The U.N. climate talks desperately need a crisis. For the last 10 days, negotiations here in Durban, South Africa, have made little progress on the fundamental challenge these talks were set up to confront: how the world can come together to avoid catastrophic climate change.
Instead, the pace of negotiations has been set by the one country the rest of the world should be turning their back on: the United States.
The U.S. never signed the Kyoto Protocol, the only legally binding international agreement designed to reduce emissions, but it is allowed to take part in the negotiations in a separate track dedicated to securing a long-term climate agreement. After President Obama's election, the international community had high hopes the new administration would bring a new sense of ambition and commitment to talks.
Instead, the only thing the U.S. brought to the table was a wrecking ball. Rather than standing out of the way and letting the rest of the world get on with setting up an international architecture to facilitate cutting emissions, stopping deforestation, and investing in renewable energy, the U.S. has spent the years since Copenhagen attempting to systemically dismantle the U.N. process.
Highest on the U.S. hit list is the Kyoto Protocol, an imperfect treaty (thanks in large part to U.S. recalcitrance), but currently the best instrument in the global climate toolbox. Next on the list is the very idea of legally binding commitments – the U.S. would prefer a “pledge and review” world where countries make their own voluntary commitments and then report out on what they've decided.
Here in Durban, however, the U.S. has taken on an even more insidious role by pushing a proposal that the international community adopt a “mandate” to negotiate a new climate treaty that will take effect in – wait for it – 2020.
Democracy is utterly dependent upon an electorate that is accurately informed. In promoting climate change denial (and often denying their responsibility for doing so) industry has done more than endanger the environment. It has undermined democracy.
There is a vast difference between putting forth a point of view, honestly held, and intentionally sowing the seeds of confusion. Free speech does not include the right to deceive. Deception is not a point of view. And the right to disagree does not include a right to intentionally subvert the public awareness.