Stop bickering on climateNo one has been more uncomfortable at the gathering in Copenhagen working toward a new pact to address global warming than representatives from the United States. They speak for an economy that accounts for one-fourth of the world’s energy consumption, with per-person carbon dioxide emissions five times higher than the world’s average, but whose people nevertheless stand against curbing consumption.
The U.S. refused to ratify the 1997 United Nations-sponsored Kyoto Protocol requiring 38 wealthy countries to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases by an average 5.2 percent from 1990 levels by 2012 to help ease the warming process endangering the planet. It argued that its commitment to cut emissions would be meaningless without similar sacrifices by the world’s largest polluter, China. The world’s most populous country protested that its track record on energy consumption is still much better than America’s. With the two primary polluters engaged in finger-pointing, global talks to address climate change for the coming decade have been going around in circles.
But evident rises in sea levels, worsening droughts, deforestation and other environmental fallout have increased awareness among the international community that it is on a clock, and finally countries laid out specific ways to cut emissions ahead of the Copenhagen climate change conference, aimed at producing binding new emission targets starting in 2013. The European Union pledged to lower emissions by 20 percent, and Japan by 25 percent from 1990 levels by the end of next decade. China and India, not included in the Kyoto article, set non-binding “carbon intensity” targets to reduce emissions per dollar of economic output. Korea also set its target according to the top ceiling recommended of developing countries by the European Commission.
The U.S. so far has come up with a 3 percent cut from 1990 levels, and its climate legislation remains locked up in the Senate, causing embarrassment for President Barack Obama, who has pledged to lead on climate change issues, setting him apart from his predecessor George W. Bush. Then last week, in a political turnabout, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency called greenhouse gases a public health hazard, thus requiring stringent federal regulatory actions.
The EPA assessment will lend the U.S. voice calling for united action in Copenhagen more persuasive power despite the legislative impasse. The news also sheds brighter light on the prospects for the two-week conference, where the wealthy and poorer members of international society are still strongly divided on the depth of emission cuts and the issue of financial reparation for poorer economies to meet their targets.
A joint editorial by 56 newspapers around the globe has urged advanced countries to act first to combat the primary problem of global pollution, with cooperation from developing nations. All must remember that self-serving thinking comes at the expense of our planet and our lives. We urge the U.S. legislature to recognize this and step up to its appropriate leadership role.