Talking with Al Jazeera about the Doha climate conference


We discussed the UN climate change conference in Doha on Al Jazeera English TV November 26, with questions about the U.S. role in the treaty negotiations and fairness in the relationship between the U.S. and developing countries in meeting climate policy goals.

The real issue is not just current emissions – it’s the cumulative emissions over time and their contribution to the atmospheric concentration of long-lived greenhouse gases.  Historically, the U.S.’s cumulative contribution to the problem of global climatic disruption is far greater than that of China and other developing countries, and will remain so for decades – longer if we look at it on a per capita basis.

Similarly, addressing the goal of keeping the overall increase in global temperature below the level that will constitute ‘dangerous anthropogenic interference’ with the climate system, if that is even any longer possible – an increase that is commonly identified as 2o C above the preindustrial level – implies that the countries of the world must constrain their global aggregate cumulative future emissions within a total carbon budget, while expediting a phase-out of the carbon-based energy system. This concept of a cumulative future carbon budget that must somehow be allocated is developed as a central theme for U.S. policy in the major study published by the National Academy of Sciences’ called America’s Climate Choices.

An equitable allocation of a global carbon budget sufficient to hold the temperature increase to 2o C above the preindustrial level would allocate the great majority of future emissions to the currently developing countries.  We need an equitable solution to the problem that doesn’t condemn developing nations to widespread poverty as a condition of getting the U.S. to agree to make really serious commitments to major emissions reductions.

U.S. political leadership does not appear to be up to the task of speaking truthfully to the American people about where we stand vis-à-vis what climate science says about the implications of the trajectory we are on now – which is toward something more like a 4C global temperature increase, or higher, even if all current voluntary pledges by various countries are lived up to in the implementation.  Nor does it appear up to the task of speaking truthfully to the American people about the global distributional equity problems that confront any effort at a ‘we’re all in this together’ solution.

Earlier posts:

Open letter to climate treaty negotiators: Leave 80% of coal, oil, and gas reserves in the ground

The American ‘99%’ as part of the global ‘1%’ in contributing to climate change

On the Durban climate conference, Part 2: The problem of international distributional equity

Taking questions from London through an earbud while looking into an unmanned camera is not like sitting at the table with the interviewer.

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