Hopes are fading for a binding deal here at the Copenhagen climate summit one day before the talks conclude. The Obama administration has been widely criticized for refusing to change its proposal to cut emissions by just four percent of 1990 levels. The European Union, by contrast, has offered to cut emissions by at least 20 percent. China, meanwhile, has also been faulted for reportedly trying to abandon a binding accord in favor of a political declaration. President Obama arrives in Copenhagen tomorrow on the summit’s final day.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the US would consider establishing a $100 billion annual climate aid fund for poorer nations. Clinton said the proposal is contingent on the Copenhagen talks resulting in a comprehensive deal.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “And today I’d like to announce that in the context of a strong accord, in which all major economies stand behind meaningful mitigation actions and provide full transparency as to their implementation, the United States is prepared to work with other countries toward a goal of jointly mobilizing $100 billion a year by 2020 to address the climate change needs of developing countries.”
The US proposal has already come under criticism as insufficient. Erich Pica of the group Friends of the Earth said, “[This] looks like a shell game. The amount falls far short of what the United Nations says is needed, [condemning] the poorest to languish in poverty while the world suffers from climate chaos. In addition, loans and private investments must not substitute for public money, and it is unclear how much of this package is public.”
Meanwhile, the crackdown on voices for climate justice continues in and outside the summit. Scores of delegates from NGOs and civil society groups have been refused entry for a second consecutive day. Late last night a group of youths staged a sit-in at the Bella Center to protest their exclusion.
Protester: “We will stay here until there’s a fair, ambitious and legally binding agreement. And we are reading out the names of 11 million people who are standing behind us, and we have the same demands. And the action, in itself, is also a protest against exclusion of civil society when heads of states arrive and actually decide upon what’s going to be the agreement and then civil society is going to be excluded, and that’s not acceptable.”
The UN has reportedly issued entry permits to just 300 of the thousands of accredited civil society delegates. Earlier today, Greenpeace Executive Director Kumi Naidoo criticized the restrictions.
Kumi Naidoo: “On the questions of access, the questions of transparency and so on, while it started off quite well, it is in a very slippery downward slide at the moment. I think it is extremely unfortunate, firstly, that the civil society participation here has been shrunk to an absolute bare minimum.”
The Ethiopian government is coming under criticism from African climate justice advocates over a joint proposal with France. The plan endorses Western calls for capping temperature increases at two degrees Celsius, shunning African calls for 1.5 degrees at the most. African delegates have warned a two-degree cap is untenable for Africa’s survival. Mithika Mwenda of Pan-African Climate Justice Alliance said, “The science is clear — 2 degrees is 3.5 degrees in Africa. This is death to millions of Africans.” Climate justice activists say President Obama may have pressured Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. This week the White House said Obama had phoned Zenawi and praised him for taking a “leadership role.”
On the sidelines of the summit, a group of environmental groups have bestowed the mock “Angry Mermaid” award to highlight corporations trying to thwart efforts against global warming. The biotech giant Monsanto finished in first place, followed by the oil giant Royal Dutch Shell and the oil lobby American Petroleum Institute. Paul de Clerck of Friends of the Earth International said richer nations are putting corporate profits above global survival.
Paul de Clerck: “The UN climate negotiations are moving further and further way from commitments from rich countries to reduce their emissions at home. We see that solutions pushed for are mainly instruments that will generate big profits for companies, while most of these instruments do not result in reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, and some of them are even destroying the environment and local communities’ rights.”
On Capitol Hill, independent Senator Bernie Sanders has withdrawn a measure for single-payer healthcare after a Republican effort to thwart its consideration. On Wednesday, Sanders tried to introduce his proposal for a “Medicare for all” health system as an amendment to the Senate healthcare reform bill. But before debate could begin, Republican Senator Tom Coburn insisted the 767-page measure be read in its entirety. Sanders withdrew the amendment after nearly three hours, but vowed to continue the fight for single payer.
Senator Bernie Sanders: “The day will come, although I recognize it is not today, when the United States Congress will have the courage to stand up to the private insurance companies and the drug companies and the medical equipment suppliers, and all of those who profit and make billions of dollars every single year off of human sickness. And on that day, when it comes — and it will come — the United States Congress will finally proclaim that healthcare is a right of all people and not just a privilege.”
