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For Immediate Release, December 11, 2010

Contact: Kassie Siegel, , (951) 961-7972 (U.S. cell in Cancún)

Climate Talks Lurch Forward But Fail to Make Significant Progress Toward Science-based Greenhouse Pollution Reduction Targets

CANCÚN, Mexico— The international climate talks closed today in Cancún without substantial progress on the central issue of establishing science-based greenhouse pollution reduction targets. On the positive side, the conference was marked by a broad affirmation of support for the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change process. But the talks fell far short of providing the concrete and immediate pollution reductions that are needed to address the growing climate crisis.

The Cancún decision, announced in the early morning hours over the protest of Bolivia, which repeatedly called for a stronger, science-based agreement, takes note of the paltry reduction pledges made in Copenhagen but fails to explicitly acknowledge the gap between those pledges and the reductions needed to avert catastrophic climate impacts.

“The enormous gap between the cuts required by science and the pledges made in Copenhagen was the elephant in the room throughout the Cancún talks,” said Kassie Siegel, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute and one of several Center staffers who attended the talks in Cancún. “Tragically, it appears that this elephant will travel to Durban, as the conference failed to adequately acknowledge the gap, let alone establish a concrete process to close it. The current pledges will lead to warming of more than 3.5 degrees Celsius, or 6.3 degrees Fahrenheit — a truly horrifying prospect.”  

The gap between the greenhouse pollution reductions needed to keep warming below 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), the stated goal of the Copenhagen accord, and the Copenhagen pledges, is between five and nine gigatons of carbon dioxide. For comparison, the annual emissions of all the world’s cars, trucks and buses is about five gigatons; annual U.S. emissions are about 7 gigatons. Negotiators failed to adopt any of the solutions under consideration in Cancún to close the gap. Solutions include closing existing loopholes such as the potential use of surplus emission credits from the European Union emission-trading scheme, closing the “logging loophole,” which would allow emissions from deforestation to increase without being counted, and simply increasing the pollution reduction targets.

The Cancún decision also fails to acknowledge that 2º C (3.6º F) warming is not safe, but is instead merely a marker in the continuum between dangerous and catastrophic climate change. While the decision “recognizes the need to consider” strengthening the cuts and lowering the temperature target to below 1.5º C (2.7º F), the review process established would not conclude until 2015, by which time it may not be possible to achieve this lower target.

“With clear scientific advice that global emissions must peak in the next five years to preserve our ability to avoid extreme and widespread damage from climate change, enshrining grossly inadequate greenhouse pollution reduction targets through 2015 is simply unacceptable,” said Siegel.

The key to unlocking progress in this and many other areas of the talks lies with the United States, which is the world’s largest cumulative emitter yet the only industrialized country in the world to refuse to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. The United States has long slowed progress in the negotiations, and this unconstructive U.S. role continued in Cancún, as the Obama government refused to offer the pollution reductions so clearly demanded by the science, while making strident demands of developing countries and making virtually no concessions itself.  “As U.S. citizens look to President Obama to make good on his campaign promise to provide leadership on the climate crisis and join the world in seeking the fair, ambitious and legally binding agreement needed to solve this problem, the country instead continues to drag its heels,” added Siegel.

The irony of the administration’s continued intransigence is that the United States already has the strongest domestic environmental laws in the world, including the Clean Air Act, through which the Environmental Protection Agency can effectively achieve deep and rapid greenhouse pollution reductions. As the climate negotiations entered their final hours, the U.S. District Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia denied a request by the nation’s largest polluters and some states to put the EPA’s modest greenhouse pollution regulations on hold, finding that emitters and their state allies had not adequately shown “harm” resulting from the rules.

“The Court’s rejection of polluters’ ridiculous arguments against the EPA’s common-sense greenhouse pollution rules reaffirms President Obama’s authority and responsibility to reduce greenhouse pollution through existing Clean Air Act programs,” said Siegel. “There are no further excuses for the president’s failure to lead the way forward on the most important issue humanity has ever faced.”

For more information, visit the Center’s
website about the Cancún climate talks.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 315,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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