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CLIMATE CHANGE: Obama Sounds Too Much Like Bush

Ramesh Jaura

BONN, Jun 12 2009 (IPS) - A leading global environmental group has accused the United States of holding up UN climate negotiations.

Friends of the Earth Malaysia’s honorary secretary Meena Raman said that throughout the second round of the United Nations climate talks in Bonn that ended Jun. 12, the U.S. administration had blocked progress to move negotiations forward.

Delegates from 183 countries meeting in Bonn discussed key negotiating texts which will serve as the basis for an international climate change deal due to be reached at a meeting in Copenhagen Dec. 7-18. The Copenhagen meeting would seek to bring an international agreement to follow the Kyoto Protocol, which expires at the end of 2012.

The 12-day gathering in former West German capital Bonn this month was attended by more than 4,600 participants, including government delegates, and representatives from business and industry, environmental organisations and research institutions.

Rather than show global leadership, the Obama administration failed to live up to its responsibility as the world’s largest historical greenhouse gas polluter, Raman told reporters Jun. 12.

“This strategy damages the prospects for a just, equitable, and effective outcome” at the key UN conference planned in Copenhagen, she added.

Echoing general disappointment with the new U.S. administration, Karen Orenstein of Friends of the Earth U.S. said: “The election of President (Barack) Obama created tremendous hope worldwide that the U.S. would finally play a leadership role in solving the climate crisis that – more than any other nation on earth – it is responsible for causing.

“Unfortunately for the survival of people and the planet, the Obama administration’s position at these UN negotiations sounds frighteningly similar to that of (former U.S. president) George Bush.”

Disappointment with the U.S. derives from the fact that industrialised countries need to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40 percent by 2020 relative to 1990 levels for a reasonable chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change.

The U.S. administration, however, is still talking about zero percent reduction by 2020 on 1990 levels. Japan tabled a dangerously low emissions reduction target during the talks of 8 percent below 1990 levels.

The 27-nation European Union remained unimpressive with their 2020 target of 20 percent (30 percent if other industrialised countries commit to similar efforts). Considering that the EU is set to offset over half of its commitments, already weak EU targets will be further watered down.

“While the U.S. is holding climate negotiations hostage, Japan and the EU appear to feel comfortable hanging on to Washington’s apron-strings,” a delegate said.

Delegations from around the world repeatedly warned industrialised countries that their refusal to set adequate targets is preventing any progress in other aspects of the negotiations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Equally alarmingly, industrialised countries failed in Bonn to agree to substantial transfer of money and technology needed to enable developing countries to tackle climate change.

“Industrialised countries need to assume their historical responsibility and pay back their climate debt,” Raman said. She exhorted the developing countries to “stay strong in calling for climate justice.

“By ignoring calls to repay their climate debt, and hindering progress in these talks, rich countries are jeopardising the lives and livelihoods of millions of people,” she added.

Industrialised nations owe developing countries a ‘climate debt’ for both excessive GHG pollution over the past 200 years and for the damage that pollution has caused and will cause, campaigners say.

Rich industrialised countries account for some 20 percent of the world’s population but are responsible for around three-quarters of greenhouse gas emissions. But developed countries have so far refused to repay this debt.

The Third World Network’s briefing paper for the Bonn talks underlines that there will be no sustainable climate solution if developed countries seek to continue polluting at 70 percent or more of their 1990 levels all the way through until 2020 (consistent with 30 percent cuts).

“To avoid deepening their debt, developed countries must seek to become carbon neutral and more,” says the Third World Network based in Penang, Malaysia. “Reflecting their historical responsibility, their assigned amounts of atmospheric space in any future year should be even lower. They must take a lead in cutting emissions through deep domestic reductions, and by accepting assigned amounts that reflect the full extent of their historical emissions debt.”

The Network is a leading civil society organisation involved in research and publications in trade, environment and development issues. Its former director Martin Khor, now director of the South Centre, the inter- governmental policy think-tank of the developing countries, said historical responsibility should serve as a guide to climate change.

Addressing an event at the Bonn conference, Khor drew attention to a noting in the UNFCCC preamble that “the largest share of historical and current global emissions of GHG has originated in developed countries, that per capita emissions in developing countries are still relatively low and that the share of global emissions originating in developing countries will grow to meet their social and development needs.”

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