The letter asks President Obama to set "a vastly higher level of ambition for the United States' contribution to both greenhouse gas emission cuts and a package of finance and technology for developing countries."
"Developing countries are the least responsible for climate change but are already bearing the greatest burdens exacted by the climate crisis," said Chee Yoke Ling, from Third World Network. "People around the world are looking to President Obama, as the leader of the world's largest historical emitting country, to take bold action based on U.S. responsibility and capacity to act."
"The U.S. Congress is dragging its heels on climate legislation in the lead-up to Copenhagen in December, where key international climate negotiations will take place," said Elizabeth Bast, international program director at Friends of the Earth U.S. "The Obama administration must make good on its pledge that the United States will be a global ally in the fight against climate change."
Coal-fired power plants like this one in Pennsylvania will have to steeply reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to limit climate change. (Photo by Kiyo Komoda)
The groups say international climate negotiations have "stalled out" this year over the reluctance of industrialized countries to commit to reducing their own greenhouse gas emissions to adequate levels and the provision of finance and technology for developing country adaptation and mitigation efforts.
British economist Lord Nicholas Stern, author of "The Stern Review" on climate change, also believes that the world is in "deadlock" over climate negotiations.
Writing Tuesday in the "Telegraph" newspaper, Stern said, "That deadlock consists of an approach by rich countries which collectively involves inadequate emissions reductions and unwillingness to make financial commitments without being able to approve the plans for developing countries to move to low-carbon growth."
"And on the part of developing countries," Stern wrote, "an unwillingness to make commitments on reductions without a clear indication of financial support from the rich countries, together with an unwillingness to have their own plans for low-carbon development determined by, or subject to the approval of, the rich countries."
Stern proposes a way out of the deadlock - negotiators must set emissions cuts based on "global annual emissions, and not percentages relative to earlier levels..."
To keep the global temperature increase below the two degree Celsius threshold that scientists say is needed to avert catastrophic climate change, Stern says "we need to reduce annual worldwide emissions from the present level of about 50 gigatonnes of carbon-dioxide-equivalent to no more than 20 gigatonnes by 2050."
"By focusing on these totals for global annual emissions, and not percentages relative to earlier levels, we can focus where the science takes us, on the overall path of annual emissions over the next few decades," Stern says.
At the same time, a new report by the Austria-based International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, IIASA, shows that total greenhouse gas emission reductions currently proposed by industrialized countries falls short of keeping the global temperature increase below that crucial two degree Celsius threshold.
The study finds that by 2020, total greenhouse gas emissions of industrialized countries governed by the Kyoto Protocol, known as Annex I countries, would decline by only five to 17 percent relative to 1990, based on the reductions currently proposed by those countries.
The total of proposed emissions cuts falls short of the 25-40 percent range set by negotiating countries at the 2007 UN climate change conference in Bali. In particular, a reduction of only five percent would merely carry forward the Kyoto Protocol targets to the next decade, the IIASA study says.
Leader of the IIASA study team Dr. Markus Amann says the cost to Annex I countries of implementing their current greenhouse gas reduction proposals would be very affordable.
"Our analysis strongly suggests that the cost to Annex I countries implied by their current negotiation offers are indeed very low with respect to their GDP," said Dr. Amann.
"Even for the most optimistic 17 percent emissions reduction, our analysis suggests that mitigation costs would not exceed 0.01 to 0.05 percent of the GDP of all Annex I countries. This is insignificant compared to a 42 percent increase in GDP that is assumed between now and 2020 for these same countries," he said.
This analysis is based on projections made prior to the economic crisis, Dr. Amann says, explaining, "It is likely that post-crisis emissions will be lower than currently projected, and that the costs of reaching the emission reduction targets will be even less than suggested in this study."
In their letter to President Obama, the 125 civil society groups warn that even the two degree Celsius threshold, which was agreed to in July by the G8 industrialized countries, is not going to save the planet from global warming.
"Proposals by the United States and other G8 countries for a global goal of limiting temperature increase to 2°C, and for a 50 percent global emission reduction by 2050, are also inadequate," the groups write. "Allowing the Earth to warm by up to 2°C threatens catastrophic consequences, and a 50 percent global emission reduction offers a low probability of achieving even this weak goal."
Copyright Environment News Service, ENS, 2009. All rights reserved.