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Barcelona climate talks start off on best possible footing, finally

Posted Nov. 1, 2009 / Posted by: KTrout

No, developed countries didn’t in fact finally live up to their historical responsibility by committing to deep emissions cuts or significant financing to help developing countries deal with the impacts of climate change. However, yours truly was, for the very first time in her life, upgraded to business class for the transatlantic flight to Barcelona! I can’t imagine a better way to have started the trip and I am hoping that the official start of the talks tomorrow will be similarly hopeful.

However, if the ending of the last climate negotiations in Bangkok is any indication, we are in a truly sorry state. I've watched the numerous countdowns to Copenhagen over the last (nearly) couple of years. Now we have but five meager negotiating days left before Copenhagen and we are nowhere near agreement on the key issues of emissions reductions targets and climate finance for developing countries.

Even worse, the United States position is undermining even the few areas of agreement that we have globally on how to address climate change, namely agreed global targets for emissions reductions by developed countries. Surprising, right? I was certainly horrified to learn that the U.S. doesn’t actually want the global community to agree on a target to reduce emissions in the near term, in line with what science demands. For those policy junkies, we call this proposal “pledge and review,” whereby countries simply commit to do whatever they have agreed on domestically, regardless of whether that adds up to total global emissions cuts steep enough to avoid dangerous climate change. 

Moreover, the U.S. seems to see no role for any kind of international compliance provision in a new climate agreement. That’s like telling your kids they can’t eat any more chocolate and then turning a blind eye when they down four Snickers, two Heath Bars and a box of Oreos. Compliance provisions are necessary because they hold countries accountable if they fail to live up to their commitments. A strong compliance provision is the one thing that has made all international environmental agreements work. It is simply unacceptable for the U.S. to undermine this vital component of a climate agreement.

For all its flaws, the Kyoto Protocol does require legally binding collective emissions reductions commitments by all developed country parties. U.S. proposals in the negotiations would wipe these two key pieces – agreed global targets for emissions reductions and international compliance provisions – away entirely.

For the last two years (at least), growing numbers of climate campaigners – from environmental organizations, international development agencies, faith-based groups and more – have gone on and on about the need for emissions reductions and finance for developing countries. As you can see, it’s a bit worrying that instead of making progress on the same issues that have plagued the negotiations for so long, we have instead strayed well into an extreme danger zone. A big question for the week is:  Will the U.S. try to drag the rest of the world down with it into climate chaos or will the world be brave enough to ask President Obama to earn his Nobel and commit to the necessary action to save our planet for ourselves and our children?

--Kate Horner

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