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

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

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Executive

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Retail Buyer / Ecommerce Buyer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working closely with the market...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - CAD Software Solutions Sales

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A reputable company, famed for ...

Ashdown Group: Client Accountant Team Manager - Reading

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group has been engaged by a highly resp...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from the Education Editor: This shocking abuse of teachers should be taken seriously

Richard Garner
Brand loyalty: businessmen Stuart Rose (pictured with David Cameron at the Conservative conference in 2010) was among the signatories  

So, the people who always support the Tories... are supporting the Tories? Has the world gone mad?

Mark Steel
War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

War with Isis

Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

A spring in your step?

Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
10 best compact cameras

A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

Paul Scholes column

Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?