WASHINGTON, Dec. 1 (UPI) -- The White House seems intent on blocking even small advances in the world's global-warming response, environmental groups, U.S. lawmakers and scientists allege.
President Barack Obama, who vowed as a candidate to make the United States a world leader in addressing dangerous climate change, now seems to advocate impotence and obstruction of a global deal at U.N. climate talks currently being held in Durban, South Africa, two coalitions representing more than 1,200 groups and individuals said in separate statements.
Shortly after his November 2008 election, Obama said "few challenges" were "more urgent than combating climate change," said a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton signed by the heads of 16 organizations, including the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council and the Union of Concerned Scientists.
The letter quotes the president as vowing, "Once I take office, you can be sure that the United States will once again engage vigorously in these negotiations, and help lead the world toward a new era of global cooperation on climate change."
But "three years later, America risks being viewed not as a global leader on climate change, but as a major obstacle to progress," the letter said.
It accuses U.S. negotiators of being unwilling to work with European Union and Chinese negotiators to come up with an arrangement for global-emissions cuts, as well as clinging to its position even as other countries make compromises simply because the compromises don't "guarantee all of the U.S. negotiating objectives."
"We urge you to instruct U.S. negotiators to show much greater flexibility ... and to work toward creating a Durban mandate, not blocking one," the letter said.
U.S. special climate envoy Todd Stern has said it would be premature to commit to engage in talks that could lead to a legally binding climate treaty by 2020 when it is unclear what the pact would look like. He said all countries, including the United States, must take meaningful unilateral steps to control their carbon dioxide emissions.
A separate appeal from the Climate Ethics Campaign argued America had a moral obligation as the world's largest historic emitter to take leadership in reducing greenhouse-gas emissions.
The Wednesday appeal was endorsed by more than 1,200 current and former elected officials, leading business and labor representatives, academics, activists and faith communities. Participants included Senate Environment Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who pledged "to do everything I can to stand up to climate-change deniers."
"People from all walks of life across the U.S. are extremely concerned about global warming," CEC coordinator Bob Doppelt said. "But progress has stalled because our government keeps debating whether addressing the issue makes economic sense and whether the science is settled."
The independent State of the World Forum, co-founded by Nobel Peace laureate and former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, argues greenhouse gases must be cut 80 percent by 2020 to stop global warming "before natural forces spin out of any human capacity to control events."
"Nothing less than the fate of human civilization is at stake," the forum says. "The crisis is that stark, the choice is that clear, the leadership required is that urgent."