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Friday, December 9, 2011 FULL SHOW | HEADLINES | NEXT: Developing Countries Call for Green Climate Fund...
2011-12-09

Obama Admin Denounced for "Startling Level of Obstructionism and Defeatism" on U.N. Climate Deal

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For analysis on where the U.N. climate change talks stand, we are joined by two guests who have been closely tracking the role of the U.S. negotiating team over the past two weeks. Kate Horner is a policy analyst at Friends of the Earth, and Michael Dorsey is an assistant professor of environmental studies at Dartmouth College. "In those briefings, we’ve seen, I think, a startling lack of vision, a startling level of obstructionism, of defeatism," Dorsey says. "And I think one way we could summarize those briefings is that the U.S. State Department diplomacy is about delay... What we’ve seen the U.S. try to force the world to do here is to sort of throw out the baby that’s called Kyoto, which is an agreement that’s legally binding, and get the world to drink the dirty water, the bath water that’s left behind." [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re broadcasting live from the U.N. climate talks here in Durban, South Africa, called COP 17. That’s Conference of Parties, what some are calling "Conference of Polluters." Today is supposed to be the last day of these talks. We’ll see.

To talk more about where this summit stands, we’re joined by two guests who have been closely tracking the role of the U.S. negotiating team over the past two weeks, as they have previous summits. Kate Horner is a policy analyst at Friends of the Earth, and Michael Dorsey is an assistant professor of environmental studies at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Kate, let’s begin with you. Where do we stand on this Friday that’s supposed to be the end of this two-week summit?

KATE HORNER: We are very far from agreement, even as the conference comes to a close tonight. Four years ago in Bali, the world agreed on a road map that would fairly address 100 percent of global emissions, meant that the developed world would agree to a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, which is the only legally binding instrument that we have to address climate change. There was a compromise struck for the United States, which has long repudiated the Kyoto Protocol, and they said that they would take on action that was comparable to the rest of the world. And lastly, the world agreed to provide technology and finance for developing countries, who are currently and will be impacted by this crisis for years to come. Even now, four years later, that road map remains unimplemented.

According to the recent reports by the United Nations and others, the pledges that we got for emissions reductions last year in Cancún will, in the worst-case scenario, deliver a five degrees of warming in this world. That level of warming will cause unimaginable human suffering for Americans at home, as well as around the world.

And yet, here at the talks in Durban, there’s a lot of talk about a new mandate to launch a new round of negotiations, even as the existing road map and the existing promises that have been made haven’t been kept. The new road map will possibly delay action by five to 10 years as it’s negotiated and then ratified. It could possibly be much, much weaker than the system that we have in place now, in which developed countries merely pledge whatever they’re willing to do domestically, regardless of whether that, in total, will yield a safe climate future. And it will also compel—and this is what we understand consists of many of the proposals on the table—to compel developing countries, who are least responsible for having caused this problem, to take on binding cuts. It’s unfair, and it won’t work. The problem that we have now was caused by the cumulative emissions in the atmosphere. And developing countries simply haven’t contributed the same amount, and they don’t bear the same historic responsibility. So we’re in a very dangerous position of, in the next 24 hours, having to shift the talks from the current focus on a new mandate towards delivering on the mandate that we presently have in a fair and equitable fashion.

AMY GOODMAN: And when you talk climate change, what does it mean? Let’s just start there, very concretely.

KATE HORNER: Concretely, it means that we have been emitting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, and it’s causing a warming world, and that is going to deliver extreme weather events around the world. The night before the climate talks began, there was a violent storm that whipped through the city of Durban, and it actually killed eight people when their houses collapsed on them. This is a year that has seen extraordinary weather events. In Pakistan, there were floods. This was the first year in which 47 states around the U.S. declared emergencies based on the extraordinary weather events. These are the kinds of impacts that we’ll see. A Grist report that was written last year—excuse me, not last year, last week.

AMY GOODMAN: Grist?

KATE HORNER: Grist said that—in an interview that was written on that blog, said that the four degrees of warming is incompatible with organized society. This is the level of impact that we’re talking about. It’s frightening. It’s severe. And if we can imagine what that will mean for us in the United States, imagine what that then means for the communities around the world who face health impacts, education, all the other development priorities.

AMY GOODMAN: The role of the United States in this and why that matters?

KATE HORNER: The United States, as I mentioned earlier, has a long history in multilateral affairs of weakening and delaying international deals where they don’t have domestic legislation in place. The U.S. position here, of course, is shaped substantially by its failure to secure legislation at home, as well as the polarized politics that we see at home. Here, what they’ve done is, firstly, by refusing to commit to the Kyoto Protocol, leading an exit strategy from the Kyoto Protocol. Others have followed behind, Canada and Japan among them.

AMY GOODMAN: Japan, where the Kyoto Protocol was sealed.

KATE HORNER: Indeed. And now even, they are proposing this far weaker system that’s called a pledge and review, where the pledges that countries submit is merely determined by their domestic action and not by the global community’s determination of what will keep the world safe.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Michael Dorsey, you and other NGOs, like Friends of the Earth, have been attending regular briefings from the top U.S. climate negotiators—the U.S. NGOs. Talk about what’s been happening there. And what have you been saying?

