DURBAN — Christiana Figueres, the top United Nations diplomat tasked with managing the international climate negotiations process, is blasting the U.S. for its inability to act on climate change.
Speaking to Climate Progress at the UN’s COP 17 climate conference in Durban, South Africa, Figueres called American climate policy “hamstrung” and lamented the lack of urgency in the country:
“The U.S. is hamstrung. And I wonder how long it’s going to take the U.S. civil society … to realize that climate change is affecting them directly – it’s not just affecting somebody else. I really think the … U.S. population needs to understand that this is not just their historical responsibility, but this is their future that they’re compromising. And when that awareness is raised, then I think the government will make more ambitious decisions. I think there’s no public pressure in the United States to take any more ambitious decision.”
Figueres is certainly right that inaction on climate will compromise the future health and well-being of Americans (see “An Illustrated Guide to the Science of Global Warming Impacts: How We Know Inaction Is the Gravest Threat Humanity Faces“).
Figueres, who says she’s optimistic about the ability of parties (including the U.S.) to agree on a framework for key initiatives like the $100 billion Green Fund, is decidedly less positive about the American position coming into the talks. U.S. negotiators are being criticized for reacting coolly to the prospects for negotiations over a binding treaty with developing countries. American Environmental groups wrote a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the lead up to COP, saying the U.S. “threatened to impede … global cooperation.”
Figueres expressed the same sentiment, but in a much less direct way. As you can see in the video of the interview, when asked by Climate Progress about her thoughts on the U.S. position coming into this year’s climate talks, she paused, seemingly to make her response as diplomatic as possible:
Some people believe the U.S. is working a negotiating stance, and will eventually open up to aggressive, binding commitments with developing countries as the week progresses. When asked about that, Figueres responded: “That’s for the U.S. to decide.”
Figueres did tell Climate Progress she expects the approval of the Green Climate Fund, the approval of a technology-transfer mechanism, and is pushing very hard to create a second commitment period under the Kyoto protocol. Aside from Kyoto, which the U.S. is not a part of, America’s Special Climate for Climate Change Todd Stern says he expects to “make significant progress” on those issues at this week’s conference.
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