Low expectations?

November 30, 2010
by phil
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Pablo Solon, Bolivia’s ambassador to the UN, writing in today”s Guardian:

As climate talks start in Cancún, the common refrain that pervades the media and some negotiators is of “low expectations.” I wonder whose expectations they are talking about. Do they think the one million people in the Bolivian city El Alto, who face increasingly chronic water shortages from the disappearance of glaciers, have low expectations? Do they think Pacific islanders whose homelands will soon disappear beneath the rising sea have low expectations? I believe that the majority of humanity demands and has high expectations that our political leaders should act to stop runaway climate change.

The reality is that the talk of “low expectations” is a ploy by a small group of industrialised countries to obscure their obligations to act. They are playing politics with the planet’s future. If the Cancún talks set sail with no wind, then no-one will be angered when they stall. Sadly, rather than express moral outrage, much of the media and even some environmental organisations have subscribed to this cynicism of the powerful.

Solon goes on to argue that the world should not follow the US’s poor example. Why is Europe following the US down the road of the suicide pact that is the Copenhagen Accord, when it has claimed that it is too weak even to warrant raising it’s own pathetic 20% by 2020 pledge to 30% by 2030?

Unfortunately the US responsibility goes further than just inaction; it effectively sabotaged international progress on climate change. At Copenhagen and in the year since, the US has been the prime instigator behind attempts to end the Kyoto protocol, the only binding mechanism on climate change. Instead they harangue, bully, and insist that any climate negotiations must be based on the non-binding Copenhagen accord which would take us backwards in the fight against climate change. Analysis by the UN of the pledges made so far under the Copenhagen accord show that temperatures would rise by four degrees – a level that many scientists consider disastrous for human life and our ecosystems. Countries like mine that have refused to accept this death wish have had our climate funding withdrawn by the US.

It is important to remember that we have been in a similar situation before. In the negotiations for the Kyoto protocol in the 1990s, the EU proposed relatively ambitious targets of 15% emissions reductions by 2010, and argued rightly then that domestic action should be the main means of achieving emissions targets. The US at first opposed any targets or timetables, then pushed for lowering overall targets for developed countries to 5% cuts by 2012, and insisted on allowing fraudulent carbon trading mechanisms to meet the targets. Their bullying prevailed, but it was all for nought, as the US Senate failed to ratify the protocol and in 2001 President Bush formally withdrew. The rest of the world bent over backwards to involve the US, and even then they failed to act.

We can’t allow this to happen again. It is wrong for a small handful of US senators to hold the rest of humanity hostage. If the US cannot do what is right, it must step aside. Meanwhile, developed country blocks, such as the EU, must stop hiding behind US intransigence. They must commit urgently to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 50% before 2017.

[…] Too often, subjected to intense lobbying by big corporations, the UN conferences on climate change are more preoccupied with inventing new market mechanisms to make money rather than stopping climate change. Against these powerful interests, Bolivia believes the only way forward for saving the Earth and its people is mass popular pressure. We must insist to our political leaders that we have the highest expectations from Cancún, because nothing less than the future of our grandchildren and our planet depends on it.

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