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U.S. Obstructionism Is Hurting Climate Talks

We hope, we wish and we pray that the U.S. team at the UN Climate talks in Durban would set aside its obstructive, destructive behavior. But sadly, listening to U.S. negotiators Pershing and Stern, that is not going to happen. For that reason Greenpeace, WWF, Oxfam and the International Trades Union Congress have adopted a joint position demanding that the U.S. stand aside and let those who are willing to move ahead in saving lives, habitats and economies -- in agreeing to a climate saving deal.

Here in Durban, the U.S. is once again trying to kill off the global climate talks by eviscerating the mid-summit draft agreement. On Saturday, the U.S. axed a whole section of the draft agreement that would have offered real protection to those who are being hardest and fastest hit by global warming.

During the talks the U.S. is fond of insisting that they want to be involved, but at the same time makes derailing demands and announces commitments that barely survive the plane trip home.

All of this takes time -- valuable time we can ill afford to waste as the most vulnerable citizens, economies, and habitats reel under the increasing impacts of global warming.

It hasn't always been so. With the signing of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change at the first Earth Summit in 1992, the world agreed that human-caused climate change was an important enough global issue that it deserved its own international law, like issues such as trade, war crimes, and human rights.

The U.S. signed and ratified that treaty, which also included a plan for later Protocols and legally-binding targets to reduce climate pollution. Over the next several years, the U.S. delegation pushed aggressively for a treaty that included a pollution-reduction regime on greenhouse gases and a compliance mechanism ... and then it hit them -- if the U.S. ratified Kyoto Protocol, they would have to deal with being the largest climate polluter!

It is deeply depressing that signing the Kyoto Protocol in 1998 was the beginning of U.S. climate treaty obstructionism, although U.S.neglect of treaties is par for the course.

It's been downhill ever since. The next step in bludgeoning any progress was when the U.S. "unsigned" the Kyoto Protocol. President George W. Bush made history by being the first to unsign a treaty, which is possibly unprecedented in international law.

Before Bush left office, his delegation at the Bali climate talks agreed to negotiate on the main issues that needed global cooperation, culminating in a controversial outcome two years later, in 2009, in Copenhagen. But, in Copenhagen they went on to play a huge part in making that conference possibly the most disappointing and controversial out of all 15 up to that point.

Team Obama picked up where Bush left off, introducing words and concepts into the negotiations in an attempt to mask that the U.S. was not prioritizing the climate. One of the first bombs was announcing that 2005 would be the new base year for a US pollution target, and to speak as if any increase in emissions since 1990 was irrelevant. At the time, 2005 was the year of highest recorded U.S. climate pollution. The U.S. implied that EU efforts to reduce emissions between 1990-2005 were no longer a factor of the negotiations. This allowed the U.S. to argue that "comparability" demonstrated the US was as tough on climate pollution as the EU. The nearly business-as-usual US target was 17 percent under 2005 levels by 2020. It would be 32 percent by 2020 if they were in compliance with the U.S. Kyoto commitment. Obama's team was now disparaging Kyoto as a method of shirking fair and equitable commitments. Anyone can have an ambitious goal for 2050, forty years away.

In Copenhagen the U.S. delegation did everything they could to undermine the importance of a legally binding agreement. They rolled out phrases such as "politically binding" (just means not legally binding) and "pledge and review" (just means not legally binding). Because of Wikileaks we also know that the US was strong-arming countries behind the scenes, with undiplomatic threats and tactics to bolster their bargaining power in the climate talks.

Durban isn't seeing any change in the carnage caused by the U.S.'s participation in these talks. The negotiating position of the largest historical polluter has reached a new low in refuting that scientific consensus demands urgent and rapid pollution reduction.

Leading up to Cancun, a year later, the U.S. was already backing away from weak commitments made in the Copenhagen Accord. It contained an agreement by the U.S. to contribute long term finance, some portion of $100 billion per year by 2020. The U.S. had also agreed to the Green Climate Fund (GCF), notionally the entity responsible for this long term finance. No longer for the U.S. Some of their contribution would go to GCF, maybe. Some of it would be public finance. The U.S. raves about "leveraging private finance" and includes loan guarantees and funding to U.S. companies as part of their contribution. Export-Import Bank and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation together are the largest sources of its "fast-start finance," or $1.5 billion. Meanwhile, Ex-Im provided over $4 billion to fossil fuel projects last year alone.

It's true that the personalities, egos, and IDs of individual delegates affect overall progress. But for the U.S. it is the basic negotiating position that is tarnishing the UNFCCC process now and for the last thirteen years.

The time has come for the U.S. to stand aside. If it is not willing to save lives, save jobs and save whole ecosystems then it should get out of the way and let those who are willing move on. Any failure to move beyond U.S. obstructionism will be measured in lives.

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