THIS IS A DOSSIER CONTAINING SEVERAL PIECES ON THE SAME TOPIC FROM OUR ARCHIVES.
Dear President Obama, Encouraging Tar Sands Development is Not Acting on Climate
Obama is Leading the World to Climate Hell
Dr. James Hansen’s latest dire warning is that we are on the verge of crossing the point of no return, triggering runaway global warming that would last for centuries, making much of the planet uninhabitable by humans. He asks, “Humanity stands at a fork in the road. As conventional oil and gas are depleted, will we move to carbon-free energy and efficiency – or to unconventional fossil fuels and coal?”
One of these unconventional fossil fuels currently experiencing a production boom, is tar sands extraction. Unlike conventional crude oil, tar sands diluted bitumen, aka dilbit, is highly toxic and corrosive yet paradoxically, it is exemptfrom being taxed for payments into the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund. TransCanada, who is building the Keystone XL pipeline, is deceitfully describing it as simply a “crude oil” pipeline, without going into the details. And they are not alone. President Obama has also passed off the southern segment of Keystone XL, now 90% complete, as a pipeline simply transporting “oil”. In March 2012, even while standing in front of an ‘oil-friendly’ crowd in Cushing, Oklahoma, and chirping the expedited go-ahead of the pipeline’s southern portion, the President did not have the courage to utter “oil sands” let alone “tar sands”. Yet when tar sands dilbit spills, it is not simply crude oil, because no one knows how toclean it up. The EPA admitted that it’s next to impossible to clean up. Nonetheless, judging by the multitude of tar sands pipelines that are already sneaking and leaking into American soil without raising much of an eyebrow (excepting the northern leg of Keystone XL), it seems that the fate of humanity and our planet has been determined.
The longer we let our elected officials continue recklessly allowing or encouraging development of all fossil fuels, the slimmer our chances of regaining control of the climate change death spiral. Many heads are still buried in the sand, ignoring the dangers of human-made climate change and the extensive damage it has already inflicted on our planet. Yet it is already too late for half-solutions. By now, all top climate scientists and educators have stated that the only remaining solution is a drastic one. “We need a dramatic shift off carbon-based fuel: coal, oil and also gas… we need, at this point, a crash diet,” said Bill McKibben. Likewise, according to Hansen, a rapid phase out of fossil fuel emissions is paramount to limiting global warming to a maximum of not 2, but just 1 degree Celsius. Urgently needed is a wartime-like “worldwide mobilization – to transform rapidly from our fossil fuel-reliant past and present to a clean energy future,”says Robert Weissman. Viable zero-carbon plans are already available in the USA, UK and Australia.
“The question is whether we will have the courage to act before it’s too late.” Such are the recent words of President Obama, ever more striking, considering that the world’s most powerful leader has not shown much of this desperately needed courage in his actions on tackling climate change. As Tom Weis pointed out, the President’s long-awaited ‘Climate Action Plan’ promotes natural gas fracking, radioactive nuclearpower and mythical “clean coal”. Obama’s Georgetown speech on climate change was more alarming than inspiring. As Dr. Jill Stein noted, “You can’t give your child an ‘all of the above diet’ with toxic lead and arsenic, and think that adding some spinach and blueberries is going to make it OK. Likewise, reducing carbon pollution from coal does not make fracking, tar sands oil, deep water and Arctic drilling OK. The climate is spiraling into runaway warming. Obama’s promotion of cheap dirty fossil fuels makes coal regulations just window dressing on a disastrous policy.” To those who applauded the President’s ‘big’ climate speech, Kim Huynh of Tar Sands Blockade summed up a poignant reminder: “After all, this is the same President that fast-tracked the southern segment of the Keystone XL pipeline to pump toxic tar sands through our homes.”
This is also the same President that has added enough new oil and gas pipelines to circle the Earth, directed his administration to open up millions of acres for gas and oil exploration across 23 different states, quadrupled the number of operating rigs to a record high, launched a catastrophic Arctic drilling strategy, secretly negotiated the harmful Trans-Pacific Partnership,and proudly declared “As long as I’m President, we’re going to keep on encouraging oil development and infrastructure.” In light of the above, it is unfortunately not surprising that our ‘Drill, Baby, Drill’ president and his administration have also turned a blind-eye to the rapid expansion of tar sandsmining and pipelining in the United States, allowing repeat offenders, such as Enbridge, Exxon, BP, with the worst crude oil and tar sands dilbit spills on their hands, to continue expanding their operations.
To offset President Obama’s destructive energy policy, his ‘Climate Action Plan’ relies heavily on carbon capture and storage technology, which in reality, continues to be more of a dream that is not scientifically proven to remove carbon from the atmosphere. In fact, as Steve Horn points out, “it could be the next mega-disaster waiting to happen.” Moreover, when taking into account the expanding presence of tar sands on American soil, Obama’s unrealistic carbon capture plan is also a total hypocrisy. As Prof. Don Fullerton notes, “a shortcut route to sequestering carbon deep underground is to leave it there in the first place… Ultimately those tar sands can stay in the ground.” But by now, we all know that Obama wants to be thought of as the president who freed America from foreign oil. Yet he will be remembered as the president who cooked the planet. He will be remembered as the president who encouraged the expansion of tar sands extraction, and this regardless of whether he ends up rejecting the northern route of Keystone XL, because he has already lighted the fuse to the ‘carbon-bomb’. A point confirmed by Mark Karlin, “What most US citizens don’t know – including most progressives – is that when the southern pipeline segment starts flowing with tar sands oil in a short while, the fuse will have already ignited the bomb.” This is a fact, and an inconvenient truth not only for President Obama and his political allies, but for all of us.
