As the U.N. Conference of the Parties (COP20) talks enter their last scheduled day in Lima, Peru on Friday, remarks delivered by U.S. Secretary of State late Thursday to climate negotiators from around the world, though welcomed by some, seemed to do very little in terms of moving the talks closer to the kind of agreement experts say are necessary to adequately tackle the crisis of human-caused global warming.
Kerry sounded notes of urgency and shared purpose in his remarks to the delegates as he stated, "Rest assured, if we fail, future generations will not and should not forgive those who ignore this moment, no matter their reasoning. Future generations will judge our effort not just as a policy failure, but as a massive, collective moral failure of historic consequence, particularly if we’re just bogged down in abstract debates. They will want to know how we together could possibly have been so blind, so ideological, so dysfunctional, and frankly, so stubborn that we failed to act on knowledge that was confirmed by so many scientists in so many studies over such a long period of time and documented by so much evidence."
"Secretary Kerry should ask his boss to use every tool he can to fight the climate catastrophe we are facing – including the cessation of the sale of publicly-owned fossil fuels and a significant strengthening of EPA climate policy. The US should increase their 2025 climate pollution reduction target from 28 to 40% and commit to it in an internationally legally binding agreement next year. Our transition to 100% renewable energy by 2050 depends on it."
—Kyle Ash, Greenpeace
Meanwhile, as the Guardian's Suzanne Goldenberg reported, with talks scheduled to conclude Friday, delegates had agreed "on just one paragraph of a deal" and she quoted the Union of Concerned Scientist expert Alden Meyer who said negotiators were "going backward," not forward on a quality agreement.
Though some U.S.-based climate action groups welcomed Kerry's arrival at the talks and his lofty rhetoric on climate, none seemed convinced that the U.S. contributions at the summit or its standing positions on climate action are nearly adequate to the task.
"We appreciate [Sec. Kerry's] comments on the urgency of creating a clean energy economy," said Kyle Ash, Greenpeace's top legislative advisor. "His record as a climate champion, however, contrasts with many of the US positions in the Lima COP negotiations."
350.org's Jamie Henn, also attending the summit in Lima, said Kerry "sure sounded like someone who was gearing up" for strong action on climate change, but argued Kerry's calls for others to act would mean little if the U.S. approves new dirty energy projects like the Keystone XL pipeline; refuses to make stronger emissions cuts; or continues to ramp up oil and gas exploration and fossil fuel exports.
"Fancy words are worth nothing if they aren’t backed up with action," Henn said.
According to Karen Orenstein, senior climate analyst with Friends of the Earth US, the gap between Kerry's rhetoric and U.S. commitments is more like a chasm.
"It is past time to put words into action," Orenstein said. "The emissions cuts the US has put forward put us on a path for a global temperature increase well beyond the already dangerous 2C level. Secretary Kerry said, ‘If you’re a big developed nation and you are not helping to lead, then you’re part of the problem.’ Regrettably, the US is a tremendous part of the problem, and as the hundreds of thousands of people on the streets of Lima and New York have demanded, this must change immediately."
"It is past time to put words into action." —Karen Orenstein, Friends of the EarthOrenstein was referencing the People's Climate March in New York City earlier this year and a large march in Lima outside the talks on Wednesday where civil society organizations, Indigenous groups, and climate justice advocates rallied for a far-reaching draft agreement at this summit which would be finalized at the next round of talks scheduled for Paris in 2015.
In a policy paper released at the talks, Greenpeace argues that the U.S. approach to its own commitments and negotiating stance are in direct contrast with Kerry's stated desire to forge a strong agreement. The Obama administration has argued that making carbon emission reduction targets and other climate mitigation commitments legally binding is not necessary, but Greenpeace is among those who strongly disagree. Without "binding" targets and enforcement mechanisms, goes the argument, the necessary reductions will simply not be made in time. Ash, who authored the report on behalf of the group, explains:
President Obama's team continues to insist that presidential authority is insufficient to sign onto legally binding obligations to reduce climate pollution. At the same time, they claim that making pollution targets binding will reduce ambition. Neither is correct. Rather than portray US presidential legal powers as weak in the face of a politically stunted, soon-to-be climate denier controlled Congress, Secretary Kerry should ask his boss to use every tool he can to fight the climate catastrophe we are facing – including the cessation of the sale of publicly-owned fossil fuels and a significant strengthening of EPA climate policy. The US should increase their 2025 climate pollution reduction target from 28 to 40% and commit to it in an internationally legally binding agreement next year. Our transition to 100% renewable energy by 2050 depends on it.
Familiar sticking points at the talk continue to center around the divide between rich and poor nations. Whereas the U.S. argues that so-called "developing nations" must make the same kinds of sacrifices that larger and wealthier nations are prepared to make, critics of that view say that because those most-developed nations are also the largest historic greenhouse gas emitters they have a special responsibility to do more—a concept known as "common but differentiated responsibilities."
Advocates of climate justice argue that big polluters, like the U.S., Canada, Australia, and the nations of Europe have should play a more significant role in financing the mitigation and transition efforts of those countries which did much less to create the climate crisis but are much more threatened by the increasing impacts of higher temperatures, rising seas, longer droughts, and more extreme weather.
As the BBC reports:
Some countries are suspicious that the text being developed here in Lima is an attempt to get round the concept of differentiation, which is embedded in 1992's UN framework convention on climate change.
The issue has become critical as the chairs of the talks introduced a new draft text that many felt watered down the original commitment.
A large group of developing nations known as the G77 objected.
"This whole exercise is not meant to rewrite the convention, this is a firm basic position of the G77," said Antonio Marcondes, Brazil's representative at the talks.
"We stand behind the differentiation, we stand behind 'common but differentiated responsibilities', these are issues we hold very strong and these are definite red lines."