Many hoped President Obama would be a breath of fresh air on American willingness to respond to the consensus of global climate science. The science says climate change is happening due to human activity, and it’s urgent. Yesterday, the US confirmed its denial on the second proposition.
The US received a Fossil of the Day for statements about the science of climate change by Jonathan Pershing, the US Deputy Special Envoy, in his first press briefing here in Durban. Pershing is a scientist himself, and was involved with the IPCC, but he implausibly said current collective mitigation targets are sufficient to avoid going over 2 degrees. His overall message was that the US stands on its position that avoiding runaway global warming is not urgent enough to expend much political capital on commitments in the UNFCCC.
The lowered prioritization by the US for global climate commitments started with its weak mitigation target, which the US also will not agree to make legally binding. The US target of 17% below 2005 levels by 2020 is so weak that momentum to achieve it may already have been met even without comprehensive climate policies, due to the recession and rising relative cost of coal-fired electricity.
By saying the US is only really concerned with post-2020 commitments, the Obama Administration’s negotiators are saying their boss doesn’t need to deal with this issue, since Obama won’t be in office after 2016 (assuming he wins another 4 year term). In his 2008 campaign, however, President Obama promised to be a leader on global climate disruption. But expectations have now fallen so low that all we can ask is for the US to agree some very reasonable steps forward in the negotiations – for example, on a mandate to package commitments into a legally binding agreement by 2015. That would give the world four more years, in addition to the Bali Action Plan, agreed by the Bush administration, which gave the world two. The climate may not wait. The world certainly cannot be dragged down by another US administration in denial.