Why wasn’t Obama stopped from fast-tracking the southern leg of Keystone XL? Why wasn’t his decision met with mass protests and mass civil disobedience? With all due respect, to every opponent of the Keystone XL, but also out of respect for victims of the pipeline’s southern leg, Obama guaranteeing a total rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline project, southern and northern portions, should have been a prerequisite for every Keystone XL opponent’s vote in the 2012 election. “Since when did we start giving presidents a pass on making tough decisions until after Election Day?” rightly asked Tom Weis. If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem. After all, as Dr. Jill Stein stressed, “It’s not the President’s legacy that’s at stake. It’s ours.”
Let’s not forget that our ‘people power’ efforts to improve our legacy are not limited to protesting and getting arrested. We can also express our power, and in a perfectly legal manner, by voting at the polls, thus forcing achange of the political landscape. Even President Obama has recently encouraged Americans to make climate change a must for their vote: “Remind everyone who represents you, at every level of government, that there is no contradiction between a sound environment and a strong economy – and that sheltering future generations against the ravages of climate change is a prerequisite for your vote.” What is truly and urgently needed though, is a “voters’ revolt”, an anti-two-party movement, according to Scott McLarty.The latest environmentalist to dive into the political intervention scene is Bill McKibben, “Anybody, at this point, who stands up for the fossil fuel industry and its desire to tap the tar sands doesn’t deserve to be called a political leader, and we’ll do our best to make sure that their careers are short,” he said. This is a thrilling statement, but it is disappointing that such a strong public declaration was not made before the 2012 election…
So here we are, once again confronted with President Obama’s climate hypocrisy. Despite his latest ‘promising’ comments on the fate of the Keystone XL permit, it still smells like a déjà-vu. Obama’s fast-track approval of the Keystone XL southern leg was, according to Michael Brune, a “dirty trick to build the pipeline piecemeal” that came just 5 weeks after the president got “extensive kudos from anti-Keystone advocates… for giving a temporary no to the northern route,” notes Timothy Lange. Skepticism is growing among the few who unwaveringly refuse to be duped, and unfortunately, rightly so. As Jacqueline Marcus says, “Given Obama’s deplorable record of increased oil drilling, it’s doubtful that he’ll reject [the Keystone XL northern segment].”
Ergo, we are being driven down the wrong route, which also happens to be a one-way dead end street. In other words, as Dr. Peter Carter says, “President Obama is leading America and the world to Climate Hell.” Even more distressing, is that climate change is one of today’s most pressing public issues, yet as Paul Engler explains, the percentage of people who believe that climate change poses a ‘serious threat’ has taken an alarming nosedive. He asks, “What do you do when an issue emerges as one of the most urgent matters of our time and, at the same instant, becomes firmly regarded as a political loser?” Environmentalists’ demands for action on climate change from politicians will not bring significant results if our numbers remain relatively clannish. Bill McKibben believes that we must build “a movement strong enough to transform the national mood” in our country, forcing the politicians to follow or “evolve”. President Obama seems to agree, declaring, “Political leaders will never take risks if the people do not push them to take some risks.” But such a movement needs constant momentum among participants and most importantly, must draw in ever-wider support. Undoubtedly, still lacking, is the sense of urgency and awareness by the general public of the climate change death spiral. As a former Big Oil executive-turned-fractivist said, “It will take masses of people demanding action from politicians to offset the huge amount of money that the industry is using to influence lawmakers… Something has to wake up the general public. It will either be education from the environmental movements or some kind of climate disaster that no one can ignore.”
Therefore, it is time to act with panache! It is time to stop the politeness and complaisance that lead nowhere. It is time to arouse public opinion. It is time to draw into our movement ever-wider support. It is time to awaken those Americans who are still sleeping, before the climate disaster does. But how? We have decided to try something unusual and different: to enlist the power of music. And as our climate surges towards the irreversible tipping point, fueled by the negligence of our elected officials, we don’t have the time to worry about possibly being ridiculed for our out-of-the-ordinary strategy. A fresh idea is essential, because we are attempting to reach a crowdthat is normally not within an environmentalist’s reach, and which has already proven to be mostly insensitive to education from environmental movements. It is also a crowd that listens to what is popular on the music charts. Let’s face it, it’s the ‘mainstream’ crowd, the general public. Therefore, we call on you to join us: while we are donating all proceeds to environmental groups and activists, every purchased download of the track will bring our environmental awareness campaign closer to entering the mainstream music charts, consequently closer to a crowd that we absolutely must reach, in order to help maximize the effectiveness of ‘We the People’. As the saying goes: Nothing ventured, nothing gained!
Helen Grant works for the STOP KXL! campaign.
The US/China Climate Pact: a Requiem for the Kyoto Treaty
A HUGE deal is being made out of the US-China climate change agreement. The hoopla is ludicrous. The U.S. makes a statement about its determination to achieve non-binding targets, the PRC talks about its determination to achieve non-binding targets.
At least the Chinese are promising to do something they’re already planning to do and capable of doing: peaking CO2 emissions by 2030. Going green and, in particular, dealing with the horrific smog problems in Beijing and other major Chinese cities is a key element in the social and political pact the CCP wants to make with China’s urban middle class, so the PRC, even if it is ready to see the rest of the planet go to hell, has strong domestic political imperatives driving its greenhouse gas policies.
As for the U.S. goal–26%-28% reductions in greenhouse gas emissions below 2005 levels by 2025–it’s strictly voluntary and subject to the tender mercies of the now Republican-controlled Congress.
What happens when you combine the aspirations of the world’s two biggest emitters of greenhouse gases?
Well, if the U.S. lives up to its commitments, it might be able to shave off 2 trillion tons from its annual greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. At the same date, the PRC will add around 5 trillion tons per annum.
The net result is not victory; it’s probably the recipe for a global temperature rise of 4 degrees which is much higher than the 2 degree rise that everybody said would be very, very bad.
The IPCC finds that to avoid more than 2 degrees of warming, global emissions must fall by an average of 50 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. This requires urgent action: Our energy systems will take decades to fully decarbonize, given the time it takes for power plants and vehicle fleets to turnover, enabling a switch to low-carbon alternatives.
