Amid a moving squabble of cameras and reporters, the highest climate change negotiator for the United States made his way through the corridors of Durban, South Africa’s International Convention Center. At a press conference earlier today, Todd Stern reiterated the U.S. position for this year’s UN climate change negotiations--COP17. The United States refuses to sign up for a binding carbon emissions reduction agreement unless the world’s emerging economies (China) agrees to do so without a long list of conditions. Some conditions proposed by China include a new round of targets for developed nations under Kyoto, targets for industrialized nations that consider historical responsibility and present capacity, and both short- and long-term adaptation funding. (Many of these conditions are already the official subjects of smaller closed-door group meetings here in Durban.)
The U.S.’s current position seems to only parrot arguments used by the Bush administration in 2001 to avoid ratifying the Kyoto Protocol. Alarmingly this position ignores the need for the United States to join the renewable economy if it is to remain a viable economy in the future. The nonrenewable resources that most contribute to carbon emissions and climate change are only here for a limited time. The fact that we are now sourcing nonrenewables through energy intensive extraction techniques (tar sands and oil shale removal and fracking) stands as a testament of the meager amounts of easily accessible resources that remain. If the United States is to remain a global economic leader, then it needs to demonstrate that it can adapt to a changing energy economy and progress to climate-responsible energy policies.
Beyond economically disadvantaging future Americans, the use of the U.S.’s outdated and circular arguments at the negotiations here in Durban erodes the country’s international credibility and capacity to lead in a changing world. It is time for the U.S. to diversify its portfolio of strategies to protect the world’s disadvantaged. Beyond supporting national uprisings through military force, or dumping aid in the form of corn, the U.S. can benefit millions of the world’s most vulnerable people by developing its own economy sustainably.
What can we do to help ensure that the United States takes a leadership role in climate change on the global stage?
In order to put the U.S. in a better negotiating position abroad, the American public must be aware of and active in climate change efforts. Demonstrated popular support needs to be the pressure behind the policy shift. Thinking globally toward the next COP, it is imperative that Americans take action at home to let their government representatives know they are concerned about America’s future economic viability and leadership on the global stage. Americans also need to let their representatives know that they are troubled by and demand action on climate change.
One way to do this is to support national initiatives that promote the use of renewable energy. Some current proposals include establishing a Clean Energy Standard and removing outdated fossil fuels subsidies. Despite challenges in this year’s Congress, the Clean Energy Standard will be floated again next year in an effort to meet the President’s goal of producing 80% of U.S.’s energy from renewable resources by 2035. Another strategy gaining attention here at COP17 is the removal of fossil fuel subsidies. In the U.S. eliminating fossil fuel subsidies in the U.S. has proponents from both sides of the aisle. Both the Obama administration and Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry have proposed to the remove energy subsidies. While transitioning away from these subsidies would cause growing pains, it would save the U.S. government billions over the long-term.
How can you support these initiatives? Tell your Representatives and Senators that you support the Clean Energy Standard and the removal of fossil fuel subsidies. Talk to family and friends about America’s leadership potential and the challenges our economy will face if it doesn’t adopt renewable sources of energy. Support local initiatives for renewable energy as these lay the groundwork for national efforts. Maintain hope—the U.S. will have come around sooner or later. The question here remains will the U.S. be a leader in clean energy and climate action or will it continue to erode its own credibility and competitiveness on the global stage?