Joss Garman: Obama could save the talks with a single call to COP17

Share

The big question in Durban is whether an extraordinarily obstructive Obama administration is days away from killing this long climate process and burying its corpse next to the Doha round of trade talks.

The stakes really are that high. Chris Huhne, the UK's Energy and Climate Change Secretary, and his colleagues are facing a host of complex issues. But for me, three stand out. Do we keep the Kyoto protocol alive? Can we set up a fund to pay for poorer countries to cope with climate change and build clean energy? And when do we sign the next deal, the one that really nails the carbon beast? But in the end a good deal can't be struck here unless President Obama orders his delegation radically to change course.

First, Kyoto. The popular misconception is that this treaty expires next year. In reality, the first period of emissions cuts under the treaty runs out in 2012, but it was always the intention that we'd then have other commitment periods, each one forcing countries to cut their carbon deeper. Regressive governments have come to Durban determined to make Africa the graveyard of the protocol, to be replaced with some kind of wishy-washy voluntary agreement. But keeping Kyoto is important because it's the global rulebook on how to cut carbon across dozens of countries in a way that's verifiable and legally binding. If you kill the KP you take us back to square one, and a new rulebook to replace it becomes almost impossibly hard to agree.

Next up, the Green Climate Fund. This is a body set up to administer a pot of money to pay for the poorest countries to adapt to the impacts of climate change. One of the essential things Durban should achieve is for this fund to be made operational. That means agreeing how it works based on the recommendations of a committee of experts which has been working all year on developing its architecture. But some countries are trying to reopen negotiations on what the recommendations are, meaning ministers may not now be able to sign off on the fund this week.

Which countries are blocking this process? Saudi Arabia, of course, but the US has also thrown a monkey wrench into the push to get the fund on its feet.

Finally, the last of those big three issues: the signing of the next deal, the mega-agreement, the one that will do what Copenhagen was meant to do. In Durban, the alliance of small island states (facing nothing less than eradication this century) want the new deal signed next year. The EU is pushing the timetable a bit, and wants it signed in 2015. But there are other countries (foremost the US) which say we should only start talking about that deal at the end of this decade, with a view to signing it some time later.

Yup, you thought Copenhagen was the last chance. Now Obama's team and its allies are aggressively pushing for the deal we were meant to get back then to be signed more than 11 years later, and to be weaker than the one we needed in 2009.

An indication of how far Obama has strayed from his election campaign rhetoric (how the oceans would now stop rising) came when his senior negotiator here, Jonathan Pershing, opened the talks with a claim that there are "infinite pathways" to a deal that don't include deep carbon cuts before 2020.

The real issue is not simply that Obama can't sign an ambitious deal because Congress wouldn't ratify it – it's that he's actively sabotaging the efforts of more progressive countries to take this process forward. That could change with a single call from America's first African- American president to the delegation acting in his name.

Joss Garman is a campaigner for Greenpeace UK. Follow him on twitter@jossgarman

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: SEN Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: SEN Teacher We have a fantastic special n...

Tradewind Recruitment: History Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is an 11-18 all ability co-educat...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 6 Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 6 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

Recruitment Genius: Transport Administrator / Planner

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

If I were Prime Minister: Every privatised corner of the NHS would be taken back into public ownership

Philip Pullman
 

Errors & Omissions: Magna Carta, sexing bishops and ministerial aides

John Rentoul
Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee