The European Union accused the United States on Thursday of blocking goals for fighting climate change at U.N. talks in Bali and threatened to boycott U.S. talks among top greenhouse gas emitting nations. The December 3-14 Bali talks are split over the guidelines for starting two years of formal negotiations on a deal to succeed the Kyoto Protocol, a U.N. pact capping greenhouse gas emissions of all industrial nations except the United States until 2012.
"If we would have a failure in Bali it would be meaningless to have a major economies' meeting" in the United States, Humberto Rosa, Portugal's Secretary of State for Environment, said on the penultimate day of the talks. "We're not blackmailing," he said, escalating ratcheting up a war of words with Washington at the 190-nation meeting. "If no Bali, no MEM (major economies' meeting)."
Portugal holds the rotating EU presidency and Rosa is the EU's top negotiator in Bali, where delegates are seeking to agree to launch talks on a broad new climate treaty to combat floods, droughts, heatwaves and rising seas from 2012.
"We don't feel that comments like that are very constructive when we are working so hard to find common ground," said Kristin Hellmer, a White House spokeswoman in Bali. Washington, long at odds with many of its Western allies on climate policies, has called a meeting of 17 of the world's top emitters, including China, Russia and India, in Hawaii late next month to discuss long-term curbs on greenhouse gases.
President George W. Bush intends the Honolulu meeting as part of a series to come up with plans for curbs to feed into the U.N. process, to be completed after he steps down in January 2009. Washington hosted a similar meeting in September.
The EU wants Bali's final text to agree a non-binding goal of cuts in emissions, mainly from burning fossil fuels, of 25 to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 for industrial economies. The United States, Japan and Canada are opposed, saying any figures would prejudge the outcome.
Luckily, some less environmentally toxic Americans were also present at the Bali conference who made assurances that current US policy is likely to change once Bush is removed from the Oval Office. John Kerry has said "I am convinced the politics of 2009 in the United States are going to be just night and day, different from where we have been before." Kerry and other members of a "shadow delegation" also chimed in on their expectations that the US will become more progressive on climate change in the near future:
Boycotting the US would further highlight the contempt shown by Europeans for America's current enviro-jihad. Who'd have thought the standing of the US could fall this low when even its own allies start to contemplate spurning invitations from Washington? Given the potential hazards posed by not addressing this issue, Bush is rightly regarded as an odious figure just as Mugabe is.
For Al Gore, it was time to utter a new inconvenient truth that diplomatic niceties precluded others from telling: "My own country, the United States, is principally responsible for obstructing progress here," he told a packed audience at the U.N. climate change summit in Bali. "We all know that..."
But while Gore's public criticism of his own country's delegation — and implicitly, of the President who controls it — electrified his audience, what he said next was even more important. "Over the next two years, the United States is going to be somewhere it is not right now," said Gore. "We are going to change in the U.S."
That the U.S. leadership is deeply divided on climate change has been patently obvious to even the most casual observer here. Washington's official delegation has emerged as the chief spoiler in moves to take meaningful action on climate change. But among the most vocal critics of the official delegation has been an array of American environmentalists, legislators and state and local government officials. Carl Pope, president of the Sierra Club, called the U.S. performance "the most explicitly irresponsible action that any American Administration has taken in any of our lifetimes."
But the purpose of the shadow U.S. delegation here — spiritually led by Gore and including the likes of Sen. John Kerry, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and dozens of officials from California (Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger had planned to attend, but budget negotiations kept him at home) — is to signal the world that the Bush Administration no longer represents the views of most Americans on climate change. They point to the fact that U.S. cities, states and, now, the Congress have taken steps to combat global warming, and that next year's election will likely accelerate that momentum. "The message here is that help is on the way," says Mike Chrisman, California's Secretary of Resources...
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg was in a nearby hotel arguing the opposite. "People everywhere recognize the time for discussion about whether global warming exists has passed," said Bloomberg, who has called for the implementation of a carbon tax. "Now it's time for action."
And Bloomberg could point to the fact that over 700 U.S. cities have signed up to meet Kyoto Protocol-style carbon cuts, while California has mandated a 25% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2020. "People here are acutely aware of what's happening in the U.S. beyond the Bush Administration, and they take great heart in the growing momentum," says Eliot Diringer, director of international strategies for the Pew Center on Climate Change.
Sen. John Kerry came in person to Bali to deliver that message, meeting with foreign delegations, his rhetoric backed by the recent passage by the Senate Environment Committee of the Warner-Lieberman Climate Bill, which calls for 15% emission reductions by 2020. "I wanted to make certain that those folks who are involved in the negotiations understand that they are not alone in dealing with this," says Kerry. "The Administration is isolated in its own country." Kerry, Maine Republican Senator Olympia Snowe and 50 other members of Congress sent a protest letter Wednesday to President Bush calling for U.S. negotiators to drop their opposition to emission targets.