United Nations

Climate Justice—U.S. Must Emit Negative Amounts of Greenhouse Gases


Given the very faint murmurs emanating from the mainstream media, Americans might be forgiven for not realizing that the annual U.N. Climate Change Circus, ah, Conference started a week ago in Doha, Qatar. In any case, delegates from nearly 200 countries are engaging in their usual rituals of blame and supplication. Blame is allocated to the rich countries for loading up the atmosphere with greenhouse gases, and supplication from poor country kleptocrats begging (demanding) that rich countries give them hundreds of billions of dollars in climate reparations.

The supposed goal of the climate negotiations is to keep the globe's average temperature from rising by more than 2 degrees celsius over the pre-industrial average by capping the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere at 450 parts per million (ppm). Pre-industrial levels of carbon dioxide were at 280 ppm; it is now at 391 ppm. The poor countries are arguing that "climate justice" means that the 170 ppm (the difference between 280 and 450 ppm) must be divvied up based on population. As they see it, the rich countries have more or less already used up 110 ppm, meaning that the remaining 60 ppm should be allocated to the poor countries. This climate justice formula actually implies that rich countries would have to emit "negative" amounts of greenhouse gases.

However, in a supposedly off-the-record meeting U.S. chief climate negotiator Jonathan Pershing pushed back against these demands. The Times of India reported:

Pershing said, "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 percentages. 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."

Suggesting that the US preferred to take the domestic constituency into confidence while making the commitment and not go by scientific requirements, he reasoned, "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."

Unlike the Kyoto Protocol approach where the UN convention first decides how much reduction is required and then apportions the burden, Pershing suggested in what's dubbed not a new US position "that each country decides independently what it wants to do and put it on the global table."

Reiterating that US domestic political compulsions were paramount, he added, "Because 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."

Way back in 1997, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution 95 to 0 that rejected the Kyoto Protocol which would have limited U.S. greenhouse gas emissions to 7 percent below their 1990 levels. The resolution declared the sense of the Senate to be that the U.S. should not consider any climate change treaty that did not include limits on developing country emissions and that would "result in serious harm to the economy of the United States."

The Obama administration evidently recognizes that such a treaty would is still not saleable to Congress and the American public.