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Where's the Obama Era Change on Climate Change?

06/01/2010 02:50 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Most articles on climate change include graphs. These show that science and economics are at play (you can't have either of those things without graphs) and that things change over time. I thought of creating a graph for this post on Obama's international climate policy -- showing Hope vs. Change -- and having them head in diametrically opposite directions.

To say, "George Bush was bad for progress on climate change" seems obvious. He denied the science. He withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol. And he obstructed international negotiations. In a famous exchange at the Bali negotiations in 2007 a delegate from Papua New Guinea, asked the United states: 'If you're not willing to lead, then get out of the way.'

So when Obama was elected, watchers of international climate negotiations thought we had our hero, our hope, our answer to America's refusal to do its fair share; that we would now get some real solutions. We thought, even if he couldn't get truly ambitious action at home because of a Senate in the pockets of Big Oil and Big Coal, he could change the way the world approached climate change. And we were right -- but at the same time we were wrong.

The deep dark secret of international climate change policy is that Obama has been worse than Bush. Worse for international climate law, and more importantly for the planet. "How is this possible?" You ask, as you draw another graph showing me and reality trending in opposite directions. Well, having followed the negotiations for the same amount of time as Obama's Presidency let me show you the reality of his international climate policy.

He announced the divisive 'Copenhagen Accord' as a 'deal' before 160 countries had even read it. It's a 'deal' that will lead to almost 4C in temperature rises, causing massive devastation and which was rejected for that very reason by vulnerable small pacific countries like Tuvalu and the Cook Islands. Worse than that he's been bribing countries to sign up to this doomsday deal.

And now, in the lead up to negotiations which began on Monday in Bonn, Germany, the US has just released its latest submission to the UN negotiations.

In this submission the US articulates what it sees as a 'new paradigm' for climate negotiations, but what smells to me like very old wine in a very ugly bottle.

The submission shows that Obama doesn't want to continue with the UN architecture that has binding emission goals so we can make sure we save the planet. Not for the US and not for anybody else neither. He's taken the George Bush position and tried to make it global.

Instead of supporting the agreement among the rest of the world under the framework they've all been working with to take on science-based, internationally agreed and binding targets, because the world needs them - Obama's position is that nobody's targets should be negotiated and nobody's targets should be substantially binding. His position is: everyone should do as little as the US, so the US does not look bad.

Instead of having binding goals based on science, the US now proposes that everyone just promises sincerely that they'll take whatever action they feel like. And then, and this is a quote from the submission, 'sunshine', (where one reports on how they're going with no reward for doing well and no punishment for doing badly) will see that these inadequate actions are done. Feeling safe yet?

Such a proposal is the opposite of the model that the world has worked so hard to develop, and, as the Copenhagen Accord voluntary targets show, a model that puts our planet in peril.

It's this submission that shows how far backward Obama wants to take the world. In contrast to Bush's blocking of progress, Obama's 'leadership' is taking us rapidly in the wrong direction.

Obama is actively undermining the achievements of the past 20 years of international climate change negotiations. He's doing it so he looks like he's part of the solution. His objective is to be seen as brokering the deal that saves the world, whether it actually helps the climate or not. If he thinks that the world's going to buy that then I have a graph of him and reality that he really gotta see.

Alex Rafalowicz is in Bonn monitoring the UN climate negotiations for climate-debt.org and will be tweeting about the meeting @climatedebtorg