Bangkok: The honeymoon appears to be over for the US at the United Nations (UN) climate talks.
After being applauded for re-engaging in negotiations this year, the US delegation at talks in Bangkok finds itself being tagged like its Bush administration predecessors—as villains who aren’t serious about reaching an ambitious global warming treaty when leaders from 120 countries meet in Copenhagen, Denmark, in December. The deal would replace the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.
The delegation hasn’t brought much to the table —partly because climate change legislation hasn’t passed the US Congress —while angering some developing countries by insisting they must show proof they are taking action to reduce heat-trapping emissions.
“We must attack this problem with a sense of urgency and ambition, and quite frankly we are not seeing the level of urgency and ambition from the US,” said Selwin Hart, a delegate from Barbados who was speaking for the Alliance of Small Island States, who fear they’ll be swamped by rising seas caused by global warming. “This process will go nowhere if we don’t see leadership from the US.”
Lumumba Di-Aping, chairman of the developing block of nations known as the Group of 77 and China, accused the US of drawing up climate legislation that advances their “own national interest” without regard for the rest of the world.
On Wednesday, the US Senate introduced a climate Bill that calls for a 20% cut in 2005 levels by 2020 in greenhouse gases blamed for global warming. That’s a deeper cut than the House passed earlier or what US President Barack Obama wants, but it still falls short of the emission reductions many scientists say are necessary.
The US delegation has insisted it wants a deal in Copenhagen to cap greenhouse gas emissions. It has been praised by some delegates for being more engaged in the talks than Bush officials ever were and showing a willingness to openly debate even the most contentious issues.
“Different opinions on moving forward are good because it shows we are in negotiating mode,” said Keya Chatterjee, acting director of the World Wildlife Fund’s climate change programme. “Real negotiations are hard. If things are going well, we will see many more fights.”
Still, it has irritated India and other major developing countries by insisting that they agree to take part in a system that monitors and verifies actions promised in a new deal.
“We expect them to stand behind those actions the way we would stand behind ours and reflect them in this international agreement with a willingness to be transparent about them,” said Jonathan Pershing, US’ chief negotiator.
Delegates at Bangkok have said negotiations are too slow, partly due to the lack of a clear signal from the US.
Developing countries will be reluctant to join a treaty without firm commitments by the US, which until recently was the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, but is now second to China. Pershing has acknowledged it would be difficult for the US to extract concessions from other countries without a climate law.
“The US is in between a rock and a hard place,” UN climate chief Yvo de Boer said.
“Clearly, it’s politically essential for the US to show back home that the Copenhagen agreement will lead to significant engagement by major developing countries,” he said. “But those same major developing countries say if we’re not seeing clarity on the US position, then why should we be going further.”
The US rejected the 1997 Kyoto Protocol because it exempted countries such as India and China, both major polluters, from obligations. The Obama administration is determined that a replacement pact must require developing countries to cut emissions.
Most nations have agreed that any new pact should include provisions to maintain temperature increases of 2 degrees Celsius below pre-industrial levels of about 150 years ago. That would require emissions cuts from industrial countries of 25-40% below 1990 levels by 2020, far above the 15-23% cuts rich countries have offered so far.