A drawing on the wall near the Durban climate meeting site urges people to save water and stop cutting trees. [China.org.cn]
After two weeks of heated debates, mass demonstrations and intense lobbying, the United Nations Climate Change Conference will close on Friday in Durban, South Africa. But reaching any binding deal on carbon emissions, which hit a historical high last year, seems to be mission impossible.
That should not come as any great surprise as major world leaders did not bother to attend the meeting, known as COP-17, or give any pledges of support.
If you live in the United States, as I do these days, you may not even know there has been such a meeting. News media have rarely mentioned it. Major newspapers have pretty much kept it in the blog sphere. Watching CNN America every day for the past two weeks, I haven't seen one report on COP-17.
The focus here instead has been on the debates among Republican presidential candidates, the withdrawal of Herman Cain following alleged sex scandals, an upcoming debate to be moderated by billionaire Donald Trump, the fresh charge against Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich being sentenced to 14 years in prison, and the federal government refusal to let young teenage girls buy the morning-after pill without a prescription.
All these it seems are more important than climate change, which threatens the future of the world. That is despite last week's warning in New York by Fatih Birol, chief economist of the International Energy Agency (IEA) that the world is on a track for a temperature increase of 6 C instead of the targeted 2 C.
Birol's words are not the only ones being largely ignored by the American news media. Fifteen US senators wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton calling for an ambitious agreement at the Durban climate talks.
As US chief climate change negotiator Todd Stern wanders around in Durban questioning the sincerity of China and other developing countries, he may not want to admit the fact that the US is totally unable to take the lead in the global fight on climate change. Even President Barack Obama who vowed last month in Australia that the US should lead in this regard probably knew how hollow his words were.
The US was the only major developed country that rejected the Kyoto Protocol and any climate change bill with regard to restrictions on emissions is unlikely to survive the fierce opposition from the Republicans. The US has also been reluctant to join other rich nations to in a multibillion-dollar fund to provide technical support to poor countries in fighting climate change.
No wonder that 16 major US environmental groups wrote a letter to Hillary Clinton, pointing out that the US risks being viewed not as a global leader on climate change, but as a major obstacle to progress.
"US positions on two major issues - the mandate for future negotiations and climate finance - threaten to impede in Durban the global cooperation so desperately needed to address the threat of climate change," they wrote.
But while the US is increasingly becoming an obstacle, China is moving in the right direction by showing more flexibility in talks and more resolve in its plans and actions.
As Fatih Birol of IEA points out, it needs the resources of four planets like the Earth for the whole world to adopt the American way of life. China should take quicker and stronger actions in switching to a sustainable path. That long-term vision should not be clouded by the short-term challenges of boosting the economy and consumption.
The author, based in New York, is deputy editor of China Daily US edition. E-mail: email@example.com