The optimistic assumption is that the United States will be able to halve its 1990 levels by 2050. For the PRC, a similar goal would involve peaking CO2 emissions in 2030…and then cutting them 90% to get back down 50% below 1990 levels. I don’t see that happening. And there’s India.
In 2050, I don’t think we’ll be partying like it’s “half of 1990″, CO2-wise. Might look more like this:
Assuming we f*ck up and average global temps rise 4 degrees over the baseline, the poorer, at risk nations take it in the neck. The richer nations devote their resources to “adaptation” (dealing with the local consequences of climate change) while giving lip service to “mitigation” (trying to achieve a global remedy for the climate problem).
It’s a bitter pill, so there’s a lot of sugar-coating going on.
Even as China’s emissions climb as a matter of absolute tonnage released, it is praised for “reducing its carbon intensity” i.e. the amount of carbon reduced per unit of GDP.
As for President Obama, enviros rightfully regard him as a leader genuinely concerned about the environment, fighting the forces of climate change evil i.e. the Republicans and their buddies in the energy industry, and struggling to move climate change legislation forward one painful step at a time.
So President Obama has gained outsized kudos for a rather puny deal with China. Hopefully, bigger things down the road. Maybe another non-binding deal with India. Clap harder for Tinkerbell!
A less attractive side of the climate change debate is the political cover provided to President Obama for his most questionable and arguably catastrophic climate change gambit: the decision to kill Kyoto i.e. gut the Kyoto Treaty…and hope that something better might get cobbled together in an atmosphere of heightened urgency before it was Too Late.
Kyoto mandated legally-binding emissions caps for the “Annex I” industrialized nations. It was unratifiable in the United States due to Republican resistance and because its carve-out gave “Annex II” countries, particularly China but also India, a now indefensible pass on emissions targets on “developing nation” grounds.
Al Gore tells us that back in 2009 the PRC offered to President Obama to accept binding caps on its greenhouse gas emissions. The carrot for China would presumably be a sizable wealth transfer to the PRC from the industrialized world as the ability to achieve emissions goals was monetized through carbon trading enabled by national “cap and trade” legislation in the major industrialized countries.
Maybe the Chinese offer was bullsh*t, but we never got a chance to find out. By the time the critical Copenhagen climate change conference rolled around end-2009, President Obama had already squandered his political capital and Senate supermajority in his grinding quest for health care reform and his energy legislation was DOA.
The United States showed up at Copenhagen with the conviction that Kyoto had to go, that the United States, even though it had no prospect of passing binding domestic legislation, would claim to have enough leadership juice to create a viable successor system…and the PRC would be the designated fall guy in the necessary but politically wrenching drama of knocking off Kyoto (and spurning the needs and moral claims of the at-risk nations that had not contributed significantly to global warming but would bear the brunt of its effects, and were a major focus of the Kyoto treaty).
I harbor the suspicion that the United States deliberately framed its monitoring, review, and verification requirements on China to be as intrusive and repellent as possible—and dishonestly tied $100 billion annually of adaptation relief for poor at-risk countries (that the United States had no ability to fund) to Chinese acceptance– so that the PRC would be sure to reject them.
Mission accomplished, at least for the West.
The focus was successfully drawn away from the United States and its inability to pass cap-and-trade legislation, the cornerstone of any Kyoto-style effort, and lay the political onus for the intense rancor at Copenhagen on (in the words of Australian PM Howard) the “ratf*cking” Chinese.
In order to smooth the path for President Obama, some enviros now employ the bombastic statement that “Kyoto is dead”. Indeed, the United States government, through its climate change thug-in-chief, Todd Stern, has done its level best, having persuaded a significant number of countries to drop out so that the only enthusiastic major player is the European Union and Kyoto now only governs 15% of global emissions.
Even so, Kyoto, largely because of the unwillingness of the BASIC block (Brazil, South Africa, India, and China) to abandon the pact (and the developing world) and provide political cover for the United States, had struggled on.
In 2012, Kyoto was extended to 2020, and a meeting planned for Paris in 2015 to try to get the treaty and a global response to climate change on a viable track.
The significance of the US-China agreement, and why I’m assuming it is trumpeted with such desperate enthusiasm in the US is that the PRC, by bilaterally coming to climate change terms with the United States, has simultaneously spurned the Kyoto Treaty, the BASIC bloc, and the at-risk nations (known as the G-77 bloc).
So, instead of demanding that the United States help reform the binding Kyoto regime, the PRC has now acquiesced in the US strategy of Kyoto destruction without making provisions for a binding successor agreement.
Whatever the PRC does or does not do on climate change, the bilateral meeting of the minds with President Obama is a rather momentous political step for the PRC and one is invited to wonder what luscious quid pro quo the United States offered in return.
I’ve written extensively on the US-China climate change gyrations since Copenhagen. This piece at China Matters provides a solid introduction to the issues and links for further reading, as well as a vigorous rip on Hillary Clinton, whose politically-driven vision of diplomacy–and the cynical “We must destroy the village in order to save it” approach to climate change policy– I see at the heart of the problem.
Population vs. CO2 emission graph from www.wfs.org
Peter Lee edits China Matters and writes about Asia for CounterPunch.
Hillary Clinton’s Climate Change Alternate Reality
Courtesy of India’s First Post, an excerpt from Hard Choices:
At the international conference on climate change in Copenhagen in December 2009, US President Barack Obama forced himself into a room where the then Chinese premier Wen Jiabao was holding a secret meeting with the then Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and other leaders. Giving a blow by blow account of the incident, of which she was part as the then Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton in her memoirs ‘Hard Choices’ writes that the purpose of China was to isolate the United States by bringing together countries like India, Brazil and South Africa on its side. But Obama’s determination and presence of mind thwarted such a move, she writes.
“President Obama and I were looking for Premier Wen Jiabao in the middle of a large international conference on climate change in Copenhagen, Denmark,” she recalls. “We knew that the only way to achieve a meaningful agreement on climate change was for leaders of the nations emitting the most greenhouse gases to sit down together and hammer out a compromise, especially the US and China,” she said.
