Todd Stern and Hillary Clinton (Photo: EPA)
The head US climate negotiator, Todd Stern, and Sen. John Kerry have announced that they are giving up hope of reaching a deal for a new climate change pact at next month's meeting in Copenhagen. The move comes as world leaders are meeting in Barcelona to finalize negotiating text in advance of the December meeting in Copenhagen. Without the US's participation, there is no hope for a treaty that will result in capping emissions any time soon.Speculation was rampant that the US wouldn't be bring much to the table after Congress couldn't get a bill passed this year to cap US emissions. The House passed a weak climate that had insufficient short term targets for emissions reductions and massive giveaways to the coal and nuclear industries. The Senate has delayed action and the prospects for getting 60 Yeahs looks increasingly dim.
"We have to be honest in the process and deal with the realities that we don't have time in these four weeks to put the language together and flesh out every crossed t and dotted i of a treaty," said John Kerry, who chairs the Senate foreign relations committee.
Todd Stern, the state department climate change envoy, agreed. "It doesn't look like it's on the cards for December," he said. "We should make progress towards a political agreement that hits each of the main elements."
The scaling back of US ambitions follows a growing international consensus that a binding legal agreement on global warming could not be reached at Copenhagen - now just 32 days away. The US shift resets expectations for what will be accomplished at Copenhagen, once billed by the UN as a last chance to avoid catastrophic global warming.
Stern, in comments to the house foreign relations committee today, said his comments playing down prospects for a binding treaty at Copenhagen reflected the views of senior US politicians including Ed Markey, the author of a climate change bill passed in June. Stern insisted that negotiators were intent on producing a blueprint in Copenhagen that would lead to a binding legal agreement "perhaps next year or as soon as possible".
The US's negligence produces two big questions. What will happen now in Copenhagen and what grassroots efforts can be immediately made to hold polluters and politicians accountable? Hopefully citizens will organize and create a change next year, an election year, to make sure we have public officials that will take strong action on energy and climate change instead of those who want business as usual.