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The recent climate change talks in Qatar ended on a disappointing note.
While for the first time the West recognizes a responsibility to compensate the developing world for damage caused by global warming, the agreement lacks teeth, in large part due to American intransigence.
"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," reports The Guardian. "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 -- instead, the money will be judged as aid."
Perceptive observers correctly concluded that the deal doesn't mean all that much.
"There is no new finance (for adapting to climate change and getting clean energy) -- only promises that something might materialize in the future," said Ronald Jumeau, representative for the small island states whose very existence is at stake. "Those who are obstructive need to talk not about how their people will live, but whether our people will live."
Poorer nations didn't cause global warming, but they are the primary victims of it.
"The problem has been caused not by today's emissions or the last twenty-five years of emissions; it's been caused by cumulative emissions beginning with industrialization," Rajendra Pachauri, head of the Nobel-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the definitive body studying the subject, told me. "The role of the industrial countries is paramount in having contributed to human-induced climate change."
The Obama Administration has to be commended for making a shift from the complete obdurateness of the Bush era and acknowledging at least some Western liability. For some activists, this is a big step.
"This is a highly significant move -- it will be the first time the size of the bill for failing to take on climate change will be part of the U.N. discussions," Ruth Davis of Greenpeace told The Guardian. "Countries need to understand the risks they are taking in not addressing climate change urgently."
However, the U.S. shift is incomplete, since "the American definition of equity does not include historical emissions but only future emissions," Indian environmentalist Sunita Narain told the Huffington Post. "For us, both are important."
Instead, the way the issue is framed in much of the media, poorer nations often come across as ingrates looking for an easy handout.
"The poor are fighting the poor for the little crumbs that are being thrown at us," Narain said. "These negotiations have been reduced down to polluters and beggars."
The whole debate on climate change needs to be reframed to correctly assign the historical responsibility for our ecological crisis. Given by what just transpired at Qatar, the West is not quite committed to making such an acknowledgment, nor to doing what is urgently needed to slow -- and ultimately reverse -- the process of global warming.
If you liked this article by Amitabh Pal, the managing editor of the Progressive magazine, please check out his article entitled "Senate Rejection of Disabilities Treaty Shows GOP Descent Into Irrationality."
Follow Amitabh Pal @amitpal on Twitter.
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