“But the Chinese were avoiding us.” “Worse, we learned that Wen had called a ‘secret’ meeting with the Indians, Brazilians, and South Africans to stop, or at least dilute, the kind of agreement the United States was seeking. When we couldn’t find any of the leaders of those countries, we knew something was amiss and sent out members of our team to canvass the conference center,” she writes. “Eventually they discovered the meeting’s location. After exchanging looks of ‘Are you thinking what I’m thinking?’ the President and I set off through the long hallways of the sprawling Nordic convention center, with a train of experts and advisors scrambling to keep up,” she writes in her book. “Later we’d joke about this impromptu ‘footcade’, a motorcade without the motors, but at the time I was focused on the diplomatic challenge waiting at the end of our march.
So off we went, charging up a flight of stairs and encountering surprised Chinese officials, who tried to divert us by sending us in the opposite direction. We were undeterred,” she says. When they arrived outside the meeting room, there was a jumble of arguing aides and nervous security agents, she says. Robert Gibbs, the White House Press Secretary, got tangled up with a Chinese guard, she adds. In the commotion the President slipped through the door and yelled, ‘Mr. Premier!’ really loudly, which got everyone’s attention. “The Chinese guards put their arms up against the door again, but I ducked under and made it through,” Clinton writes recounting the incident. “In a makeshift conference room whose glass walls had been covered by drapes for privacy against prying eyes, we found Wen wedged around a long table with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, and South African President Jacob Zuma. Jaws dropped when they saw us. ‘Are you ready?’ said President Obama, flashing a big grin,” Clinton claims.
“Now the real negotiations could begin. It was a moment that was at least a year in the making,” she adds.
Horsepucky as far as the “we broke up China’s cabal and got the real negotiations going” thing.
I wrote a detailed backgrounder on Copenhagen soon after the debacle. Here are some choice excerpts concerning the United States’ failure to “thwart”, indeed its inadvertent success in creating, the “BASIC” bloc (Brazil, South Africa with initials inverted for maximum acronym effect, India, and China) of affronted developing regional powers:
[T]he United States assiduously ignored the embarrassing fact of ostensible ally India’s move into the BASIC camp—and skated over the issue of how Washington’s conference planning found it lined up against both New Delhi and Beijing instead of playing one off against the other.
When one considers that the essence of U.S. diplomacy in Asia involves pushing China and India into opposition, forcing these two rivals into an alliance is a remarkable if dubious achievement.
India, for its part, was frank about its identity of interests with China, at least on the issue of climate change India has come out quite well in Copenhagen: Ramesh (Lead):
[Environment Minister] Ramesh said: “A notable feature of this conference is the manner in which the BASIC group of countries (Brazil, South Africa, India and China) coordinated their position.
“BASIC ministers met virtually on an hourly basis right through the conference; India and China worked very very closely together.”
“India, South Africa, Brazil, China and other developing countries were entirely successful in ensuring there was no violation of the BAP [Bali Action Plan] (of 2007),” Ramesh said.
“Despite relentless attempts made by developed countries, the conference succeeded in continuing negotiations under the Kyoto Protocol for the post-2012 period”, when the current period of the protocol runs out.
The original piece, long and filled with circumstantial detail, is still up at Japan Focus.
In Hard Choices, Clinton also misrepresents the key US gambit at Copenhagen: the $100 billion per year mitigation initiative:
The United States was prepared to lead a collective effort by developed countries to mobilize $100 billion annually by 2020 from a combination of public and private sources to help the poorest and most vulnerable nations mitigate the damage from climate change if we could also reach broad agreement on limiting emissions.
Actually, the quid pro quo was not “broad agreement on limiting emissions”; the promise of aid was linked to the PRC’s acceptance of emission caps and “transparency”. It was, as Admiral Akbar would say, “A trap!” As John Lee approvingly put it in Foreign Policy at the time, it was “a clever trap”.
Having just announced that the United States would establish and contribute to a $100 billion international fund by 2020 to help poor countries cope with the challenge of climate change, Clinton added a nonnegotiable proviso: All other major nations would first be required to commit their emissions reduction to a binding agreement and submit these reductions to “transparent verification.” … The onus was now on Beijing to agree to standards of “transparent verification.” If it did not, poorer countries standing to benefit from the fund would blame China for breaking the deal. Clinton’s proposal had cunningly undermined Beijing’s leadership over the developing bloc of countries.
It was a trap that worked—for a while. The solidarity of the G-77+China bloc–which had historically maintained a united front insisting that the developed nations shoulder most of the greenhouse gas burden in thespirit of the Kyoto Treaty–was shattered.
Actually, it had been shattered pre-Copenhagen as the United States had cultivated the emergence of a pro-Western faction within the G77, led by Tuvalu, to confront the PRC at the conference on the issue of obstructing US-sponsored mitigation aid. But the benefits were short-lived as the big powers alienated the G77 in toto by excluding it from the closed door negotiations over the final accord, it became obvious that the US lacked the political will to commit to binding agreement on emissions despite the desperate efforts and importunities of the at-risk nations, and that a “collective effort by developed countries to mobilize $100 billion annually by 2020 from a combination of public and private sources” i.e. after President Obama had left office, looked like a piece of public relations vaporware.
Another piece of dubious reportage from Hard Choices is Clinton’s rather counterintuitive explanation that outrage within the Chinese delegation was triggered by fear of the mad US negotiation skillz, rather than anger that the US team had forced its way into a private meeting between Wen and three other world leaders as if it was schooling misbehaving adolescents at a sleepover:
In one surprising display, one of the other members of the Chinese delegation …started loudly scolding the far more senior Premier. He was quite agitated by the prospect that a deal might be at hand.
