WASHINGTON — Is the United States leading or blocking progress toward stopping global warming? It’s a key question this week as officials from more than 190 countries begin the latest round of negotiations seeking an eventual global climate-protection plan.
Environmentalists say that one of this round’s main accomplishments could be the creation of a new “green climate fund” to help developing countries adjust in the 2020s. Another might be an agreement that all major countries slash emissions, even if the details get left until later.
The United States is key to how the talks turn out, and environmental activists want it to stop blocking progress on both issues, said Kevin Knobloch, the president of the Union of Concerned Scientists. He and leaders of other major environment groups wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton this week urging her to make sure the U.S. position doesn’t send negotiations into permanent g ridlock.
“We need greater efforts by all major economies to meet this challenge, and we can’t wait another decade to lift our game,” Knobloch said Wednesday.
As talks opened Monday in Durban, South Africa, there were fresh reminders from scientists about the need for speed. Greenhouse-gas levels as a result of burning fossil fuels and forests are “very rapidly approaching levels consistent with a 2 to 2.4 degree centigrade rise (about 3.5 to 4 Fahrenheit) in average global temperatures, which scientists believe could trigger far-reaching and irreversible changes in our Earth, biosphere and oceans,” Michel Jarraud, the secretary-general of the World Meteorological Organization, said in a statement.
One main task before negotiators is to improve ways to finance efforts to reduce emissions and cope with unavoidable climate-related problems in developing countries. Developed countries agreed in 2009 to help raise $100 billion a year — from governmental and private sources — by 2020 to help poorer nations address global warming. Much of this would go into what’s called the Green Climat e Fund.
At issue now is how the fund will be set up, used and controlled, although these talks are unlikely to resolve how to raise the money.
The United States has raised objections to a committee’s proposal about how the fund should be organized, but they appear to be relatively minor points, said Elliot Diringer, the executive vice president of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, a business-oriented policy-research group.
Todd Stern, the U.S. climate negotiator, said last week that the United States was a “strong advocate” of the fund. He said he was “pretty confident we’re going to be able to work these things out.”
The other major issue is forging steps toward an eventual treaty. Again, no breakthrough is expected at Durban, but countries might agree to a broad goal.
U.S. negotiators have said they don’t want to enter negotiations unless China, Brazil and other large developing countries agree at the outset that they’ll accept legally binding obligations to reduce emissions.
The environmentalists’ letter said that those developing countries were unlikely to agree at Durban to the U.S. preconditions, and for Washington to insist on them signaled that the United States didn’t support a mandate for future negotiations.