There are some slopes that are just too steep to go down safely, and that holds true whether you are skiiing, driving or negotiating the decarbonization of the global economy.


Now entering their second week, the UN climate talks in Durban may be putting the world on a precipitous course indeed, with U.S. climate negotiators proposing that the Conference of Parties (COP 17) hold off on creating legally binding carbon emission targets until after 2020. 


Despite a year that broke nearly every extreme weather event on record -- displacing an estimated 30 million people in Asia and 11 million in Africa in 2010 alone (PDF) -- despite the now incontrovertable link between extreme weather and climate change, despite the shocking jump in carbon emissions in 2010, plus new research that shows more than 3/4 of global warming impacts are human-caused, the lead U.S. negotiator, Jonathan Pershing, had this to say:


...from the U.S. perspective, commitments in Cancun take us through 2020. We don’t think additional pledges are likely. 

The rationale of the U.S. has been that the voluntary agreements pledged in Cancun are sufficient to take us through a "timeout window" that would end in 2020, at which point more stringent carbon emissions targets could be negotiated to get us back on track to a 2 degree global warming path by 2050.


Unfortunately for the U.S. delegation a sophisticated piece of software called C-ROADS, a carbon emissions modeling tool originally developed by MIT, proves these remarks to be simply untrue.


Analysis presented today by Climate Interactive (PDF) disproves the statement that a 2 degree global warming limit is still tenable given the voluntary pledges in the Cancun Agreement. Waiting until 2020 for more serious climate mitigation targets would require a subsequent reduction in CO2 emissions of 4% per year or more, a feat deemed impossible by the 2010 United Nations Emissions Gap report (PDF) which shows that an anual reduction rate of 3.5% is the extreme upper limit.


Any steeper path could have a seriously destabilizing effect on the global economy, and the U.S. knows it. It is thus not surpising that the civil society movement is now targeting the United States as the primary blocker to the success of the climate talks. Here's what a few NGO leaders had to say today in a press conference:


Kumi Naidoo, Executive Director, Greenpeace International, said: “On Saturday, in Durban, the US eviscerated draft language on mitigation that would have offered real protection to those who are being hardest and fastest hit by climate changes that are already happening. The time has come for the US to stand aside. If it is not willing to save lives, save jobs and save whole ecosystems then it should get out of the way and let those who are willing move on. Any failure to move beyond US obstructionism will be measured in lives.”

Celine Charveriat, Director of Advocacy & Campaigns at Oxfam International, said: “The US is pitching an alarming narrative to lock in a ten-year timeout with no new targets to lower emissions until 2020. This perilous course of action must be stopped dead in its tracks. The world’s poorest people, who are already suffering the impacts of a changing climate, simply cannot wait another decade for action to bring emissions in line with what science so clearly requires. If the US insists on pushing this dangerous pathway, they must stand aside and allow other countries to move forward without them.”

Jim Leape, Director General, WWF International, said: “We’re not done here. But what this process is not delivering is ambition on emissions reductions. And that is not the fault of the process. It is the fault of governments like the United States. In fact, there is not a single scenario on the table right now that allows us to avoid runaway climate change. With no ambition on emission reductions and an apparent timeline aimed at 2020 for implementation, we could end up legally bound to a 4 degree world. And that’s just unacceptable. So while politicians continue to bicker around the edges of the negotiations, we will be looking for leaders arriving this week to engage on the real issues here. Civil society members are here to address the urgent threat of climate change and ensure a future world where there is enough food, water and energy for all. It might be good to ask governments why they’re here.”

Sharan Burrow, General Secretary, International Trade Union Confederation, said: “To fail to act, risks the opportunity to build the green economy with secure jobs. The economic and social risk of climate change, multiplied by the instability of corporate globalisation and the resulting global financial crisis is a time bomb for all workers. Union members and their families will mobilise to build political power that will hold all politicians to account. The US has got to stop blocking. They are either part of the global community, or they should stand aside.”

Stay tuned for further developments. 

U.S. climate negotiators confront growing opposition in Durban
The U.S. has become the pre-eminent blocker to this year's UN climate negotiations, but new scientific analysis and a growing civil society movement could force