WaPo provided the context at the time:
China’s top climate change negotiator exploded in rage at U.S. pressure after Obama walked in on the Chinese while they were holding talks with the Indians, South Africans and Brazilians. After Obama asked whether the Chinese could commit to listing their climate targets in an international registry, Xie Zhenhua launched into a tirade, pointing his finger at the U.S. president… Wen instructed his Chinese interpreter not to translate Xie’s fiery remarks. When Xie erupted again, Wen, who was chairing the meeting, ignored him. After Wen handed Obama a draft text of an agreement that included verification language Obama couldn’t abide by, the two men led a lengthy debate that ended in a working compromise, sources said.
The “working compromise” was an agreement text that kicked the transparency can down the road to a future “conference of the parties”. I imagine Xie was continuing to vent his spleen at the US delegation for its disrespect for the PRC, and felt little need to disrupt a “deal” that was little more than face-saving nonsense.
Apparently the fact that the US stunt—which, I note, Clinton is careful not to take responsibility for–caused Xie Zhenhua to berate President Obama, not Wen Jiabao, is one of those awkward items of narrative that demanded some creative bending and stretching.
Beyond placing the lumpy gristle of Copenhagen failure into the political memoir Cuisinart in order to output creamy Clintonian achievement, the book says very little about the objective that has been driving international climate change policy under President Obama: the desire to “kill Kyoto” i.e. collapse the current treaty and its messy framework of unbalanced obligations, big-and-small consensus, and rhetoric of moral claims on the developed world, with something more U.S.-friendly.
What really happened at Copenhagen was that President Obama had been unable to get national cap-and-trade legislation passed in the US. Having never ratified Kyoto (with its binding emissions caps) and with no meaningful prospect of national legislation, the United States was unable to put any pressure on the People’s Republic of China to implement national caps and assist the world in moving beyond the Kyoto Protocol (which bound only the Annex 1 “advanced economies”) to a new regime in which all of the largest emitters (including China, India, Brazil, & South Africa) accepted binding caps.
In 2010, Al Gore told a conference in Montreal that the PRC passed a message to President Obama before Copenhagen that it was ready to work with the United States to come up with a binding successor to Kyoto… if the US Congress could pass similar legislation.
Not to be.
Instead, President Obama and Secretary Clinton apparently came to Copenhagen with the idea that, absent meaningful US advances either on ratifying Kyoto or creating a new regime, the US would settle for half a loaf: incrementally weakening the Kyoto Protocol at Copenhagen so that it could be allowed to expire and the new regime, nonbinding and with the US and other major powers calling the shots (embodied in the “Denmark draft”) would emerge from its ashes.
In tactical terms, this meant attacking the PRC instead of working with it, by dangling the promise of mitigation money linked to transparency concessions to break the united front of China and the G-77 bloc of small countries.
The PRC—apparently because this would make tapping the international carbon offset market subject to the adversarial attention of the United States and its allies, thereby putting at risk a major economic prop for greenhouse gas reduction—declined to yield to the public US demands for “transparency”. (I might add that the PRC is a clever and not entirely scrupulous player in the offset game; however, its resistance to US demands seemed to have more to do with the apparent inability of the US to deliver a binding emissions commitment in return for transparency concessions.)
In PR terms it meant that the virtually foreordained failure of the conference would be laid at China’s feet, something that the PRC was not quite prepared for, and which probably accounted for Xie’s furious but untranslated set-to with President Obama.
Unfortunately for the United States, the $100 billion gambit and shouldering its way into the PRC/Brazil/India/South Africa confab did not isolate China; instead, the BASIC alliance stepped forward to share the political heat and finesse the creation of a pro forma accord that put the West and Japan on the hook for the $30 billion in immediate aid but accomplished nothing else on the key issues of binding emissions targets or transparency.
India’s Jairam Ramesh described the fallout from the U.S. tactics as follows:
“During the last day of the summit (18 December) when the talks had reached an impasse, it was the intention of European Nations and the US to announce the breakdown and hold the four Basic nations (India, China, Brazil and South Africa) accountable for its failure,” Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh said addressing the Aspen Institute of India recently.
Speaking about the talks on the concluding day of the Summit, he said the US President (Barack Obama) kept on saying to the head of state of Bangladesh and Maldives that “you are not going to get money (for climate steps) unless these four guys (BASIC nations) sign the Accord.”
He (Obama) made it categorically clear that any money flow to the developing countries will be linked to the Accord provided the four countries of BASIC group come on board, Ramesh said.
“Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina did ask me whether India will deny her country this money. This was the line taken by UK and Australia as well.
“Against this background, none of the heads of the four states wanted to be responsible for the breakdown of the talks. China was particularly wary being world’s largest green house gas emitter,” Ramesh recalled.
This “was the moral line taken at the summit and against this background the Accord was noted,” he added.
The Accord that resulted from Secretary Clinton’s fancy footwork and “clevertrapping” was, by design, a nonbinding collection of loopholes negotiated behind closed doors by the big developed and developing powers in order to save their face as climate change heroes.
The BASIC countries insisted that it be stripped of anything that would allow it to be construed as a (nonbinding) successor to the (binding) Kyoto Protocol. The Accord was not adopted by the conference attendees, who in general detested it; and it was only “noted” by means of some procedural legerdemain as it was jammed through the general session of the Conference, to the intense resentment of the G77. By the end, even Tuvalu, the leader of the pro-West bloc, had turned on the United States and condemned the Accord and the $30 billion in promised “Fast Start” mitigation aid as “thirty pieces of silver” that betrayed the interests of the small developing nations.
The lack of any real achievement at Copenhagen was the signal for a general pile-on intended to put the onus on the PRC and not the US for the failure at Copenhagen, led by the Anglo-American bloc abetted by prestige media, especially in Great Britain. Kevin Rudd memorably accused the PRC of administering a “ratf*cking” at Copenhagen.
Nevertheless, the BASIC countries, led by the PRC and India, have maintained a united front on climate change—and the preservation of Kyoto—to this day.
