Doha: USA negotiator says emission cuts depend on public support

By Ed King
RTCC in Doha

US climate change negotiator Jonathan Pershing says there is no chance of the USA signing up to a climate deal that requires the country to make substantial cuts in its emissions.

The Times of India has obtained a transcript from a closed meeting with NGOs Pershing attended in Doha on Wednesday evening, where he outlined the USA’s ‘red lines’ when it comes to negotiations on a 2015 climate treaty.

In particular he takes issue with proposals for atmospheric quantities of CO2 to be ‘equitably’ divided among the world’s states, arguing that it would leave the US having to commit economic suicide.

“It’s a vision you can say that the atmosphere can take an X quantity of coal emissions and therefore what you do is you divide that number into percentage,” he said.

“The obligation it states is that you (the US) would have to reduce its emissions down to negative 37% (below 1990 levels).

“And the obligation of China will be a tiny bit, but India can still grow quite a lot. The politics of that quite frankly really don’t work. I can’t really sell that to the US Congress.

“One way to think about it is what you could deliver. You say what you are going to do and you will be held to that. So how do you marry the reality of what you are doing with the reality of what is needed. To me, it’s going to be a hybrid. It’s going to be something between those two.

“If we can’t take it home and sell it at home, in whatever political economy we are living in, we won’t do it.”

While the comments come as little surprise to observers who have followed the USA for many years, they do emphasise the challenge that negotiators will face as they dig into the detail of a 2015 binding agreement.

US President Barack Obama has already said he will only take actions that will boost US jobs: “if the message is somehow we’re going to ignore jobs and growth simply to address climate change, I don’t think anybody’s going to go for that. I won’t go for that,” he said.

The US used to be the biggest country emitter in the world, but has now been overtaken by China. If this data is viewed on a per-capita basis the US roars back into the lead, and if China were to match per-capita levels it would be a climate catastrophe.

Speaking earlier today, UNFCCC chief Christiana Figueres said she understood the need to sell policies to a domestic audience – admitting that in the current financial crisis governments in the developed world were finding it hard to commit to anything that could be seen as damaging their economy.

“A long list of reports that have come out recently have said were running out of time for 2C,” she said.

“Governments come to the talks with this in mind but they approach the talks from their national perspective. Which is exactly what they need to do. It is understandable that there is a difference in perspective of what the science demands and the sum total of national perspective.

“Countries are doing as much as they can under the public support slash pressure that they have. I don’t see as much public interest or support that would be needed for governments to take on more ambitious and courageous decisions. We all need to take responsibility as individuals.”

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