DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Even as international climate talks ended this weekend with no new commitments on carbon emissions or climate aid from the United States, some were relieved America didn’t make a weak deal even weaker.
Other countries are now watching to see if the Obama administration will back up post-election comments about climate change with renewed efforts to cut emissions at home, and pave the way for more ambitious targets as work proceeds to adopt a new global climate pact in 2015.
The two-week talks in Doha ended with an extension of the Kyoto Protocol, which was to expire this year, but which now will only cover 15 percent of global emissions, since several developed countries, including Japan and Canada, have opted out. The U.S. never ratified the accord.
European Union Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard said Sunday that the U.S. negotiators were “careful not to block” the negotiations, adding that it’s “still difficult to know whether they will actually invest political capital in committing to a new international deal.”
In an emailed comment to The Associated Press, Hedegaard said she hopes Obama “will present not only an enhanced domestic climate policy but also an enhanced U.S. engagement and willingness to commit more in an international climate context.”
Both rich and poor countries have long accused the U.S. of hampering the global effort to fight climate change, which scientists say is raising sea levels, threatening low-lying areas and island nations, and shifting weather patterns with impacts on droughts, floods and the frequency of devastating storms.
Alone among industrialized nations, the U.S. rejected the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, the only binding treaty to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases. The Bush administration said it would hurt the U.S. economy and that it was unfair because it didn’t include emerging economies including China and India.
Hopes for stronger U.S. leadership in the U.N. talks under Obama were dashed when emissions-capping legislation stalled in Congress. But expectations rose anew this year after Hurricane Sandy pushed climate change back in the domestic political debate.
After his re-election, Obama talked about “the destructive power of a warming planet,” and said he hoped to open a national conversation on the issue.
“I think what we saw from the U.S. in Doha was a mixed performance,” said Alden Meyer, of the Union of Concerned Scientists.
He said the U.S. was a “major impediment” in negotiations to ramp up climate aid to help poor countries shift to clean energy and adapt to rising sea levels and other impacts of climate change.
On the other hand, the U.S. acknowledged that it has more work to do at home to meet its voluntary pledge of reducing emissions by 17 percent by 2020, compared to 2005 levels.
“Also, the lead U.S. negotiator, Todd Stern, expressed a newfound willingness to discuss how to equitably share responsibility amongst countries for making the substantial post-2020 emissions reductions needed to avoid the worst impacts of climate change,” Meyer said. “These were both positive signals in Doha.”
Some were relieved that U.S. negotiators didn’t block a proposal by small island nations to discuss “loss and damage,” which relates to damages from climate-related disasters.
Small island nations under threat from rising sea levels have been pushing for some mechanism to help them cope with such natural catastrophes, but the U.S. had pushed back over concerns it might be held liable for the cleanup bill since it is the world’s second-biggest emitter behind China.
The Doha deal doesn’t establish that kind of mechanism, but says that countries agree to talk about it.