Subsequent to Copenhagen, in its campaign to supersede the Kyoto treaty with the “Copenhagen Accord”, the Obama administration appeared to be channeling the unsavory spirit of the Bush neo-cons. For the United States, negotiator Todd Stern (apparently a favorite of Clinton’s; in Hard Choices she singles him out as a “passionate and dogged diplomat” whom she put in charge of climate diplomacy) assumed the role of climate-change goon-in-chief, charged with the task of killing Kyoto—and belittling both the Kyoto Treaty and the smaller at-risk nations that presumed to invoke the treaty to assert moral and financial claims on the developed world.
Post-Copenhagen the U.S. engaged in an intensive global armtwisting campaign to compel smaller at-risk nations to endorse the Copenhagen process as a successor to Kyoto (in 2010, as a part of the kill-Kyoto PR campaign, Todd Stern displayed a “little chart” that pointed out surviving Kyoto binding signatories only accounted for 28% of global emissions, as opposed to the more inclusive [but unbinding] Copenhagen Accord’s 80%)—and keep the pressure on China for “transparency”, instead of hassling the United States to commit to an emissions cap.
Wikileaks also revealed a sleazy campaign to browbeat dozens of smaller at-risk countries into “signing on” to the Copenhagen accord and and discuss tangible financial inducements, in return for their support.
Todd Stern went distinctly undiplomatic in his effort to neutralize the unfavorable effect of the Wikileak.
In an article entitled US envoy rejects suggestion that America bribed countries to sign up to the Copenhagen Accord, the Guardian reported:
Stern added: “We can eliminate any cause or accusation of bribery by eliminating any money.”
This case of affairs is bitterly ironic, since the “Copenhagen” model would require the at-risk developing countries to sacrifice their independent voices (through abandonment of the unanimous consensus system) and the moral and legal claims on developed countries that they enjoyed under Kyoto. The concrete business of climate change policy would shift to the “Major Economies Forum” and climate change financial assistance would be doled out by the donor countries according to their own priorities instead of collected and distributed by the UN in a spirit of equity.
As the Kyoto regime hollowed out, the United States also gave every appearance of slow-walking the negotiations with the PRC on “transparency”, the issue that the U.S. claimed was the vital precondition to the successful reform of the Kyoto regime—and the release of billions of aid.
Post-Copenhagen, the US and China have held continual meetings on MRV and it appears that there isn’t too much practical difference between the two sides.
The Guardian reported a WikiLeaks cable with this exchange between the EU’s top climate change official and the lead US negotiator:
[Connie] Hedegaard asks why the US did not agree with China and India on what she saw as acceptable measures to police future emissions cuts. “The question is whether they will honour that language,” the cable quotes [Jonathan] Pershing as saying.
Given the lack of US domestic progress on climate change legislation, at the 2010 Cancun conference the “blame China” dog showed signs of not hunting anymore, as the New York Times reported:
Yet while the United States is casting China as the linchpin of the negotiations, there is anger aplenty at America inside the Moon Palace resort where talks are being held. Many say the United States is demanding compromise from others while bringing nothing to the negotiating table itself.
“I’m actually more concerned about the US’s transparency,” said Jennifer Morgan, who heads the World Resources Institute’s climate and energy program.
One leading US analyst said every time countries make progress on an issue, the United States reminds countries that it might all mean nothing unless China agrees to transparency rules.
“The US is the problem here,” the analyst said. “Everybody is so pissed off. Here we are with nothing back home, and acting like bullies.”
On December 8, 2012, at yet another conference in Doha, in another exercise in “kicking the can down the road as far as we can before the asphalt melts in the heat”, the Kyoto regime was extended to 2020 and everybody agreed to negotiate a replacement regime in 2015–at the cost of the withdrawal of staunch US allies Japan and Canada, and (because of its dislike of tougher offset standards) Russia.
Signatories still accepting binding targets are basically the EU plus Australia. Now advocates of the Copenhagen Accord can claim that Kyoto, governing only 15% of world greenhouse gases post-Doha, is not significantly better than Copenhagen (zero % binding). At the same time, the US and EU refused to make inconvenient commitments for climate change aid to at risk nations beyond the $30 billion in immediate aid they promised at Copenhagen.
And, in another indications of the problems inherent in the US strategy, America, not China, was putting in time in the climate change doghouse, at least with Friends of the Earth:
“Doha was a disaster zone where poor developing countries were forced to capitulate to the interests of wealthy countries, effectively condemning their own citizens to the climate crisis. The blame for the disaster in Doha can be laid squarely at the foot of countries like the USA who have blocked and bullied those who are serious about tackling climate change.
A few observations on Hard Choices:
Clinton’s strategy of advancing US policies (or obscuring their failures) by sticking it to the unpopular and autocratic Chinese regime—through a surprise attack with careful advance planning in an advantageous multilateral forum–was fully formed in December 2009 at Copenhagen, long before the “freedom of navigation” contretemps at ASEAN’s Hanoi meeting in mid-2010.
By laying down her rather skewed version of what went down at Copenhagen, Clinton is signaling that she wants her readout of the Copenhagen outcome—Kyoto superseded, all caps to be renegotiated on a nonbinding basis with transparency on offsets a prerequisite– to be regarded as the anchor for further negotiations. As a practical matter, that means that major, costly joint global action on climate change looks pretty unlikely.
Message to Xie Zhenhua: Suck. On. This.
Deciding to treat China as an enemy is a clever tactic and good politics, but I think it’s a strategic blunder whose cost Americans will pay in matters great and small for decades.
And on the subject of climate change, going adversarial with China and Kyoto might turn out to be an existential blunder that will help decide the fate of the whole planet.
So that’s where we are, Ms. Clinton.
Peter Lee wrote a ground-breaking essay on the exposure of sailors on board the USS Reagan to radioactive fallout from Fukushima in the March issue of CounterPunch magazine. He edits China Matters.
