Will US role at climate talks change after storm?

November 25, 2012 by Karl Ritter
This Oct. 30, 2012 file photo shows water reaching the street level of the flooded Battery Park Underpass, Tuesday in New York, remnants from Superstorm Sandy. Extreme weather is a growing threat to the nation's lifelines _ its roads, bridges, railways, airports and transit systems _ leaving states and cities trying to come to terms with a new normal. (AP Photo/ Louis Lanzano, File)

(AP)—During a year with a monster storm and scorching heat waves, Americans have experienced the kind of freakish weather that many scientists say will occur more often on a warming planet.

And as a re-elected president talks about global warming again, climate activists are cautiously optimistic that the U.S. will be more than a disinterested bystander when the U.N. resume Monday with a two-week conference in Qatar.

"I think there will be expectations from countries to hear a new voice from the United States," said Jennifer Morgan, director of the climate and energy program at the World Resources Institute in Washington.

The climate officials and environment ministers meeting in the Qatari capital of Doha will not come up with an answer to the global temperature rise that is already melting and permafrost, raising and acidifying the seas, and shifting , which has an impact on floods and droughts.

They will focus on side issues, like extending the —an expiring emissions pact with a dwindling number of members—and ramping up climate financing for poor nations.

They will also try to structure the talks for a new global that is supposed to be adopted in 2015, a process in which American leadership is considered crucial.

Many were disappointed that Obama didn't put more emphasis on during his first term. He took some steps to rein in emissions of heat-trapping gases, such as sharply increasing for cars and trucks. But a climate bill that would have capped U.S. emissions stalled in the Senate.

"We need the U.S. to engage even more," European Union Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard told The Associated Press. "Because that can change the dynamic of the talks."

The world tried to move forward without the U.S. after the Bush Administration abandoned the Kyoto Protocol, a 1997 pact limiting from industrialized nations. As that agreement expires this year, the climate curves are still pointing in the wrong direction.

The concentration of heat-trapping gases like carbon dioxide has jumped 20 percent since 2000, primarily from the burning of fossil fuels like coal and oil, according to a U.N. report released this week. And each year, the gap between what researchers say must be done to reverse this trend, and what's actually being done, gets wider.

Bridging that gap, through clean technology and renewable energy, is not just up to the U.S., but to countries like India and China, whose carbon emissions are growing the fastest as their economies expand.

But Obama raised hopes of a more robust U.S. role in the talks when he called for a national "conversation" on climate change after winning re-election. The issue had been virtually absent in the presidential campaigning until Hurricane Sandy slammed into the East Coast.

The president still faces domestic political constraints, and there's little hope of the U.S. increasing its voluntary pledge in the U.N. talks of cutting emissions by 17 percent by 2020, compared to 2005 levels.

Still, just a signal that Washington has faith in the international process would go a long way, analysts said.

"The perception of many negotiators and countries is that the U.S. is not really interested in increasing action on climate change in general," said Bill Hare, senior scientist at Climate Analytics, a non-profit organization based in Berlin.

For example, Hare said, the U.S. could stop "talking down" the stated goal of the U.N. talks to keep the temperature rise below 2 degrees C (3.6 F) compared to pre-industrial levels.

Todd Stern, the U.S. special envoy on climate change, caused alarm among climate activists in August when he said that "insisting on a structure that would guarantee such a goal will only lead to deadlock." He later clarified that the U.S. still supports the 2-degree target, but favors a more flexible way to reach it than dividing up carbon rights to the atmosphere.

Countries adopted the 2-degree target in 2009, reasoning that a warming world is a dangerous world, with flooding of coastal cities and island nations, disruptions to agriculture and drinking water, and the spread of diseases and the extinction of species.

A recent World Bank report found the world is on track toward 4 degrees C (6.2 F) of warming, which would entail "extreme , declining global food stocks, loss of ecosystems and biodiversity, and life-threatening sea level rise."

