Half way through the climate negotiation here in Tianjin, China and the U.S. are once again caught in heavy bickering and finger-pointing. Both have made damning accusations of the other side for negotiating unfaithfully, publicly and informally.
Meanwhile, a group of Chinese intellectuals and NGOs put together an open letter to the US government regarding its failure to take actions on climate change, while highlighting China’s domestic efforts in contrast to the US, through a comparison chart. It was delivered to the head of the US delegation in Tianjin at an NGO briefing and a meeting was requested to discuss the substance of the letter. Here are some highlights from the letter:
“… we want to emphasize that China is not and must not continue to serve as an excuse for continued inaction by the United States, especially as China is moving forward with serious efforts. The United States, as the world’s richest country and its greatest historical polluter, must fulfill its obligations under the UNFCCC and Bali Action Plan. We call upon the United States to respect and contribute to the UN process, instead of undermining it and becoming a shield for other Annex I countries to hide behind.”
“It is time for the United States to stop using China as a scapegoat, and to move forward with whatever honest efforts it can come up with..”
Although I personally find the overall tone of the open letter a bit nationalistic and defensive, it contains important facts that shed light on how behind the US is on the issue of addressing climate change given its historical responsibility.
” The United States is and remains the world’s largest contributor to climate change. With less than 5% of global population it accounts for 29% of global cumulative emissions (between 1850 and 2006) that are causing climate change; China accounts for a mere 8.62% with 20% to 22% global population.
Today, average citizens in the United States continue to pollute about four times as much as people in China – at 19.2 versus 4.9 metric tons per capita in 2008.
China set up a comprehensive National Climate Action Program in 2007; the United States continues to have no comprehensive national climate legislation.”
It also offers an important alternative to a U.S.- favorite media narrative that was beginning to dominate the news on the climate negotiation in the last several days. However, I want to caution that while delegates of governments from around the world converge in Tianjin to negotiate important elements of the climate treaty, most if not every delegate will likely already be speaking on behalf of national interests. The climate movement should not resort to similar approach or potentially further fan nationalistic flame. We have to accept that this is, after all, a negotiation between nations. There should probably be no illusion that countries will be negotiating on behalf of national interests and nothing more, or less.
With delegates of both countries already lashing damning and insinuating remarks on each other at their respective final press conferences today, and other countries beginning to take the “wait and see” backseat approach to see how the “spat” plays out between the two major emitters, I believe our job as civil society is not to take side with governments, but with the planet.
The US’s inability to move forward on climate legislation has to do with its peculiar political system and the lack of political consensus on the ground in the US. It’s also a failure on our part as U.S. NGOs. We have failed to educate and mobilize enough ordinary Americans across political spectrums and convince them to believe in the urgency for actions and push our Congressional representatives to legislate accordingly.
In order to win comprehensive climate legislation in the US, we need to wage a campaign that reaches across race, class and gender; and brings together the environmental movement, the labor movement and the social justice movement, much like the 2008 Presidential campaign that brought Obama into the White House. We have managed to put climate change on the agenda and in the public discourse, now we need a real movement to push for sustained and long-term actions to address it.
Join the 10/10/10 Global Work Party to address climate change and start talking to people who never wanted to listen to us and explain to them why climate change affects all of us. Think about Hurricane Katrina, the Gansu mudslide, the Pakistani flood. Poor people will be the hardest hit, be them in China or the U.S. .
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