Doha climate summit concludes without agreement on emission reductions
By Patrick O’Connor
WSWS | 11 December 2012
The failure of the 18th Conference of the Parties (COP18) was anticipated beforehand by everyone involved, and met with widespread indifference on the part of the international media. Since the debacle at the Copenhagen summit in December 2009—which broke up without agreement on a post-Kyoto climate treaty amid bitter conflicts between the major powers—annual UN-sponsored climate summits have been restricted to negotiating various secondary issues, unrelated to the question of binding emissions targets. Heads of government have not gathered to discuss the issue in the past three years, leaving junior ministers and diplomats to head negotiating teams at the subsequent summits at Cancún, Durban, and Doha.
The inability of world leaders to even meet to discuss the climate change crisis represents a devastating indictment of the capitalist system.
Overwhelming scientific evidence points to the serious threat posed to the world’s population by excessive emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. The forecasts made in the first UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, in 1990, have proven accurate. “We’ve sat back and watched the two decades unfold and warming has progressed at a rate consistent with those projections,” Matt England, of the University of New South Wales’ Climate Change Research Centre, told Australia’s ABC Radio. “The analysis is very clear that the IPCC projections are coming true. And at the moment we are tracking at the high end in terms of our emissions, and so all of the projections that we look to at the moment are those high end forecasts.”
Average temperatures on the planet have already increased by 0.8 degrees Celsius—triggering serious weather events, the melting of much of the Arctic ice, and creating other serious environmental problems—but temperatures remain on track to increase as forecast by the IPCC by more than 4 degrees by the end of the century. This would likely lead to deadly heat waves, droughts, and a sea-level rise affecting hundreds of millions of people and inundating low lying areas, including many coastal cities.
These projections remain unaltered after the Doha summit. The final communiqué, adopted after two weeks of discussions, committed to finalising a post-Kyoto treaty governing greenhouse gas emissions by a conference to be held in Paris in 2015, with the new treaty to take effect in 2020.
A United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) report demanding urgent action was ignored. “The scientists are telling us that if we are to stay on the path to limit warming to 2 degrees Celsius we need global emissions to peak before 2020,” UNEP chief scientist Professor Joseph Alcamo warned before the summit. “By 2030 we need to be 25 percent below current global emissions, and in 2050 we need to cut more than half of the current global emissions level. We cannot wait till 2020 to begin these stringent emissions reductions.”
There is no reason to expect that the 2015 Paris summit will end any differently than Copenhagen did in 2009. Every advanced capitalist country is seeking to promote its own corporate and financial institutions, and gain a geo-strategic advantage, by imposing stringent emissions reduction targets on its rivals while avoiding such targets for itself.
Underlying all the discussions on a post-Kyoto treaty is the increasingly acrimonious rivalry between the US and China. This enmity has only intensified in the past three years, due to the Obama administration’s aggressive military and diplomatic “pivot” to Asia and the Pacific, which seeks to reinforce American hegemony by strategically encircling China.
Washington is determined to block any climate treaty that upholds the Kyoto Protocol’s classification of China, together with India and other states, as a “low income” country. Under Kyoto, such countries are not subject to binding emissions targets. The Obama administration has insisted not only that China must accept targets, but has objected to any reference in climate negotiations to “common but differential responsibility.”
Washington maintains that advanced and developing economies ought to have an equal responsibility to reduce carbon emissions. The US, however, is responsible for the bulk of the greenhouse gases currently in the atmosphere, having emitted three times more than any other country between 1850 and 2007. Moreover, per capita emissions in China remain many times lower than in America.
Unable to make any progress toward a post-Kyoto agreement, delegates in Doha trumpeted the extension of the Kyoto Protocol for another eight years, until 2020. However, the treaty is now a very limited agreement, with the US remaining apart and other countries, including Japan, Russia, and Canada, withdrawing. Only the European Union, several non-EU European states, Australia and three former Soviet republics signed on, covering countries responsible for an estimated 15 percent of global emissions.
Extending the Kyoto Protocol will not reduce carbon pollution by any significant degree.
The real aim of the extension is to prop up the European Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS). Carbon trading has been advanced as the “free market” solution to climate change—creating a new commodity, carbon pollution, in which the corporations and banks can trade and speculate. This has proven a spectacular failure in actually reducing emissions, but the ETS has generated large profits for sections of European finance capital. London is home to an estimated 80 percent of the global carbon trading market, which was recently estimated by the businessGreen website to be worth £90 billion annually.
In recent years, however, the carbon trading industry has been hit by the European economic crisis, which has led to a plunge in industrial activity, in turn lessening the need for businesses to purchase carbon credits. The surplus of credits in the system has seen their value plummet from around $20 per tonne of carbon before the 2008-09 financial crash to as low as $3.
Without Kyoto, the carbon market would be in danger of collapsing entirely, as the protocol provides its legal underpinnings. The Australian government signed up for the extended agreement only because its carbon tax is scheduled to transition to an emissions trading scheme, plugged into the European ETS. “International carbon markets will cover billions of consumers this decade,” Prime Minister Julia Gillard told a meeting of business CEOs recently. “Ask the bankers at your table whether they want Australia to clip that ticket. We’re going to help them get their share.”
Carbon traders were active participants in the Doha discussions. One climate change campaigner, Sustainable Energy and Economy Network co-director Janet Redman, noted: “You’ll also find in the halls of the annual climate summits the faces of private interests—industry reps, investors and carbon traders. They’re a regular fixture, but this year the private sector has taken centre stage in debates over climate finance. At COP18 there are seven times as many side events about getting private finance and carbon markets engaged in climate action as events highlighting the role of public funds.”
The latest climate summit only underscores the reality that under the profit system, corporate interests and inter-imperialist rivalries sabotage any possibility of reorganising the global economy to avoid an environmental disaster. Utilising the available technology and carrying out the necessary restructuring of energy generation, industrial and agricultural production, and transport infrastructure to adequately lower carbon emissions, while also raising living standards internationally, will only take place within a rationally planned world socialist society.