The U.S., alone among industrialized countries, didn't ratify the Kyoto Protocol because it found it unfair that China and other emerging economies, as developing countries, were not covered by any binding emissions targets. The U.S. and other rich countries say that firewall must be removed as the talks enter a new phase aimed at adopting a new climate treaty by 2015 that applies to all countries.

China—now the world's top carbon emitter—wants to keep a clear dividing line between developed and developing countries, noting that historically, the former bear the brunt of the responsibility for man-made climate change.

The issue is unlikely to be resolved in Doha, where talks will focus on extending Kyoto as a stopgap measure while negotiators work on the wider deal, which would take effect in 2020.

The 27-nation EU, Switzerland, Norway and Australia are on board but New Zealand, Canada and Japan don't want to be part of a second commitment period of Kyoto. That means the extended treaty would cover only about 15 percent of global emissions.

Delegates in Doha will also try to finalize the rules of the Green Climate Fund, which is supposed to raise $100 billion a year by 2020. Financed by richer nations, the fund would support poorer nations in converting to cleaner energy sources and in adapting to a shifting climate that may damage people's health, agriculture and economies in general.

In addition, countries need to agree on a work plan to guide the negotiations on a new treaty. Without a timeframe with clear mileposts, there's a risk of a repeat in 2015 of the hyped-up but ultimately disappointing summit in Copenhagen in 2009.

Judging by previous conferences, the negotiations in Doha will ebb and flow, with progress one day being replaced by bitter discord the next. And in the end, after an all-night session, bleary-eyed delegates will emerge with some kind of face-saving "accord" or "action plan" that keeps the talks alive another year, but does little to address the core problem.

"It shows that leaders and also the public in these countries—the U.S. certainly is one of them—don't yet understand the full implications of the costs associated with the path that we're on," said Alden Meyer, of the U.S.-based Union of Concerned Scientists.

Explore further: UN climate talks on edge heading into final hours


Related Stories

UN climate talks on edge heading into final hours

December 9, 2011

(AP) -- The United States, China and India could scuttle attempts to save the only treaty governing global warming, Europe's top negotiator said Friday hours before a 194-nation U.N. climate conference was to close.

China to call for Kyoto extension at climate talks

November 22, 2011

China, the world's top greenhouse gas emitter, said Tuesday it will push at next week's climate talks for an extension of the Kyoto Protocol, which requires rich nations to reduce their emissions.

2015 climate 'roadmap' idea well received, says EU

November 6, 2011

The European Union's top climate diplomat said on Saturday the bloc's proposal for upcoming UN talks to lay down a new "roadmap" leading to a comprehensive global deal by 2015 has been well received.

Global climate talks make headway: UN

September 5, 2012

The United Nations on Wednesday hailed "concrete progress" at week-long climate talks in Bangkok, but environmental campaigners warned much faster action was needed to combat global warming.

UN: Canada still obliged to fight climate change

December 13, 2011

The UN climate chief on Tuesday voiced regret over Canada's withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol and said that the country still had legal obligations to work against global warming.

Limited progress in climate talks in China

October 6, 2010

(AP) -- U.N. climate talks being held in China this week are making limited progress as rich and poor nations remain divided on key issues, negotiators said Wednesday.

Recommended for you

How the Elwha dam removals changed the river's mouth

January 19, 2018

For decades, resource managers agreed that removing the two dams on the Elwha River would be a big win for the watershed as a whole and, in particular, for its anadromous trout and salmon. The dams sat on the river for more ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

5 / 5 (3) Nov 25, 2012
But a climate bill that would have capped U.S. emissions stalled in the Senate.

Nothing's changed in the Senate. The type of bill you want passed can't be passed until you have around 55 Democrats and at least 4 or 5 moderate republicans or independents. Currently the ratio is the opposite of what's needed.

The president still faces domestic political constraints, and there's little hope of the U.S. increasing its voluntary pledge in the U.N. talks of cutting emissions by 17 percent by 2020, compared to 2005 levels.

