Clinton Accepts Blame for ‘Global Warming’ Role, Ponders Link Between Climate Change and Family Planning
July 20, 2009Urging India not to emulate America's "mistakes," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the weekend accepted responsibility on behalf of the U.S. and other developed nations for contributing towards climate change.
“We acknowledge – now with President Obama – that we have made mistakes in the United States, and we along with other developed countries have contributed most significantly to the problem that we face with climate change,” Clinton said in Mumbai, India.
“We are hoping a great country like India will not make the same mistakes,” she added.
While stopping short of an apology for a U.S. role in “global warming,” Clinton’s remarks came closer than previous ones.
Last April, she told a gathering of major economies in Washington that the U.S. “is responsible for past emissions” of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other “greenhouse gases” blamed for climate change; Obama said at the G8 summit in Italy this month that the U.S. had “sometimes fallen short of meeting our responsibilities,” adding, “Those days are over.”
On her first visit to India as secretary of state, Clinton was confronted by New Delhi’s determination not to accept mandatory restrictions on its greenhouse gas emissions.
“India’s position is that we are simply not in a position to take on legally-binding emission reduction targets,” Indian environment minister Jairam Ramesh said Sunday, after he and Clinton toured an eco-friendly building near the capital and had a roundtable discussion on environmental issues.
Although the two governments both said they want to see a global agreement reached at a key climate conference in Copenhagen in December, the differences between them on the issue of what developing nations will bring to the table was evident.
Ramesh handed out copies of remarks made during his talks with Clinton, underlying Delhi’s position.
“There is simply no case for the pressure that we – who have among the lowest emissions per capita – face to actually reduce emissions,” Ramesh said he told Clinton.
“And as if this pressure was not enough, we also face the threat of carbon tariffs on our exports to countries such as yours,” he said. The reference was to the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives late last month, which contains a clause that would impose tariffs on imports from countries that do not reduce emissions by 2020. (Obama has praised the bill, but says he opposes the “protectionist” tariff measure.)
The Copenhagen meeting is meant to produce a successor agreement to the Kyoto Protocol, which requires leading economies to cut the amount of greenhouse gases they produce by specified amounts by 2012.
India, China and others have long argued that climate agreements should not hinder developing countries’ economic growth – and they got their way with Kyoto.
One of the main reasons President Bush gave for rejecting the protocol was the fact it did not set emission reduction targets for developing countries, despite some of them – including India and especially China – being leading CO2 producers. Bush and anti-Kyoto ally John Howard of Australia argued that unless China and India curbed their fast-growing emissions, efforts to do so by leading developed nations would have little effect.
Clinton made a similar argument in India on Sunday.
“There is no question that developed countries like mine must lead on this issue,” she said in a joint media appearance with Ramesh and the U.S. special envoy for climate change, Todd Stern.
“And for our part, under President Obama, we are not only acknowledging our contributions to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change, we are taking steps to reverse its ill effects.”
Clinton said Obama was committed to the cap-and-trade bill before Congress.
“But it is essential for major developing countries like India to also lead,” she continued. “Because over 80 percent of the growth in future emissions will be from developing countries.
“Now, China is, by far, the largest emitter in the world right now, and certainly the largest among developing countries,” Clinton said. “But India’s own greenhouse gas pollution is projected to grow by about 50 percent between now and 2030. So, climate change would not be solved even if developed countries stopped emitting greenhouse gas emissions today, unless action is taken across the world.”
Climate, population and family planning
In other comments, Clinton described Sunday’s roundtable discussion as “very enlightening, especially for me.”
As an example of this, she noted that “one of the participants pointed out that it’s rather odd to talk about climate change and what we must do to stop and prevent the ill effects without talking about population and family planning.”
“That was an incredibly important point,” Clinton said. “And yet, we talk about these things in very separate and often unconnected ways.”
Some green activists have long advocated a greater focus on population control in the climate change campaign.
In a position paper adopted by its board of directors in November 2007, the Sierra Club said, “Given the grave implications of population growth, the Sierra Club urges greater effort to explain how population pressure is affecting the environment and stronger support for the program – family planning, health care, and education and opportunity for women – that most effectively encourages smaller families.”
Identifying an average of two children per family as a requirement to stabilize the world population, the paper said the Sierra Club “welcomes non-coercive, culturally sensitive policies that will help lower birth rates, stabilize global population, and make a smaller population a realistic possibility.”
In 2007, an Australian academic argued that a government campaign to encourage bigger families was flying in the face of the fight against climate change.
Rather than offering couples financial incentives to have more children, he said, a tax should be levied on parents who have more than an agreed number of children, “in line with the ‘polluter pays’ principle.”
The Chinese government, which enforces a controversial and often coercive birth limitation policy, has listed its population control efforts among its contributions to combating climate change.