The latest international deal on climate, reached early on Saturday after days of hard bargaining, was described by exhausted delegates as a “step forward” in grappling with global warming. If they step too far, however, they’re going to bump into an elephant in the room.
That would be the US Republican Party and nobody at the Cancun meetings wanted to talk about the impending Republican takeover of the US House of Representatives. It essentially rules out any new, legally binding pact requiring the US and other major emitters of global warming gases to reduce their emissions.
In endless hours of speeches at the annual UN climate conference, the US political situation was hardly mentioned, despite its crucial role in how the world will confront what the Cancun final documents called “one of the greatest challenges of our time.”
Not everyone held their tongue. Seas rising from warming, and threatening their homes, got Pacific Islanders talking.
Nauru President Marcus Stephen spoke despairingly of “governments deadlocked because of ideological divisions.”
Tuvalu Deputy Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga referred to the “backward politics” of one unnamed developed nation.
A US friend, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi told a large gathering here: “The key thing for us is not whether the American Congress is controlled by this or that party,” but that richer nations help the developing world with financial support — for clean energy sources, new seawalls, new water systems and other projects to try to stem and cope with climate change and the droughts, floods, disease and extreme weather it portends.
“Which party” does matter, however. Many Republicans dismiss scientific evidence of human-caused warming, citing arguments by skeptics that the large majority of scientists are wrong or that the consequences of warming are overstated.
Early in the two-week conference here, four Republican members of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee sent a letter to US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton demanding a freeze on about US$3 billion in planned US climate aid for this year and next year.
The senators said some findings of the UN’s climate change panel “were found to be exaggerated or simply not true” and said that at a time of record US budget deficits, “no American taxpayer dollars should be committed to a global climate fund based on information that is not accurate.”
The leader of the protest, Senator John Barrasso, called the financing an “international climate change bailout.”
What will they call the long-term finance plan embraced at the Cancun conference, for US$100 billion a year in US and other international climate financing by 2020?
Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, who with Zenawi co-chaired a UN panel on climate financing, was asked how this US opposition can be overcome.
“I believe that many things might happen in American politics in a period of 10 years,” he replied.
Such long, wishful views have dominated the climate talks for two decades, as the US remained outside the 1997 Kyoto Protocol and the modest mandatory reductions in emissions that other industrial nations accepted.
For the world to agree on a new, all-encompassing treaty with deeper cuts to succeed Kyoto, whose targets expire in 2012, the US Congress must pass legislation to cap US industrial emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.