That number is by no means realistic. It takes years to get the permits and buy up the land needed to make industrial scale power generation options.

With population growth of 14% per decade (11% per 8 years,) cutting emissions by 17% would actually require the sum of our technology to be about 30% cleaner per capita. Considering most people buy autos for the long term, the cars and trucks bought this year will still be on the roads then.
5 / 5 (2) Nov 25, 2012
Seriously, in order to make a NET cut of 5% per decade, we'd need:

1, a world wide population growth law restricting number of children to 2 per couple. In the U.S. this is unconstitutional, as it would definitely violate the 4th amendment, upon which the majority of our laws are based.

It's also probably impossible to enforce in any practical way.

2, hyper-aggressive application of wind and solar power on every available roof-top or patch of land where any realistic net gain is available.

3, Make electric autos affordable to at least 60% of the American and European public. Right now they are affordable to more like 20% due to the insane purchase cost and unknown/specialized repair costs.

Even still, hitting a 10% reduction of emissions by 2030 for the U.S. alone, given population growth rate ~9.5%, (2/3rds of which is immigration)...This would require about 30% reduction in per-capita emissions within 18 years. Again, likely impossible, but more plausible than 30% in 8 years...
3.7 / 5 (6) Nov 25, 2012
Will US role at climate talks change after storm?

Unlikely. The US government is too much dependend on what the big companies say. And those aren't hit by natural desasters (at least not to the point that would offset any costs incurred from climate protecting measures).

The little people bear the brunt of climate change costs. And those aren't represented in government on any level.
3 / 5 (4) Nov 25, 2012
Unfortunately, a true representative government would potentially be as evil or worse than a monarchy or dictatorship.

This is why Jury Selection exists. If you allowed "true" representative juries, just about everyone accused of a crime would go to prison for life (or death).

Mob rule isn't something I'd like to see.

People are misinformed or misunderstanding just about every piece of knowledge they encounter. I know a guy who was convinced, even just a few months ago, that the Hubble Space Telescope had actually VISITED other galaxies. I had to explain to him that, no, it's just a telescope that LOOKS at other galaxies, among other things, and that we have no way now nor in the near conceivable future for visiting another galaxy.

This is 5th grade level knowledge, but a grown man 10 years my senior with mechanical and administrative experience, who makes above average pay grade, didn't know the difference.

This is the problem with "representative government". It doesn't work.
3.7 / 5 (6) Nov 25, 2012
Unless there is a massive environmental disaster (what we've seen so far isn't massive enough)--particularly in south, and so long as the petroleum industry and its investors can control policy in washington through lobbying and campaign contribution dependence, there will be no change in the US's response to global warming. In addition, when the petroleum industry can fund propaganda institutes (e.g. heritage foundation, cato institute, american enterprise institute) through 501c4s and the like (e.g. DonorsTrust) that don't need to disclose their donors (originally the petroleum industry funded them directly, but when the public put a spotlight on it, the funds started coming from c4s instead), public belief in AGW will continue to fall (and it has been significantly--just look at the stats between ~2007 and now).

I think the best thing we can do is remove congress's dependence on corporate money. This is why I'll pitch the American Anti-Corruption Act here: anticorruptionact.org
2 / 5 (12) Nov 25, 2012
The hurricane that hit the area in 1938 was stronger.
Damage is more a function of bad preparation (poor govt planning) than the weather itself.
3.9 / 5 (7) Nov 26, 2012
So say the denialists

"The hurricane that hit the area in 1938 was stronger." - RyggTard

But where is the data supporting their assertion.

Where are the satellite photographs showing the 1938 storm's size and the barometric pressure readings taken at the eye of the storm when it reached landfall?

3.5 / 5 (6) Nov 26, 2012
Unfortunately, a true representative government would potentially be as evil or worse than a monarchy or dictatorship.

Your lack of faith in democracy disappoints me. Agreed democracy may suck sometimes, but the old aphorism is true "democracy is the worst system of government we know of, except for all the other systems that have been tried."

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.