Sanders meanwhile has also announced he opposes the Senate healthcare bill in its current form. He is the first progressive senator to withdraw support for the bill since it was revised to meet the demands of independent Senator Joseph Lieberman. On Sunday, Lieberman announced he would oppose the bill unless Democrats abandon both a proposal to expand Medicare eligibility as well as any type of public option.
In other news from Washington, the House has approved a new spending bill including $128 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Democrats say the amount does not factor in the additional funds that will be needed for President Obama’s recent orders to deploy over 30,000 more troops.
A new congressional study, meanwhile, says the escalation of the Afghan war will require tens of thousands of new contractors. The Congressional Research Service says it expects the Obama administration to send between 26,000 to 56,000 contractors along with the additional troops.
A House oversight subcommittee, meanwhile, has opened a probe into allegations Pentagon contractors have paid Afghan insurgent groups to protect US supply routes from attack. A recent report in The Nation magazine said ten percent of the Pentagon’s logistics contracts consist of payments to the Taliban.
In other Afghan war news, the Obama administration is refusing to acknowledge a Taliban offer to provide “legal guarantees” Afghanistan would not be used to stage attacks on other nations. A Taliban statement earlier this month suggested it would offer the unspecified guarantees in return for the withdrawal of foreign troops. The Inter Press Service news agency reports the White House silence could signify it hasn’t ruled out future negotiations.
The New York Times is reporting an influential American diplomat working for the United Nations Mission in Afghanistan tried to enlist the White House in a plan to replace Afghan President Hamid Karzai. The diplomat, Peter Galbraith, made headlines in September after he was fired from his position as the second-top UN official in Afghanistan. Galbraith said his superior, Norwegian diplomat Kai Eide, was covering up widespread electoral fraud in Karzai’s re-election. But Eide now says Galbraith was fired after proposing to replace Karzai with a “more Western-friendly figure.” The US embassy in Kabul has also confirmed Galbraith presented the plan, but that it was rejected. Although Karzai has long been linked to corruption and fraud, US scrutiny greatly increased after Karzai began criticizing deadly US air strikes and discussing a timetable for withdrawing foreign troops. Galbraith has also come under recent scrutiny after it was revealed he stands to reap a $100 million windfall from oil reforms he helped push through as an adviser to the Iraqi Kurdish government. Galbraith was working for a Norwegian oil company at the same time as he took part in talks on key oil measures in Iraq’s constitution.
The Western Sahara independence activist Aminatou Haidar has been hospitalized and placed in intensive care on the 32nd day of a hunger strike over her banishment from her homeland. Haidar began her hunger strike after Moroccan officials denied her entry into Western Sahara. Morocco has demanded Haidar recognize Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara and apologize to the Moroccan king before she can return. Haidar is receiving palliative care but is still continuing her hunger strike. She has urged President Obama to pressure Morocco to allow her return.
In Honduras, a prominent gay rights and anti-coup activist has been killed in a targeted attack. Walter Trochez was shot Sunday as he walked in Tegucigalpa. He was rushed to the hospital, where he died of his wounds. In a statement, the anti-coup National Resistance Front blamed coup regime-backed paramilitary forces that have targeted scores of supporters of the ousted President Manuel Zelaya.
The Department of Homeland Security has acknowledged several new cases of improperly gathering information on US citizens and residents. On Wednesday, the Justice Department released documents showing Homeland Security officials distributed a report on the Nation of Islam to hundreds of law enforcement officials nationwide in 2007. The report was later withdrawn after a review found the analysis should never have been written because there was no evidence tying the group to acts or advocacy of violence. In another case, DHS officials circulated a “terrorism watch list” report on a Muslim conference in Georgia despite no evidence linking the gathering or its speakers to terrorist activity.
And a new study from a progressive British think tank says low-income workers, such as hospital cleaners, have a far higher economic value to society than bankers. The New Economics Foundation says bankers take away seven British pounds for every one pound they earn. By contrast, hospital cleaners create ten pounds of economic value for every pound they earn. The study’s authors say the findings suggest pay structures should reward jobs that create societal benefit, not profit.