Posted by: JohnnyRook | December 3, 2008

China and India Say Obama Climate Plan Not Ambitious Enough


Reuters reported today from the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Poznan, Poland that China and India have expressed concern that President-elect Obama’s proposal to restore US greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 is insufficient.

President-elect Barack Obama’s goals for curbing greenhouse gases to 2020 are inadequate to fight global warming, Chinese and Indian delegates told Reuters at U.N. climate talks on Wednesday.

Developing nations welcomed Obama’s plan for tougher goals than President George W. Bush but said Obama’s target of cutting U.S. greenhouse gas emissions back to 1990 levels by 2020 was not enough to avoid dangerous global warming.

“It’s more ambitious than President Bush but it is not enough to achieve the urgent, long-term goal of greenhouse gas reductions,” Tsinghua University’s He Jiankun, of the Chinese delegation, said on the sidelines of the December 1-12 talks.

“It’s not ambitious enough considering the Kyoto Protocol targets, but given the eight-year Bush administration it’s progress,” said Dinesh Patnaik, a director at the Indian Foreign Ministry.

The United States is isolated among industrialised nations in not ratifying the Kyoto Protocol, which obliges 37 developed nations to cut emissions by 2012 as a first step to avert more heatwaves, floods, droughts and rising sea levels.

Developing nations at the 187-nation meeting said rich nations should set even more ambitious targets, of cuts of 25 to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 to shift from fossil fuels despite the financial crisis.

China and the United States are top emitters ahead of India and Russia. But U.S. emissions per capita are almost five times those of China and developing nations say the rich have spewed out most heat-trapping carbon since the Industrial Revolution.

The views of the Chinese and Indian delegates were echoed by others.

Earlier on Wednesday, a group of 43 small island states called for even tougher goals for cuts, saying that rising seas could wipe them off the map.

“We are not prepared to sign a suicide agreement,” said Selwin Hart of Barbados, a coordinator of the alliance of small island states, told Reuters at the 187-nation meeting.

They said that rich nations should cut emissions by 40 percent by 2020 below 1990 levels.

Last year the European Union announced a goal of cutting CO2 emissions by 20 per cent over 1990 levels as well as to produce 20% of its energy from renewable sources.

More recently a coalition of 29 environmental groups in the US called for even greater cuts Full report available here (PDF):

On the intersecting issues of climate and energy, the groups call for Congress to pass legislation in 2009 to cut emissions 35 percent below currently levels by 2020, and 80 percent below 1990 levels by midcentury. They also call for movement toward 100 percent clean electricity through “energy efficiency, modernizing the grid, and greatly expanding power generation from renewable energy resources.”

The groups making the recommendation were:

* American Rivers
* Center for International Environmental Law
* Clean Water Action
* Defenders of Wildlife
* Earth Justice
* Environment America
* Environmental Defense Fund
* Friends of the Earth
* Greenpeace
* Izaak Walton League
* League of Conservation Voters
* National Audubon Society
* National Parks Conservation Association
* National Tribal Environmental Council
* National Wildlife Federation
* Native American Rights Fund
* Natural Resources Defense Council
* Oceana
* Ocean Conservancy
* Pew Environment Group
* Physicians for Social Responsibility
* Population Connection
* Population Action International
* Rails-to-Trails Conservancy
* Sierra Club
* The Wilderness Society
* The Trust for Public Land
* Union of Concerned Scientists
* World Wildlife Fund.

Dr. James Hansen of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and the world’s leading climate scientist is also concerned that anything less than immediate reductions will have disastrous consequences.

A practical global strategy almost surely requires a rising global price on CO2 emissions and phase-out of coal use except for cases where the CO2 is captured and sequestered. The carbon price should eliminate use of unconventional fossil fuels, unless, as is unlikely, the CO2 can be
captured. A reward system for improved agricultural and forestry practices that sequester carbon could remove the current CO2 overshoot. With simultaneous policies to reduce non-CO2 greenhouse gases, it appears still feasible to avert catastrophic climate change.

Present policies, with continued construction of coal-fired power plants without CO2 capture, suggest that decision-makers do not appreciate the gravity of the situation. We must begin to move now toward the era beyond fossil fuels. Continued growth of greenhouse gas emissions, for just another decade, practically eliminates the possibility of near-term return of atmospheric composition beneath the tipping level for catastrophic effects. [emphasis–JohnnyRook]

The most difficult task, phase-out over the next 20-25 years of coal use that does not capture CO2, is herculean, yet feasible when compared with the efforts that went into World War II. The stakes, for all life on the planet, surpass those of any previous crisis. The greatest danger is continued ignorance and denial, which could make tragic consequences unavoidable.

Other experts doubt whether it is feasible to do more than President-elect Obama has called for. Joe Romm at Climate Progress, who thinks that stabilization of C02 emissions at 450ppm rather than the 350ppm Hansen is calling for is the best we can do politically, writes:

I have already heard some enviros (sic) attack Obama for “only” going back to 1990 levels by 2020 — even though that is the same goal that Arnold Schwarzenegger has in California, which has had years to develop and employ more serious and aggressive strategies. In fact, getting back to 1990 levels will require all of the talent, eloquence, and magic PEBO has — and he’ll need the support and hard work of every last one of us.[emphasis Joe Romm]

(By the way, according to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), United States emissions are currently 16.7% above 1990 levels.)

How does one sort out who is right in this debate? What should be the goals of the developed countries, including the United States, for CO2 emissions reductions by 2020? Should we return to 1990 levels as Obama proposes for the United States and that Joe Romm says is the maximum that we can realistically expect to achieve politically? Or do we shoot for 20% reductions as the European Union is doing (not very successfully, one might add)? What about the 35% reduction that the coalition of 29 major environmental groups is calling for,or the 25% to 40% cuts that the Chinese and Indians are say are necessary? Is it feasible to cut emissions by 40%, as the island nations want?

{I assume that my readers have enough imagination to understand that one’s sense of urgency might be greater if much or all of your country is threatened by inundation from rising sea levels. According to the admittedly conservative IPCC 4th report even stablization at 450 will lead to at least a half meter of sea level rise by century’s end, effectively removing some low-lying nations form the map. Moreover, because of warming already in the pipeline at that point, the world will continue to warm and seas to rise even after that.}

What if Jim Hansen and Joe Romm are both right? What if Hansen’s right when he says that

“Continued growth of greenhouse gas emissions, for just another decade, practically eliminates the possibility of near-term return of atmospheric composition beneath the tipping level for catastrophic effects.”

and Joe Romm is right when he argues that:

In fact, getting back to 1990 levels will require all of the talent, eloquence, and magic PEBO has — and he’ll need the support and hard work of every last one of us.

The positions are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Returning to 1990 levels by 2020 could meet Hansen’s goal of stopping the rise in CO2 emissions within the decade depending on how fast we make the cuts (that is, we can’t let them rise until 2019 and then cut them–the process has to begin now.)

The problem that I see is that if the if Dr. Romm is right and a return to 1990 levels by 2020 is all that the Obama administration can feasibly do politically, then the US has no room to negotiate. If our maximum possible cuts are below what the rest of the world is calling for how can the United States provide the leadership on stopping Climaticide that the rest of the world is expecting from us?

Update 1: Check out this article from to learn about the Contraction and Convergence proposal that Brazil is offering as a way to resolve the impasse between the developed and the developing countries.

Update 2: Joe Romm has an interesting, related post at Climate Progress: What will make Obama a great president, Part 2: A climate deal with China

Crossposted at Daily Kos

Related posts:

Take Action on Climaticide Now, Public Tells Governments and Business

Fixing the Climate: “On the Scale of WWII but Longer”

Obama Makes Powerful Statement on Climate Change. Promises Action.

President Obama, It’s Climaticide and the Survival of Civilization, Not Just Energy and Environment

If You Don’t Like this Crisis, You’re Really Going to Hate the Next One



  1. “President-elect Obama’s proposal … is insufficient.”

    If this is either an economic or political statement then it will not hold.

    It has to be a scientifically derived statement

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