The US Must Stop Playing the Part of the Fossil Fool

The “Fossil of the Day” award is always a big attraction here at the UN climate summit. Yesterday, the US had the honor of receiving this “slightly sarcastic yet highly prestigious” award, and for good reason. The Fossil of the Day is given to the country that was the biggest obstruction to negotiations proceeding toward a fair and ambitious climate treaty.

Update: The US has been awarded TWO MORE Fossil awards today! It tied for third place with Colombia and took the first place prize. Update 2: Video of the award ceremony can be found here.

There were two reasons cited for giving the good ol’ US of A this distinction. First, for making absolutely no long-term commitment on financing for developing countries to cope with the impacts of climate change and reduce their own emissions. Total failure on this issue by the US – which managed to scrounge up nearly a trillion dollars when the banks needed saving but can’t seem to cough up much dough when the entire planet is in peril – could sink the talks altogether.

Second, because the US – by far the biggest cumulative emitter of global warming pollution in world history – has put one of the weakest mid-term emissions targets of any major developed country on the table: a shameful 4% below 1990 levels by 2020, whereas science tells us that big emitters like the US need to be aiming for 25-40%

Given the inordinately large role the US has played in creating the problem, and the fact that developing countries – which played little to no role in creating the problem – will be the most severely impacted by runaway climate change, it is an unconscionable moral failure for the US to refuse to make aggressive cuts in its own emissions while helping the developing world deal with the impacts of climate change that are already upon us, which will only continue to worsen if we don’t act fast.

You can write to Obama now using this action alert I set up and ask him to make sure that the US stops playing the part of the fossil fool and starts leading the way towards a strong climate deal.

Those are by no means the only ways in which the US delegation here in Copenhagen is managing to stifle the talks. The NYT is reporting that the US and China are at an “impasse” over the issue of independent verification of China’s emissions targets. China categorically refuses to allow independent verification of its emissions to ensure it’s meeting its targets, and US negotiators are saying that they cannot support any deal that doesn’t include such verification.

This issue of verification is a fair point, to be sure, but it strikes me as exactly the type of issue on which bold leadership and political courage is sorely needed and even more sorely lacking.

The US has been blaming China for its own lack of action for a while now, and that has not changed. According to the NYT, anonymous “top American officials” are letting it be known that they feel China’s emissions targets are too low and “disappointing.” American officials would certainly know what they’re talking about when it comes to disappointingly low emissions targets, but that’s no excuse for making pronouncements about not supporting a deal rather than seeking diplomatic solutions to address the issue. Bluster and brinksmanship from anonymous pots calling the kettle black will certainly not get us the deal we need.

Maybe we could, you know, try leading the way by pledging to make aggressive cuts in our own emissions and using that to pressure China into doing the same, instead?

Image ©2009 Bas Beentjes/Greenpeace

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