Reporting from Barcelona, Spain
As nations ratcheted up pressure on the United States to deliver a concrete mid-term CO2 reduction target in Copenhagen, the U.S. climate envoy said Friday that hard figures are already in play in Congress — and they beat those of Europe.
"We recognize that others are seeking numbers from us," said Jonathon Pershing, U.S. deputy special envoy for climate change, on the last day of the international climate change talks in Barcelona. But "it is not clear that countries actually need a great deal more information."
The numbers are there. The two leading climate bills in the U.S. Congress propose reductions of 17 percent and 20 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 — equivalent to cuts of 4 percent to 7 percent below 1990 levels by 2020.
"If we take a look at the difference between what the U.S. is proposing to do, which going forward under either bill is either a 17 or 20 percent reduction below current levels, and compare it to those of other countries, say in Europe, we are more aggressive," Pershing said.
The EU has pledged to cut emissions 20 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 and ramp that up to 30 percent if other nations sign on at Copenhagen.
"If [the EU is] at 20 percent below 1990, it's only a 12 percent reduction because they're already 8 percent below. Or if they're at 30 percent, it's only a 22 percent reduction. So it strikes me that comparability [with Europe] is well within the range of proposals in the United States."
Pershing added that what's on the table currently is on the order of "four times more aggressive than what we saw in Kyoto."
When pressed if a minimum of 17 percent by 2020 would be America's position in Copenhagen, Pershing said "no." He added, "I have no information to share with you."
Naturally, the world was not impressed.
As the talks came to a close, UN climate chief Yvo de Boer made a final plea to the U.S. to declare actual mid-term CO2 cuts by the Copenhagen conference, three weeks away.
"I believe the U.S. can commit to a number," de Boer said. "A number from President Obama would have huge weight."
Pershing said the decision by the Obama administration to bring a concrete number to the Copenhagen summit "has yet to be made."
That's not good enough, said Alden Meyer of the Union of Concern Scientists.
"President Obama must work with Senate leaders to further advance domestic climate and energy legislation over the next month, so that in Copenhagen, the world has confidence that the Congress will join with the president in addressing the climate change problem," Meyer said.
Pershing said he recognized that any "deal must include numbers." But to really move forward in the talks, the U.S. will have to "see contributions from all major economies," an apparent nudge to China, now the world's biggest carbon polluter, just ahead of the United States.
Earlier in the week, Pershing told Reuters in an interview that the U.S. wants China to make a commitment to halve its emissions by 2050.
De Boer said that national climate change strategies of the major developing countries — including China, Brazil, Mexico, India and South Africa — all contain numbers, "and they're all very significant."
"The action that China is already taking puts it in a lead position of addressing climate change," de Boer said, in a slight to the U.S. delegation.
Africa Stays Tough
On the last day of talks, Lumumba Stanislaus Di-Aping, the Sudanese chair of the Group of 77 and China, said that the U.S. refusal to commit to mid-term emissions reduction targets was "absolutely unacceptable." Earlier in the week, the Africa Group staged a walk-out in protest over the weak CO2 reduction pledges by the rich.
The Africa group and the G77 plus China have called for at least a 40 percent cut in emissions from 1990 levels by 2020.
"Industrialized nations lost their ambition and Africa found their muscle," said Tasneed Essop of the environmental NGO WWF.
De Boer said he "fully understands" the frustration expressed by the Africa Group in Barcelona.
"Poor countries are not reaping benefits of the Kyoto Protocol," he said. And the negotiations that were supposed to create a climate treaty to benefit them are "not moving fast enough."
Pershing admitted that "as a pressure tactic" the walkout by the African nations could cause other countries to "move a bit." But he said what the U.S. will be prepared to offer the world on climate is "in Africa's interest."