Published on Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Obama Has Failed the World on Climate Change
The folder labeled “climate change” that George W. Bush left behind for his successor on the desk of the Oval Office in January likely wasn’t a thick one. Although Bush once said that America is overly-dependent on oil, he never got beyond that insight. He was too busy waging war on Iraq and searching for a legal basis for extraordinary renditions to pay much attention to the real threat facing humanity. “Forget the climate” seems to have been Bush’s unofficial motto.
But few people expected that the Barack Obama, of all people, would continue his predecessor’s climate change plan. When he took office at the beginning of 2009, it was clear that the success of the UN Climate Change Summit in Copenhagen in December depended almost entirely on the US — that America needed to take a clear leadership role on a problem that could shake civilization to its very core.
Only if the US manages to reduce its excessive energy consumption, commit itself to mandatory CO2 emission reduction targets and help finance the move away from oil for poorer countries, is there still a chance that countries like China and India will do the same and that a dangerous warming of the Earth can be stopped. On the weekend, Obama announced that there would be no agreement on binding rules in Copenhagen. It was the admission of a massive failing — and the prelude to a truly dramatic phase of international climate policy.
Obama Lied to the Europeans
Barack Obama cast himself as a “citizen of the world” when he delivered his well-received campaign speech in Berlin in the summer of 2008. But the US president has now betrayed this claim. In his Berlin speech, he was dishonest with Europe. Since then, Obama has neglected the single most important issue for an American president who likes to imagine himself as a world citizen, namely his country’s addiction to fossil fuels and the risks of unchecked climate change. Health care reform and other domestic issues were more important to him than global environmental threats. He was either unwilling or unable to convince skeptics in his own ranks and potential defectors from the ranks of the Republicans to support him, for example by promising alternative investments as a compensation for states with large coal reserves.
Obama’s announcement at the APEC summit that it was no longer possible to secure a binding treaty in Copenhagen, is the result of his own negligence. China, India and other emerging economies have always spoken openly about the fact that the US, as the world’s largest emitter of CO2, has to be proactive in commiting itself to targets agreed on by way of international negotiation. But that is not America’s style. The US is quite happy to see itself as the leader of the Western world. But when it comes to climate change, America has once again failed miserably — for the umpteenth time.
If the rest of the world were to follow the US example in their approach to fossil fuels, the oceans would not only heat up, but would probably soon begin to boil. American CO2 emissions per capita are about twice as high as those in comparable industrialized nations and many times greater than those of the developing world. The climate change bill that is currently making its way through Congress does not go nearly far enough — and that is Obama’s fault. The bill proposed reducing CO2 emissions by a ridiculous 4 percent relative to 1990 levels, by 2020. Climate researchers believe that reductions of 40 percent or more are required.
The bill has since been watered down even more — by exactly the kind of lobbying interests which the new US president had promised to overcome. Obama has neglected to communicate the importance of climate change to his fellow citizens by speaking about it in a major speech or in his much-loved “town hall” meetings. And he has left it to the Europeans to take the lead.
Americans Do Not Look Beyond their Own Borders
Obama’s priorities are wrong. Copenhagen is not just any old summit — it is the long-awaited climax of many years of negotiations, negotiations whose failure was only averted at the last minute at the Bali summit two years ago. Industry and energy companies around the world will use the results of the Copenhagen summit as a benchmark when they are planning their investments for the coming years and decades.
Obama was quite happy to make the trip to Copenhagen in October to support his hometown Chicago’s bid to host the Olympic Games. But he is currently leaving open the question of whether he will come to the Danish capital in December for the UN Climate Change Conference. In doing so, he has given other world leaders the signal that they do not need to attend. If the Copenhagen summit, which energy strategists and environmentalists have been preparing for two years, is a failure, then it will mainly be Obama’s fault.
Admittedly the Europeans have been slow to make concrete pledges of the billions of euros that are needed to help developing countries combat climate change, but at least they are prepared to make significant CO2 reductions of up to 30 percent by 2020, relative to 1990 levels. The US, however, is dragging its feet, preferring tactics to strategy — just as was the case under George W. Bush.
Dreamt Up by Hollywood
For most Americans, the world beyond the US’s borders is nothing more than an irritating nuisance. Hence arguments based on appeals about drowning Bangladeshis, starving Africans and flooded islands in Indonesia have little effect. In Hollywood, the United States has an industry that continually pushes the materialistic ideal of Western prosperity to billions of people around the world, while at the same time bombarding them with apocalyptic visions in the form of disaster movies.
Many Americans clearly also believe that real climate change is just something dreamt up by the entertainment industry.
Obama has proven himself to be unable to put an end to the lies that modern American society is based on. He is unable to overcome the entrenched lobbyists of the oil and coal industries and make the reality clear to his compatriots: They are the worst energy wasters on the planet — and are thus indirectly a major threat to world peace in the 21st century. Although they do not enjoy a higher quality of life than Europeans, Americans consume twice as much fossil fuel per capita. Their cars are too big, their homes are not energy efficient and they have yet to focus their talents for innovation away from trivial entertainment gadgets and toward renewable energy technologies.
The Main Culprit
It may seem arrogant to take the Americans to task to such a degree. But at least in Europe, many are willing to question their own lifestyle and to look at events beyond their own borders.
The Copenhagen summit, which is just three weeks away, is not lost yet. But if the worst-case scenario becomes reality at Copenhagen and at the follow-up conferences — if, in other words, world leaders ignore the findings of the global scientific community — then the US will find itself in a very uncomfortable position. America will be seen as the primary culprit of global warming — and this after the US, with its rampant real estate speculation, has given us a global economic crisis which has not only destroyed assets, but pushed 100 million people worldwide into hunger. With that kind of track record, the US hardly has a claim any more to the leadership of the Western world — let alone a Nobel Peace Prize for its leader.
A world of flooded coasts, dried-up rivers and disappearing rainforests will lead to massive refugee movements and conflict. The Nobel Committee should postpone the award of the Nobel Peace Prize from Dec. 10 to Dec. 20. Only if Obama has achieved a convincing deal at the Copenhagen conference will there be a real reason to honor him.
© 2009 Spiegel Online