October 11, 2011
As we look back at the last week, it might be worth remembering the speech given by U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton in Copenhagen. She said that the danger of climate change is now “undeniable” and the world must agree to a deal in the next 48 hours. Now, almost two years later, this week saw a State Department embroiled in scandal over cronyism in their relationship with the very company they’re tasked with reviewing (TransCanada), in their bid for a presidential permit to construct the Keystone XL pipeline. Additionally, as the final United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) intercessional before the annual Conference of Parties (COP17) wrapped up in Panama, the US stated plainly that they ‘don’t see how we can move to a mandate for a legally binding agreement in Durban’.
On Friday, October 7th the State Department hosted the final public hearing on the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. Indigenous, faith and environmental leaders from across the country, along with people from pipeline states joined together in DC to testify. At previous hearings along the pipeline route, big corporations and their front groups have bussed people in, paid for line sitters, and skirted the rules. As the days counted down to Friday’s final public hearing, Friends of the Earth released e-mails revealing a cozy and collaborative relationship between TransCanada Corporation lobbyist Paul Elliott and an employee at the U.S. State Department, the agency responsible for weighing approval of TransCanada’s permit application for the tar sands pipeline. A New York Times report noted that the emails show the State Department official providing “subtle coaching and cheerleading” for TransCanada. Friends of the Earth concluded that “the State Department no longer has credibility on the Keystone XL question” and called for authority over the pipeline to be taken away from the agency. While Media Matters reported on the distinct lack of converge of the issue among TV news outlets such as CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, ABC, CBS and NBC, several print outlets covered the story, including the Associated Press, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post.
Meanwhile, talks in Panama made all the more clear the critical moment Durban (which is set to start on November 28th -just days before the deadline for President Obama’s decision on the Keystone XL pipeline) is shaping up to be in the 20-year history of the climate regime. The decisions made there will determine whether the world will build on what has been created – or slip back into a ‘wild west’ pledge and review world that leaves the UNFCCC with little legitimacy to meaningfully address the climate crisis. There was progress made in Panama in the areas of technology and adaptation although the U.S softened their stance on allowing a discussion on long term climate finance in the end. However there can also be no doubt that governments will not be able to skate around the exposed difficulties on finance and the future of a legal mandate in Durban.
With the debate on the future of the Kyoto protocol raging, in discussion on legal form, the US expressed its skepticism that it would be possible to reach agreement in Durban on a mandate to negotiate a new legally-binding instrument, given the US insistence that any such mandate requires explicit legal “symmetry” between the US and other major emitters (i.e. China). The US made clear that any mandate that they thought could be agreed wouldn’t suit them, so they would rather not bother continuing the discussions at all. The US claims that a strong mandate is in fact in the US interest, but expending the energy to reach it appeared not to be.
The US also repeatedly blocked efforts by a group of developing countries to discuss the issue of long term finance, an area in which once again the US firmly committed itself in Copenhagen when Secretary Clinton said that “The US is prepared to work with other countries to jointly mobilize $100bn a year by 2020,” to help the most vulnerable countries. After push back from governments and civil society alike, in the final days of negotiation the US seemed to soften it’s position. The EU joined their partners in AOSIS, the Africa Group, India and Saudi Arabia in submitting text on proposals for fulfilling these long-term finance commitments and at the weeks end the US started to bring their own ideas to the table. We hope this represents a consensus on the need to negotiate a package on long-term international climate finance in Durban. In the meantime, two upcoming meetings will be critical; the final session of the Transitional Committee of the Green Climate Fund and the upcoming G20 meeting in France. At the G20, which will take place in France Nov. 2nd-4th, finance ministers and leaders will discuss sources of long-term climate finance, including a fuel level on ships, which according to a draft report they requested from the World Bank and IMF, indicates that just a $25 per ton carbon price, could generate around $25 billion per year in finance.
While the outcome on these fronts is far from certain, the stakes and the impact of our efforts on each of these fronts couldn’t be clearer. In the words of Subhashni Raj, a 350 organizer in Fiji, who spoke in no uncertain terms about how dire the situation people face is in the Pacific during a presentation on the Moving Planet story in Panama “Look, if we could build another atmosphere, we would. But we simply can’t, so we need the US and others to start acting like they understand we only share one planet. To think the US would consider approving the Keystone pipeline in the face of our climate reality has no logic.”
Written by Michelle Dixon, Outreach Director
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