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Todd Stern prepares to abandon humanity to the fossil fuels that are poisoning our planet. As President Obama’s special envoy for climate change - the top American negotiator at the UN - he’s in a position to negotiate a firm and legally binding treaty holding climate change to a 2 degrees Celsius rise. Or he, on behalf of the United States, could abandon that 2 degrees target altogether, and instead count on environmental groups to sign petitions asking countries, nicely, to please think about limiting their emissions. He’s elected choice B.

Last Friday, at Dartmouth College, Stern suggested for the first time that the world drop the two degrees Celsius target that has dominated most international climate negotiations.  (At Copenhagen in 2009, small island states demanded - unsuccessfully - a 1.5 degree treaty. 2 degrees means that some nations, like the polar bears, will go extinct as rising seas claim them.)

Instead of a firm target, he wants each country to set its own schedule. Then if the schedule proves to be too modest, here’s his brilliant solution, in his own words:

 the system might include a six-month period after countries submitted initial offers in which other governments, experts and civil society could react and urge modifications.
Yes, you read that right. If, for example, the United States submitted a carbon reduction target that experts such as James Hansen think is too soft, Todd Stern proposes that it ignore listen intently to the 2.1 million signatures submitted in favor of EPA regulations on carbon. Or the 800,000 signatures submitted in one day in opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline.

See how well that's worked out so far?

The hard work by the Sierra Club, 350.org, and similar groups in petition-gathering to urge modifications to wimpy targets can't substitute for a legally binding international treaty.

Last December, Stern sought to portray the 2 degrees target as just a guidepost. Now he's proposing to abandon it altogether.

On a positive note, Stern seems to think that yet-to-be-invented technology will enable countries to voluntarily lower their emissions targets.

I wish this could be fixed by calling for Stern’s firing. Unfortunately, he represents the Obama administration. He’s not going rogue. He’s saying all the right things regarding climate science's diagnosis:

Whether we look at the steady increase in global temperature; the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere to the highest level in a half-million years; the march of warmest-ever years (9 of the10 hottest on record have occurred since 2000); the dramatic shrinking of mountain glaciers and Arctic sea ice; the accelerating rise in sea level; or the acidification of our oceans; the tale told by the evidence is consistent and it is compelling.

These things matter. They warn of droughts and floods and extreme storms. They warn of water shortages, food shortages and national security risk. They warn of what 11 retired generals and admirals wrote about in 2007 – climate change becoming a “force multiplier for instability in some of the most volatile regions of the world.” And they introduce the threat of catastrophic, non-linear change.

But his prescription calls for homeopathy - dilution down to meaningless levels. It's part of a reckless "all of the above" strategy being pursued by the Obama administration that, on the one hand, is doing as much as it possibly can to open up federal lands and federal dollars to renewable energy; and, on the other hand, fosters fossil fuel use with willful disregard of science and humanity. Stern and Obama blithely assume that time and technology will solve a crisis demanding urgency and leadership.

Important update: Todd Stern responds to critics at European Union, Alliance of Small Island States, and - I suppose - me, with this:

From U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern:

“There have been some incorrect reports about comments I made in a recent speech relating to our global climate goal of holding the increase in global average temperature to below 2 degrees Celsius.  Of course, the US continues to support this goal; we have not changed our policy.  My point in the speech was that insisting on an approach that would purport to guarantee such a goal -- essentially by dividing up carbon rights to the atmosphere -- will only lead to stalemate given the very different views countries would have on how such apportionment should be made. My view is that a more flexible approach will give us a better chance to actually conclude an effective new agreement and meet the goal we all share."

On the one hand, he reaffirms the 2 degrees goal; on the other hand, he disavows any effort to guarantee such a goal. Which doesn't exactly help matters, does it?

Originally posted to Climate Hawks on Tue Aug 07, 2012 at 09:10 AM PDT.

Also republished by DK GreenRoots.

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