Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Embarrassing Recalcitrance in Poznan

If climate change is the world's house on fire, then the Poznan talks are us filling a squirt gun drop by drop. Bloomberg:
Harlan Watson, who heads the U.S. delegation for the first week of talks, told reporters in Poznan it’s "unclear" whether a long-term goal for 2050 can be agreed in Poznan. He also said he didn’t think any numbers can be fixed for a 2020 target, including the possible 25 percent to 40 percent emissions cuts for developed countries that the EU and China have suggested.

"I don’t think many parties are ready to sign onto any range at this time," Watson said. "My own opinion is that that’s going to occur in the end game" in Copenhagen.

"We’ve seen in past discussions of this that a number of parties aren’t prepared to agree to a long-term goal until other parties are coming forward with a 2020 or a near-term goal, and a number of parties, including the United States, are not willing to come forward with that yet."
It's saddening that my country is representing itself like a recalcitrant child in Poland. It's not the "United States" that is unwilling; it is the Bush administration dragging its feet, at the expense of global quality of life. That is what "we've seen in past discussions" (Bali and Montreal, exhibits A and B).

Earth to Mr. Watson: you don't wait for the "end game" to decide on a range. You sign the convention. The whole purpose of agreeing on a range and a negotiating text ahead of time is so you can be ready to sign the actual treaty. Perpetual negotiation -- that is to say, shucking responsibility -- will only lead to the "end game" for the world's vulnerable ecosystems and the livelihoods of millions of people. Secondly, the long-term goal should not be based on a short-term goal. It should be based on science. Start with the target recommended by James Hansen et al. (PDF):
If humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted, paleoclimate evidence and ongoing climate change suggest that CO2 will need to be reduced from its current 385 ppm to at most 350 ppm.
The best policy is formulated after taking into account the recommendations of experts. Our position at the Poznan talks, if Mr. Watson's remarks are any indication, is the antithesis of good policy.

Meanwhile, a fifth of the worlds corals are dead, primarily due to climate change.
many of the remaining reefs could die in the next 20 to 40 years unless humans reduce greenhouse gas emissions...

Further coral loss will have alarming consequences for some 500 million people who depend on reefs for their livelihood, according to a report by the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network (GCRMN) presented at the UN conference on global warming in Poland.
Here is the blatant and unacceptable schism between the urgency of climate change and the twilight zone of waffling officialspeak inhabited by the Bush administration's team. No wonder youth are embarrassed by Watson's "sidestepping and recalcitrance".

But it's not just the U.S. that is waffling. George Monbiot -- whose worry that the global community would "talk ourselves to Kingdom Come", instead of actually acting on climate change, certainly seems applicable to Poznan -- recently interviewed (link to video) a defensive and noncommittal Yvo de Boer, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Though de Boer was visibly rattled in Bali at some of the machinations of responsibility avoidance, in the interview he continues to see the meek progress on international climate negotiations as acceptable.

We need to do a lot better than this, and everyone knows it.