MICHAEL DORSEY: You know, in those briefings, Amy, we’ve seen, I think, a startling lack of vision, a startling level of obstructionism, of defeatism. And I think one way we could summarize those briefings is that the U.S. State Department diplomacy is about delay. And that kind of delay, pitching us out to five or 10 years to just begin a process, is dangerous for ecosystems, is dangerous for communities, is dangerous for the economy. Really what we’ve seen the U.S. try to force the world to do here is to sort of throw out the baby that’s called Kyoto, which is an agreement that’s legally binding, and get the world to drink the dirty water, the bath water that’s left behind. And it’s absolutely unacceptable, the performance that we’ve seen by these diplomats from the State Department, obstructing, blocking, undermining, engaged in no less than sort of diplomatic brinksmanship. And the future of America is much bigger than this, I think. It’s much bigger than this sort of low-intensity democracy that’s being practiced by folks in the State Department.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you’ve been talking to the climate negotiators. Tell us who they are, Todd Stern and Jonathan Pershing.

MICHAEL DORSEY: Well, you know, Todd Stern is the lead of the delegation here. He’s the special envoy for climate, appointed by the President. Jonathan Pershing is the deputy of the team. Pershing is a recognized climate scientist. He spent some time at the World Resources Institute before coming back into government. He was involved in the negotiations under President Clinton. So he really knows these issues. But when you press him, when you talk about, you know, "What happens when you delay, Jonathan?" you know, he sort of spins and equivocates and, you know, nods. But when you keep pressing him, he comes clean and says, "Well, the damages are going to be big. They’re going to be big." But the fact is, is that that kind of diplomacy is dangerous. It’s dangerous that really the U.S. isn’t even thinking about the consequences for their delays, the consequences for not just people in the U.S., which we know will be harmed, which will be harmed, you know, in really unjust ways. We will see the destruction and devastation fall upon those that are least responsible in the U.S. and here in Africa. And really, we’re going to see communities that are on the margins of society already be harmed first and most, poor people, in particular.

AMY GOODMAN: So why are they doing it? Why are they doing it, if they absolutely understand?

MICHAEL DORSEY: You know, I don’t know what animates and motivates Jonathan Pershing. You should get him on the show and ask him yourself. I’d maybe—

AMY GOODMAN: We’ve been trying to talk to him through the week.

MICHAEL DORSEY: Yeah. You know, the idea that—

AMY GOODMAN: Got a question in to Todd Stern at one of the press briefings.

MICHAEL DORSEY: Yeah, I mean, the idea that they won’t even engage you and won’t engage the American public on this in an open debate, it’s an indicator that their day has come to leave the State Department. It’s time to get that kind of dirty, delayed diplomacy out and bring in people that, at a minimum, have the courage to talk about these issues, have the courage to really get into these issues.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go to a clip of Senator Inhofe. While no members of the U.S. Congress have traveled to Durban for the climate talks—I’m going to contrast that with Copenhagen, where a whole delegation, led by Nancy Pelosi, came to Copenhagen—Republican Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma recorded a video message that was aired at a press conference of climate change deniers here at the summit on Wednesday.

SEN. JAMES INHOFE: Hi. I’m Senator Jim Inhofe, a Republican senator from Oklahoma. Today I’m happy to bring you the good news about the complete collapse of the global warming movement and the failure of the Kyoto process, as world leaders meet for the United Nations global warming conference in Durban, South Africa. For the past decade, I have been the leader in the United States Senate standing up against global warming alarmism and cap and trade, which would have been the largest tax increase in the history of America. This victory is especially important today, as families in America and around the world continue to face really tough economic times. And tossing out any remote possibility of a U.N. global warming treaty is one of the most important things we can do for the economy.

I’m making this announcement from Washington, D.C., where I am confident that the only person left talking about global warming is me. The message from Washington to the U.N. delegates in South Africa is this, this week, could not be any clearer: you are being ignored.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Senator Inhofe of Oklahoma talking about celebrating the nail in the coffin. It very much follows one of his chief staffers, Marc Morano, who we had on yesterday, who was calling President Obama "George W. Obama," saying that a Republican president could never have accomplished what President Obama did here in stalling the talks, because people would have been sparked to rise up. They didn’t expect that Obama would do the same. Your response, Kate?

KATE HORNER: Well, of course, on the science, he’s just blatantly wrong. It’s clear, it’s compelling, and it’s urgent. And we must listen to it. I think that what this demonstrates is, yet again, politicians speaking on behalf of the 1 percent—the polluters, the financial elites—that stand to benefit from a lack of action, and not the 99 percent that are demanding climate justice around the world. I think that Obama’s team here has, of course, continued to represent those elites and those polluters, and that’s in large part what’s driving his position here. And he’s absolutely right to say that the world expected more of Obama. They gave him a chance to enter into these discussions in a productive, constructive way, and his team here hasn’t. I think when you talk to delegates, you’ll see some of that frustration, and you’ll see some of the concerns around the blocking of progress.

AMY GOODMAN: Senator Inhofe, again, saying, "The message from Washington to the U.N. delegates in South Africa is this, this week, could not be any clearer: you are being ignored."

MICHAEL DORSEY: You know, it’s time that we get rid of these shameful senators that are spinning tall tales, that don’t even line up with reality. The American people are sick and tired of this kind of sinister, mindless talking. The fact is, is that what is actually going on, unlike the senator says, is the global climate movement. It’s now grown beyond itself to become a movement about climate justice. It’s gone to global outreach to people around the world and put people together to collaborate on tackling this problem. And actually, that global climate movement is the movement that’s taking us on the course of real solutions, unlike the delayed diplomacy that we see coming out of the State Department.

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