Pershing may feel heat in global warming talks

As a fresh round of UN climate change talks gets under way in Bangkok today, there are signs that developing countries are losing patience with global leaders in general and with the regressive attitude of US Congress in particular.

“Climate change, in fact, is an injustice to our people. They’re not contributing at all to the climate change, but they’re the worst victims of it,” is the verdict of the prime minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina.

Speaking last Monday at a conference on adaptation to climate change, Hasina said: “why should some rich people’s lifestyles threaten lives and livelihoods of poor communities?”

Bangladesh is acknowledged in global climate change risk assessments to be the world’s most vulnerable country.

The Minister of Environment and Forests, Dr Hassan Mahmood, chided political leadership around the globe for sticking to national interests. “We are not taking into account that all of us are passengers of the same lifeboat, the planet earth,” he said at the conference.

More specific reference to Congress proceedings came last week from Sunita Narain, Director-General of India’s influential Centre for Science and Environment. Writing in Business Standard, Narain concluded: “the world is back to square one – where it started in 1992, at the Rio Conference and where US president George Bush said that his country’s lifestyle was not negotiable.”

The head of the US delegation in Bangkok, Dr Jonathan Pershing, faces the unenviable task of convincing negotiators of the credibility of US promises to cut emissions by 17% by 2020 and to contribute a fair share to the new Green Climate Fund.

This week’s talks coincide with the 2011 budget endgame in US Congress in which the powers of the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate carbon dioxide emissions have become a political football.

After the Obama administration failed to present its climate change legislation to the Senate during 2010, Dr.Pershing reassured last December’s Cancun climate conference that the US target of 17% would be achieved instead by “programs in regulations, programs that deal with executive orders that the president can issue.”

With EPA programs subsequently targeted by skeptical Republican interests in Congress, Dr Pershing will be forced to modify his presentation this week.

In talks held in advance of the Bangkok gathering, ministers of the BASIC countries (Brazil, South Africa, India and China) made it clear that even a 17% pledge by the US will not satisfy them, still less if it lacks legal backing.

Their strongly-worded communique was unambiguous in insisting that “the 2nd Commitment Period under the Kyoto Protocol is critical to achieving the global goal of ambitious emissions reduction.”

The Kyoto Protocol commits richer countries to legally binding targets. China’s chief climate negotiator, Xie Zhenhua, has also demanded that US “should raise the level of their emission reduction commitments.”

Dr Pershing enters the Bangkok negotiations with the further inconvenience of estimates released by US Energy Administration Information that US carbon dioxide emissions increased by 3.7% in 2010.

The volume of discordant mood music for Pershing in the UN talks has reached a crescendo after last week’s US Hearing of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. This examined the processes which underpin the scientific findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The Hearing Charter chose to ignore the independent review commissioned by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Its conclusions published last October reassured political leaders that “the process used by the IPCC to produce its periodic assessment reports has been successful overall.”

At the Dhaka conference, Dr Atiq Rahman, Executive Director of the Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies, tried unsuccessfully to reconcile his country’s poorest communities with the proceedings in Washington.

Interviewed by OneWorld’s Daniel Nelson, he said: “whether there’s climate change, whether there’s impact, this is not a choice that poor people have. This is a choice for US Congressmen sitting down saying no no no to everything. But the poor are already paying with lives and livelihoods and displacement.”

Dr Rahman concluded the conference with a blistering attack on the failure of rich countries to pay the costs of the climate damage they are causing. “As far as poor communities are concerned, they do not give a damn to the skeptics or the governments,” he said.


this article was first published in the OneWorld section of Yahoo World News