The global climate change talks in Warsaw are unraveling -- and it's the West's fault.
Frustrated by the refusal of the developed countries to firmly commit to a fund to compensate the poorer nations for the death and destruction caused by global warming, developing countries staged a temporary walkout on Wednesday.
"The U.S., EU, Australia and Norway remain blind to the climate reality that's hitting us all, and poor people and countries much harder," an ActionAid International spokesman told The Guardian. "They continue to derail negotiations in Warsaw that can create a new system to deal with new types of loss and damage such as sea-level rise, loss of territory, biodiversity and other non-economic losses more systematically."
And on Thursday, a whole bunch of activist groups walked out of the conference -- this time permanently -- to express their dismay at the lack of seriousness of the richer countries.
"We as civil society are ready to engage with ministers and delegations who actually come to negotiate in good faith," said a joint statement by the groups. "But at the Warsaw Conference, rich country governments have come with nothing to offer."
The core of the dispute is the fund that was proposed last December during the previous round of climate change negotiations in Qatar. Led by the United States, the richer nations made sure that there were no binding commitments for the compensatory mechanism.
"The U.S. had strongly opposed the initial 'loss and damage' proposals, which would have set up a new international institution to collect and disperse funds to vulnerable countries," The Guardian reported then. "U.S. negotiators also made certain that neither the word 'compensation,' nor any other term connoting legal liability, was used, to avoid opening the floodgates to litigation."
The Obama Administration has continued along this road. In a briefing memo that was leaked, Secretary of State John Kerry expressed his concern to the current U.S. climate change negotiation team about where all the talk of loss and liability would lead, worrying that it would be "counterproductive" for the United States.
"If someone goes to court tomorrow, or any legal redress system, and says, 'Who is to blame for the typhoon that never happened before but has started to happen at a high level now?' it will primarily be the responsibility of developed countries to compensate these small, vulnerable countries," The Hindu newspaper's Nitin Sethi, who obtained the document, told Democracy Now. "And that's what U.S. government, I feel, is scared about, to enter a system where there is a legal compensation mechanism available for small, vulnerable countries, who otherwise don't have voice in this large set-up."
Talk about an abdication of responsibility. We are at this frightening juncture largely because of the emissions by the United States and European countries since the dawn of industrialization.
"The role of the industrial countries is paramount in having contributed to human-induced climate change," Rajendra Pachauri, head of the Nobel-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the definitive body studying the subject, told me some years ago.
And the United States and Europe continue to be outsized contributors to the heating of the planet. A chart in the weekend edition of the New York Times shows that while the United States is not too far from the top (coming in at twelve) of the list for per capita CO2 emissions among more than 200 nations (oil-rich and tiny countries occupy the top spots), China is sixty-third and India is a lowly 136th.
All the poorer nations are asking is that for their survival, the richer nations cut back on their lifestyle a bit, as a Bangladeshi delegate told NPR.
Surely that's not too much to ask.
Photo: Flickr user NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, creative commons licensed.