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The Mulch: The COP-15 Blame Game

Posted by Alison Hamm at Dec 11, 2009 10:41 AM |

The Copenhagen negotiations shouldn't be about avoiding blame, but about getting results.

At the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen (Cop15), global leaders aren’t just negotiating a climate deal—they’re positioning to avoid blame if the talks fail.

David Corn reports for Mother Jones that as soon as U.S. climate change envoy Todd Stern arrived at the Bella Center this Wednesday, he quickly listed all of the Obama administration’s actions to address climate change: The Clean Air Act, the proposed reduction in emissions, boosted fuel economy standards, and so on. Stern then changed the subject to China, observing that “by 2020, China’s emissions will top those from the United States’ by 60 percent, and then by 80 percent in 2030.”

Stern’s message is clear: If the talks don’t succeed, it’s not America’s fault. Corn writes that “with fundamental questions unresolved—particularly the obligations of China and the other major developing nations—it’s quite possible the talks could collapse and yield an orgy of accusation. Thus, the need for governments to fret about Plan B, as in Plan Blame. The real problem is, if such a worst-case scenario does occur, each of the major players will indeed have plenty of cause to point fingers at the others.”

But are we really in a position to point fingers? The United States spent an average of $130 billion a year on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq from 2003 to 2009. The Obama administration has requested $138.6 billion for 2010, plus approximately $30 billion more for the additional troop surge.

When the Congressional Budget Office estimated the cost of a climate bill several months ago, it came up with a dramatically different sum: $22 billion per year.

As Matthew Yglesias writes for The American Prospect, “the United States has in the recent past undertaken initiatives that cost dramatically more than a strong climate initiative. We did it because we could afford it, and because the political elite in the United States takes military ventures seriously and wants to see them succeed. Well, averting catastrophic climate change is important too. … Whether we leave a legacy of leadership that meets that challenge will be determined largely by what happens at Copenhagen and what the Senate does to live up to whatever commitments the Obama administration makes there.”

The final deal needs to be inclusive of all people. Mantoe Phakathi of Inter Press Service writes that the deal needs to account for gender rather than simply classifying women as “vulnerable groups,” a term used in climate change policies in many countries, including South Africa and Kenya.

“Gotelind Alber, a researcher for the U.N.’s agency for housing, UN-HABITAT, said women in city slums are more vulnerable after natural disasters—women are often last to hear warnings of coming disasters, unable to move quickly while safeguarding children in their care, and in the breakdown of order that typically follows, exposed to violence.”

Finally, in the largest demonstration so far at Cop15, hundreds of youth created a “climate storm” inside the Bella Center yesterday, as Joshua Kahn Russell reports for Grist. The young activists clapped, snapped, and pounded their feet in representation of the typhoons and hurricanes that have ravaged communities around the world this year [Video below].


This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

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