Environmental Critics: US Must Take 'Urgent' Climate Action

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Common Dreams

Environmental Critics: US Must Take 'Urgent' Climate Action

Nearly 200 countries gather at climate change conference

by
Common Dreams staff

In this Nov. 20, 2012, photo, conference flags are displayed ahead of the Doha Climate Change Conference, in Doha, Qatar. The eighteenth session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 18) begins today and runs through Dec. 6. (Photo: AP/Osama Faisal)

As representatives of nearly 200 countries begin a two-week United Nations summit today in Qatar to discuss efforts to address climate change, Greenpeace warn that leaders must "take urgent action to avoid catastrophic global warming," and demanded they extend a cap to greenhouse emissions agreed to in the Kyoto Protocol.

The UN states (pdf) that the Doha Climate Change Conference must result in an agreement to keep the global temperature increase under 2 degrees C.

Some countries have accused the U.S. of hampering climate talks since the Bush administration pulled out of the 1997 agreement that limits emissions of greenhouse gases by industrialized nations.

Last year, governments met in Durban and agreed to sign a legally binding deal in 2015 and to cut emissions for that period until it comes to force in 2020 — the deadline to stay below two degrees of global warming, according to Jennifer Morgan, director of the Washington, DC-based Climate and Energy Program of the World Resources Institute.

"To do this, industrialized nations must trim their emissions output by 25 to 40 percent below their 1990 emissions levels," Morgan said. "The United States has pledged to make a 3 percent reduction compared to 1990 levels. The United Kingdom is aiming for a 34 percent reduction and has already reached 18 percent. We hope the US will bring a new strategy, including greater ambition, to Doha."

According to John Vidal, environment editor of The Guardian:

UN talks fell apart in Copenhagen in 2009, world leaders claimed they could cobble together a new binding agreement to cut emissions within six months. That became a year, then two years, and now the rich countries tell a bemused public that it will be 2015 at the earliest before a final agreement will be reached. Trillions of dollars can be found to bail out banks in a few months, but the world's most experienced negotiators cannot find a way to get Americans, the British or anyone to just turn down the air conditioning or lag their roofs to reduce the amount of energy they use.

And the Associated Press reports today that the UN process is "often criticized, even ridiculed, both by climate activists who say the talks are too slow and by those who challenge the scientific near-consensus that the global temperature rise is at least partly caused by human activity, primarily the burning of fossil fuels like coal and oil."

The AP continues:

The concentration of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide has jumped 20 percent since 2000, according to a UN report released last week. The report also showed that there is a growing gap between what governments are doing to curb emissions and what needs to be done to protect the world from potentially dangerous levels of warming.

The talks in Doha, Qatar, follow recent warnings by the World Meteorological Organisation and United Nations that global warming is worsening, and by the World Bank that temperatures are expected to rise by 4 degrees C by 2100.

Even companies like oil giant Shell and oil exporters of OPEC are calling for a carbon price and carbon tax, reports Vidal.

Greenpeace insists that leaders close loopholes that "could give countries a free pass to pollute" and "help bring about an energy revolution from dirty to clean energy"

"Greenpeace is demanding that a second commitment period be agreed on in Doha," a statement reads, "and that it does not carry over the excess emission rights – or ‘hot air’ allocation – that allows governments to trade their way out of real climate action"

Vidal is skeptical of the talks, noting, "We already know rich countries will refuse to commit to any further cuts in emissions or provide any more money, just as we know the poor will try to cling to the few global climate agreements between nations years ago."

He continues:

The blame for this miserable state of diplomatic affairs must be laid squarely on the US in particular and the rich countries in general. For three years now, they have bullied the poor into accepting a new agreement. They have delayed making commitments, withheld money and played a cynical game of power politics to avoid their legal obligations. The resulting distrust has fatally plagued the talks.

Meanwhile, international aid agency Oxfam warned Sunday that funding agreed to by developing nations to help developing countries reduce emissions and adapt to climate change has been in the form of loans or recycled funds —not grants — and that more is needed to avoid  "a climate fiscal cliff."

According to an Oxfam statement: 

2012 also saw droughts in the US and Russia which caused world food prices to skyrocket, making it increasingly difficult for poor families in developing countries to put food on the table.

Developed nations must find new sources of funding outside aid budgets to honor their $100 billion commitment without diverting money from other anti-poverty priorities like health and education. 

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