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December 07, 2011

COP 17: Picking Up the Pace

COP 17 picking up the pace

The UN climate negotiations are winding up, with foreign ministers arriving. The negotiating tracks on the wide range of issues from mitigation, finance and the green climate fund, adaptation, and other issues are producing language that could result in an outcome in Durban that helps facilitate international collaboration on combating climate change. But the progress so far is slow and incomplete compared to the needed reductions to avert the catastrophic impacts of global climate change. 

At the center of the debate is the commitment to reduce emissions, and how the parties interpret the UN Framework Convention's language of "common but differentiated responsibilities," a principle that recognizes that developed countries such as the United States should bear a greater reduction responsibility than developing countries. Meanwhile, the United States bargaining position calls for "legal symmetry," or an equivalent legal form of commitments, for agreement. 

Sierra Club's efforts to advocate for standards on clean cars and fuel, greenhouse gas standards from power plants, and other measures under EPA authority are likely enough to achieve the 14-17 percent if the Obama Administration can implement them, but we have to push beyond that, moving beyond coal and toward renewable energy. The science indicates that current pledges under the Cancun Agreements amount to global emissions of 55 billion tons of CO2 in 2020, which is 11 billion tons above meeting the 2 degree target. This level of emissions leaves us headed toward a temperature rise of 3.5 degrees Celsius (6.3 degrees F), which will lead to extreme storms and heat events, damaged water and agricultural systems, sea level rise, and air quality and public health impacts. 

U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern arrived for the second week of the climate talks, and briefed the environmental community Tuesday evening, acknowledging that there are no plans to expand the ambition of the current U.S. target of 14-17 percent reduction below 2005 levels by 2020, but expressing optimism that the outcome will include agreements on adaptation, technology transfer, and the launch of the green climate fund. Although Sierra Club members and advocates from other organizations have repeatedly questioned the U.S. delegation on how the U.S. will work toward negotiating a pathway to limit climate change to 2 degrees Celsius, the commitments from the Administration seem held in place under the current Congress. While we need the U.S. and international community to come to an agreement in Durban to stabilize the climate, we also need to double-down on our climate protection campaigns at home in the U.S. 

-- Andy Katz, Sierra Club California/photo by Josh Lopez

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