Picture of Marcia Ishii

Marcia Ishii

Climate cowards & heroes

I spent the weekend glued to coverage of the high drama unfolding at the climate talks in Durban, South Africa. I watched closely because there is so much on the line affecting our and our children's future. In the final turbulent days, there were critical moments when a binding treaty with relatively ambitious and fair emissions cuts seemed almost possible. And then, well — the U.S. and our cronies played power politics behind closed doors, just as they have before.

I can barely contain my outrage at the U.S. government for doing everything in its power all week to stifle global progress in the battle against climate change. As allies have reported from the ground (here, here and here), continuous obstruction by the U.S. was a central factor undermining other countries' efforts to reach a decisive outcome. As a result, after 17 years of UN climate talks, we are now on course for a 3 (if not 4) degree Celsius increase in global temperatures over pre-industrial levels within the coming years. This is double the 1.5C limit urged by African nations and well beyond the 2C limit widely considered by scientists to be the maximum increase beyond which the effects of climate change will become catastrophic and irreversible

The dire implications for our global food and farming system alone are direct and far-reaching, as I've explained here and here. Many small island nations will cease to exist, agriculture in Africa will become even more precarious, and here in the U.S. we too will witness more severe heat waves, torrential downpours and crop failures. As Wanjira Maathai has warned, we are in for unimaginable disasters, with massive loss of life — not only from the direct effects of climate change but from the increase in conflicts over water and arable land that will result.

Debt dodging

The official outcome of the 17th UN climate conference (“COP-17”) is known as the Durban Platform. While this agreement leaves open the possibility of a legally binding agreement in the future, what was actually specified (after U.S. arm-twisting) is much weaker: “an outcome with legal force” which means next to nothing. 

The Platform simply says that over the next four years, governments are to agree on emissions reductions; but just how much and how fast those cuts should be remains up in the air. And the Durban agreement suggests that implementation wouldn't even have to start until 2020. That's much too late. 

Also absent from the Platform was any agreement by rich nations to clean up the outsized share of the mess we created in the first place. Industrialized nations (especially the U.S.) are historically responsible for over 70% of global greenhouse gas emissions, despite composing only 20% of the world’s population. Meanwhile, the developing world — most of humanity — is on the front lines of climate change, enduring the harshest storms and most severe droughts. The Kyoto protocol recognizes this fact of “historical responsibility” by talking about “common but differentiated responsibilities.” Also known as "climate debt." In Durban we walked away from that debt in what Climate Justice Now! calls a "crime against humanity."

The EU did sign onto a five-year extension of the Kyoto Protocol (the only developed country bloc to do so), in accord with the demands of African nations and Small Island States. But the extended protocol includes no commitments for emissions reductions and key parties (the U.S. — which never ratified the original Kyoto Protocol, Japan, Canada and Russia) did not sign.

And despite “launching” the much-vaunted Green Climate Fund (established last year to provide funding to help developing countries diminish the harmful impacts of climate change), there is no money in this fund — and its lack of transparent democratic governance remains a serious problem.

So, thanks in large part to the unfathomably irrational climate-deniers now in Congress (who are crowing about the failure of the climate talks) and the cowardice of the U.S. administration, precious little was achieved in Durban. 

Youth: "Get it done!"

The few bright moments over the past week were brought to us by the world’s youth, who spared nothing in their denunciation of the government leaders blocking progress and who gave courageous and impassioned calls to delegates to rise to the challenge before them.

Here are two must-see clips of the breath-taking interventions that youth made in front of some 190 nations of the world, both recorded by Democracy Now!

Anjali Appadurai, from Maine’s College of the Atlantic, addressed the conference two days ago on behalf of the youth delegation in Durban. Immediately afterwards, and while still on stage, she led a powerful mic-check — her words chanted back by youth delegates at the back of the hall.

It always seems impossible until it's done. So, distinguished delegates and governments around the world, governments of the developed world: Deep cuts now! Get it done!



As I reported earlier, Abigail Borah, a Middlebury College student, boldly interrupted U.S. Climate Envoy Todd Stern’s speech from the floor, before being ejected by U.N. security.

Fire from the South

And finally, to give you a glimpse of the outrage at the Durban outcome from Africans and Latin Americans, here are two fiery statements — one from Nnimmo Bassey of Friends of the Earth Nigeria, warning that failure in Durban will be a death sentence for Africa, and the other from Claudia Salerno, Venezuela’s Lead Negotiator who had to fight for the floor to make her statement, despite the U.S. session chair’s best efforts to ignore her.

Bassey points to the Cochabamba People's Agreement, articulated by social movements gathered for the World People's Climate Conference in Bolivia in 2010, as the true roadmap — based on hard science and popular will — that should be guiding our climate response going forward.





Take Action » Our government has betrayed the people of the world. It is our job — and it is an immense one — to right that tremendous wrong. Visit to find out how to join U.S. activists in the global movement to fight climate change.

Picture of Marcia Ishii

Marcia Ishii

Marcia Ishii is director of PAN’s Grassroots Science Program and a Senior Scientist with a background in insect ecology and pest management. Her campaign work focuses on supporting and strengthening agroecology movements and policies in the U.S. and globally, in addition to challenging corporate control of our food and seed systems. Follow @MarciaIshii

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