Other stories below: Republicans demand quick approval of Keystone XL pipeline; Green groups blast Hillary Clinton’s approach to climate negotiations
A broad coalition of civic leaders, elected officials, and labor, environmental and social activists launched a campaign Wednesday aimed at convincing U.S. politicians that they should curb greenhouse gas emissions for moral and ethical reasons.
The Climate Ethics Campaign — which kicked off with a Capitol Hill news conference headlining Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) — comes as negotiators are struggling to make progress at U.N. climate talks in Durban, South Africa.
“We believe it’s time to talk about our moral obligation to prevent the human suffering created by climate change, to safeguard the poor and most vulnerable communities from harm they did not create, and to protect the natural environment that is the source of all life,” said campaign coordinator Bob Doppelt, executive director of the Resource Innovation Group, a nonprofit association affiliated with Willamette University.
Republican lawmakers in Congress introduced legislation on Wednesday that would force the Obama administration to issue a construction permit for the controversial Keystone XL pipeline within 60 days unless the president decides that the project is not in the national interest.
Sponsored by Senator Richard G. Lugar, Republican of Indiana, the legislation is a sharp rejoinder to the State Department’s recent decision to delay a verdict on approval of the $7 billion project for at least a year while it considers alternative routes that bypass environmentally sensitive areas in Nebraska.
That announcement enraged supporters of the pipeline, who have accused Mr. Obama of seeking to placate his supporters until after next year’s presidential election in lieu of signing off on a project that will create jobs.
The leaders of the country’s top environmental groups slammed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton this week over the Obama administration’s negotiating strategy going into international climate talks in Durban, South Africa.
“America risks being viewed not as a global leader on climate change, but as a major obstacle to progress,” the top executives at the country’s 16 major environmental groups said in a letter to Clinton Tuesday. “U.S. positions on two major issues — the mandate for future negotiations and climate finance — threaten to impede in Durban the global cooperation so desperately needed to address the threat of climate change.”
The letter comes as delegates from around the world are meeting in Durban for United Nations negotiations aimed at tackling a litany of problems blamed on global climate change. While the talks will not yield a binding agreement to lower greenhouse gas emissions, negotiators are working to find common ground on a series of issues that represent incremental steps toward a broader climate accord.
Last week I wrote about a study that said something unusual—climate change may not turn out to be as serious as our worst fears. Well, there was a reason why that study was such an outlier—most of the science on climate change is dire and getting direr.
Case in point: a new article in this week’s Nature that explores what global warming might do to the methane gas buried beneath the permafrost. Methane has 23 times the global warming power of carbon dioxide, and there are billions of tons worth of it trapped in the Arctic. As the climate warms, some of that permafrost will become less permanent, melting and allowing the methane to escape and add to global warming—which will in turn speed climate change. That’s why Arctic methane has always been considered a climate “wildcard”—how fast it escapes from the tundra could have major impacts on the rate of warming.
Well, that wildcard is threatening to bust our hand, or some similar blackjack metaphor. According to the authors of the Nature article, Arctic warming of 7.5 C this century could allow the equivalent of 380 billion tons of carbon dioxide to escape as soils thaw. That would provide a major boost to warming.
As negotiators are gathering in Durban, South Africa, to push for new progress on global efforts to deal with climate change, divergent views emerge over the fate of Kyoto Protocol.
As the cornerstone of the climate regime, Kyoto Protocol sets binding targets for 37 industrialized countries and the European Union to cut their emissions to an average of 5 percent against 1990 levels over the 2008-2012 period.
As the first commitment period is to expire in 2012, some signatory countries have not only backed down from their previous emissions cuts commitment, but refused to renew their pledges beyond 2012.
They argue that Kyoto Protocol, an agreement adopted more than a decade ago, is a thing of the past and could no longer reflect a changing reality.
Thus a global deal, which moves beyond the distinction between rich and poor countries and commits all the major emitters to binding emissions targets, is needed, they said.
Their arguments are untenable and far-fetched. For a start, developed countries are responsible for most of the greenhouse gases (GHG) in the atmosphere in its long and historical process of industrialization.
This week in Durban, South Africa, 194 nations are meeting to discuss global warming. The whole effort is in disarray: The Bush administration withdrew American support in 2001, in a decision that is still having disastrous consequences; China, considered a developing country, isn’t bound by Kyoto targets for reducing carbon emissions. With the world’s two biggest economies out of the discussion, Durban is crowded with little island nations and other poor, vulnerable countries that have resorted to forming a 132-nation bloc – call them the pesky unknowns – to protest the continuing environmental damage.
Another obstacle to progress is the very term “global warming,’’ which sounds like one big group hug — far too benign to generate the political momentum needed to promote renewable energy, slow deforestation, and embrace energy efficiency. Dry scientific discussions — about, say, how many more gigatons of carbon dioxide emissions the climate can tolerate — aren’t creating a compelling narrative, either. Environmentalists should focus on repackaging the problem in a way that prods people into action. We need a new name: the Kiribati syndrome.