December 5, 2011
Raising the Stakes in Durban
Last Wednesday, leaders of sixteen major nonprofit organizations sent a letter to Secretary of State Clinton expressing concerns that U.S. negotiators are blocking progress at the COP17 climate talks in Durban, South Africa. Signers of the letter included: Center for International Environmental Law, Defenders of Wildlife, Earthjustice, Environmental Defense Fund, Greenpeace USA, National Tribal Environmental Council, Native American Rights Fund, Natural Resources Defense Council, Oxfam America, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Population Action International, Population Connection, Sierra Club, Union of Concerned Scientists, The Wilderness Society, World Wildlife Fund. The letter also lays out how critical COP17 is in solving the climate crisis, stating “we are rapidly running out of time to avert the worst impacts of climate change. The IPCC special report on extreme events released just last week makes clear that climate change is already seriously affecting people, communities and ecosystems around the world. And the International Energy Agency recently reaffirmed that without more ambitious commitments to limit emissions of heat-trapping gases over the next decade, we are extremely unlikely to meet the goal set by President Obama and other leaders in Copenhagen of keeping global temperatures from increasing more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
Saturday, thousands of demonstrators marched in the Global Day of Action through the city of Durban, rallying in front of the conference center. Ordinary people including peasant farmers and women from South African rural communities joined with people from around the world to make sure their voices were heard as they demanded immediate action on climate change. UNFCCC executive secretary, Christiana Figueres addressed the march saying children have only one message for climate negotiators: “do more, do more, do more.”
Earlier today, Climate Action Network – International held a press briefing with a panel of civil society executives from Oxfam, Greenpeace, WWF and International Trade Union Confederation. The panel highlighted the high stakes at these talks and what Ministers arriving in Durban need to do in order to secure a successful outcome. The United States is under increasing fire by the international as well as the U.S. civil society. According to Celine Charveriat, Director of Advocacy & Campaigns at Oxfam International, “The U.S. is pitching an alarming narrative to lock in a ten-year timeout with no new targets to lower emissions until 2020. This perilous course of action must be stopped dead in its tracks. The world’s poorest people, who are already suffering the impacts of a changing climate, simply cannot wait another decade for action to bring emissions in line with what science so clearly requires. If the U.S. insists on pushing this dangerous pathway, they must stand aside and allow other countries to move forward without them.”
Today marks the beginning of the second week of the UN climate talks (COP17) in Durban, South Africa. As negotiations shift to the high-level segment on Tuesday, high-level government officials are arriving. China’s minister of environment, Xie Zhenhua, met with civil society and press Sunday stating that “China will continue to play a constructive role and adopt an open attitude in talking with other countries, and we’re confident progress can be made.” United States Special Envoy for Climate Change, Todd Stern, arrived on Friday and states that he has been meeting with colleagues on a wide range of issues. While delegations were busy throughout last week, this week is already marked by an increase in both pace and intensity, so stay tuned.
On Friday, December 2, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed changes to air toxic standards for boilers and incinerators that were issued in March 2011. According to EPA, the changes will maintain the rule’s public health benefits – significant reductions in toxic air pollutants, including mercury and soot – while easing the cost and difficulty of complying with the regulations. In response to industry concerns, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation (H.R. 2250) in October that would delay and weaken the rule. Legislation introduced in the Senate (S.1392) would also delay the rule and provide additional time for industry to comply. These regulations, with the changes proposed by EPA, are an important step in the right direction; for example, in the year 2015, they will reduce the number of premature deaths by 8,100, heart attacks by 5,100, and asthma attacks by 52,000. Industry groups remain critical in spite of the proposed revisions, and supporters of cleaner air will need to remain vigilant to keep this rule on track.
Marie Risalvato, Communications Director