a bit cynical.

But to turn the negative into the positive, there *is* a roadmap to move forward with international climate negotiations. The roadmap is currently weak, but it could potentially be strengthened. Countries that are parties to the Kyoto Protocol, including nearly all industrialized countries except the United States, even agreed to negotiate around a numerical range of reductions of greenhouse gas emissions of 25 to 40 percent under 1990 levels by 2020 — a particularly strong target. There was clearly good will on the part of developing countries and the European Union to address this crisis.

It was also extremely heartening to watch growing awareness among participants for the real needs of developing countries in confronting the climate crisis. There was a very strong civil society presence — inside and outside the actual conference center — highlighting the impacts of climate change on global poverty and demanding a just response to the problems of climate change.  A group of organizations, including Friends of the Earth International, came together as the conference ended in a call for Climate Justice Now.

Inside negotiations, there was a noticeable and seemingly growing strength in the voices of developing country representatives in demanding fair treatment on climate change — culminating in the last day of taking the United States to task in the plenary session.  Those countries that will be hardest hit but are least responsible for climate change will need to continue to speak out loudly and often if we are to have an equitable and just response to this problem. There is a long way to go, but perhaps there is some hope for the future.

And there is always the possibility that the next U.S. administration will take our climate responsibility to our neighbors around the world more seriously. The United Nations is one arena where the President has clear control over the delegates and the messages sent, so the administration has a great deal of say in international climate discussions. Remember to keep that in mind when you vote!