Obama accused of 'backflipping' on crucial climate change target


THE US government has been accused by environmental and development groups of “backflipping” on seeking to cap the rise in global temperatures at 2 degrees Celsius – a key target in the UN negotiations on climate change.

They were reacting angrily to a recent speech by US climate envoy Todd Stern at Dartmouth College, New Hampshire, in which he said that agreeing to a framework to achieve this goal would “only lead to deadlock” and there needed to be more “flexibility”.

Responding from Manila, which has been hit by historically heavy flooding, Lidy Nacpil, director of Jubilee South, a debt and development group, said President Barack Obama “should try explaining to our people how much worse we need to prepare for in the future because he wants to have flexibility. It’s shocking to us that this backflip on the global goal [of 2 degrees Celsius] has been made as the Philippines suffers the very type of extreme weather disaster that will become more frequent and stronger as temperatures rise.”

Mohamed Adow, Christian Aid’s expert on the international climate talks, recalled that Mr Obama had committed to the 2 degree global goal at the UN climate summit in Copenhagen in 2009. “This backflip with a twist would win a gold medal at the hypocrisy Olympics.”

He said the target “was driven by the G8 countries. The poor and vulnerable states of Africa, the Pacific and Latin America have been calling for 1.5 degrees C to avoid catastrophic climate impacts – but now the US is walking away from its own weak global target.

“Even with the 0.8C global temperature rise that has already occurred, the world is witnessing the disastrous effects of climate change, and poor, vulnerable communities are unable to cope. If the 2C limit is abandoned, then the impacts will get dramatically worse.”

The UN’s African Group reacted with disappointment, even after Mr Stern “clarified” that the US was not opposing the 2 degree target, rather how it might be achieved. It said Africa was “at the forefront of climate impacts”, with temperature rises 150 per cent above average.

“That means the destruction of crops on a huge scale, as has occurred in the heat wave that the US is experiencing today,” the group said. “This is not a game with numbers; it’s a question of people’s lives.” The US “want to have their cake, but they can’t agree not to eat it”.

In Dartmouth College, his alma mater, Mr Stern delivered a lengthy review of the state of play in UN climate talks, noting that public attention “has diminished according to any number of polls. Attention to the issue has even appeared to wane in typically green Europe”.

He told his audience that “you cannot meet the climate challenge by focusing only on developed countries when developing countries already account for around 55 per cent of global emissions from fossil fuels and will account for 65 per cent by 2030.

“You cannot build a system that treats China like Chad when China is the world’s second largest economy, largest emitter, second largest historic emitter, will be twice the size of the US in emissions in a few years and has even caught up to the EU in per capita emissions.

“For many countries, the core assumption about how to address climate change is that you negotiate a treaty with binding emission targets stringent enough to meet a stipulated global goal – namely, holding the increase in global average temperature to less than 2 degrees . . .

“This is a kind of unified field theory of solving climate change – get the treaty right, the treaty dictates national action, and the problem gets solved. This is entirely logical. It makes perfect sense on paper. The trouble is [that] it ignores ... the art of the possible.”

Reuters adds: July was the hottest month in the continental US on record, beating the hottest month in the devastating Dust Bowl summer of 1936, the American government reported yesterday. It was also the warmest January-to-July period since modern record-keeping began in 1895, and the warmest 12-month period, eclipsing the last record set just a month ago, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said. This is the fourth time in as many months that US temperatures broke the “hottest 12 months” record.