With terms like "sluggish" "tough-going" and "extremely sour" used to describe the tone and progress of the UN climate talks in Doha on Friday, the hope for an agreement that could actually meet the ever-escalating challenges of global warming caused by human pollution was seemingly at an all-time low.
Climate campaigners and civil society groups are convinced that the commitments being exchanged among the international delegates are not nearly enough, exposing the ongoing futility of trying to get rich nations to take responsibility for their outsized carbon footprints or increase their meager financial commitments to developing nations.
On what is supposed to be the final day of the COP18 climate talks—the latest round in what has become a perennially disappointing exercise for climate justice campaigners, scientists, and the countries most impacted by the fast-moving rate of climate change—many were voicing that their worst fears for the talks and the content of the draft agreements now circulating among the delegations are about to be realized.
"The tone of the negotiations is extremely sour now," said Greenpeace international director Kumi Naidoo Friday morning. He, along with others, voiced predictions that the talks—due to various problems with the draft texts being circulated—would likely continue into the weekend.
"It's an empty shell, an insult to our futures," said Asad Rehman, spokesperson for Friends of the Earth International, referring to the specific text dealing with the extension of the Kyoto protocol. "There is literally no point in countries signing up to this sham of a deal, which will lock the planet in to many more years of inaction."
"What the world and its people need is more urgent action on cutting climate pollution, more help to those transforming their economies and more help to those already facing climate impacts. This text fails on every count," he said.
Saying the agreements being generated were just "blank pages" when it came to saving the planet, the international peasants movement represented by Via Campesina rejected "the false capitalist solutions" contained in the drafts, and argued they would "only worsen the climate and food crises."
"The inaction in the climate negotiations is a reflection of the corporate capture of governments by big business who want to continue exploiting nature to gain as much profit as possible," the group said in a statement. "While governments play silly games - debating blank pages and creating loopholes to escape responsibility - peasants and small farmers, who are among the most affected by the climate crisis, are the ones implementing real solutions on the ground to adapt to climate conditions and realize food sovereignty."
LIdy Nacpil, from the civil society group Jubilee South Asia Pacific, said the circulating texts—of which there are four—are "a million miles from where we need to be to even have a small chance of preventing runaway climate change."
"As civil society movements," she said, "we are saying that this is not acceptable."
Environment correspondent for Inter Press Service Stephen Leahy reported that the atmosphere in Doha was "tense and angry" leading up to the final day of negotiations.
Naidoo was placing much of the blame for the stagnant talks on the US delegation.
“The U.S. negotiating team should be replaced,” said Naidoo, saying the world power has "spent four years blocking" anything that would look like a fair and binding agreement.
“People are dying because of climate change. People are losing their homes, their livelihoods, their source of food. It is saddening to see rich country negotiators actively blocking progress in order to maintain the profits of their coal, oil and forestry industries,” Naidoo said at a press conference.
Todd Stern, the head of the US delegation at Doha, was called out by scientists and journalists on Thursday for vastly misrepresenting the facts when it came to describing the level of emissions cuts that the United States was proposing.
As The Guardian's Suzanne Goldenberg reports:
In his sole press conference at the meeting, Stern told reporters the US was on track to meet its commitment on cutting emissions by 2020, citing a report by the Resources for the Future thinktank.
The report said that incoming Environmental Protection Agency regulations on coal-fired power plants, along with other measures, could lead to a 16.3% cut in emissions by 2020.
"The US has done quite significant things in the president's first four years, in his first term," Stern said. "I saw just the other day actually a report by Resources for the Future which is a quite good kind of environmental economic thinktank in Washington that projects us to be on track for about a 16.5% reduction based on the policies that we have in place now."
That figure is not far off Barack Obama's admittedly modest target of 17% cut on emissions from 2005 levels, which he offered to the UN climate meeting at Copenhagen in 2009. The problem was, however, that Stern overlooked official US government reports indicating the US would be nowhere near a 16% cut by 2020. He also overlooked several different cautions included in the RFF report (pdf).
Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists, who first drew reporters' attention to the gap, said the most accurate projections indicate America is well short of meeting even the modest commitment Obama made in 2009 for cutting the emissions that cause climate change.
To sum it up for many, this short video was released Thursday to offer a more concise explanation of what has taken place over the last two decades regarding international carbon "cutting" agreements: