U.S. gets a "fossil of the day" for Keystone XL at the global warming negotiations - even global warming diplomacy is being tainted

At global warming negotiations  in Panama the Obama Administration received a “fossil of the day” for its efforts to help push through approval of the Keystone XL project – the 1,700 mile pipeline to bring Canadian tar sands through the U.S.  The “fossil of the day” is given to the country that most stalls global warming action for that day.  The decision on Keystone XL is one of the key decisions President Obama has to make over the next few months on global warming.   As the person giving out this “award” said: “President Obama yes you can…say no to Keystone pipeline”.

United States and Saudi Arabia awarded dubius honor at UN Climate Talks

The fossil of the day has been a regular ceremony at global warming negotiations since 1999.  It is given by the global NGO community to the country that failed the most that day to lead on efforts to address global warming.  Typically the recipient country receives a lump of coal, but in this case the US was awarded a pipeline of carbon polluting tar sands that said:

“Compliments of TransCanada, brought to you U.S. State Department.”

While the government of Saudi Arabia (the second place recipient today) receives its fossil awards as a badge of honor, receiving a fossil is not something to write home about if you want to be a global warming leader.  It is a shameful award, given to countries that hurt global efforts to address climate change.  A crowd always gathers at the fossil of the day ceremony and receiving this award is followed by boos, hisses, and shame.     

Here is the video of the “award ceremony” thanks to our friends at 350.org (who have a blog on this as well): 

USA Wins Fossil of the Day award from 350.org on Vimeo.

The decision on this pipeline, combined with the decision on greenhouse gas standards for power plants, is a critical test of whether President Obama’s stated commitment to address global warming is followed with actions.  After all, President Obama stressed that:  “My presidency will mark a new chapter in America's leadership on climate change…”

Unfortunately the State Department officials in charge of this decision didn’t seem to get the memo about leadership on global warming.  Instead they were “coaching” the officials at TransCanada – the operator of the pipeline – on how to change their messaging on the pipeline.  And they had a “gentlemen’s agreement” to mask from public important considerations

As the “award” description that followed the receipt of this fossil states:

“…recent news has surfaced that the US State Department has a bias towards carbon polluting pipelines--namely, the Keystone XL, which is a 1,700-mile fuse to the largest Carbon bomb on the planet, the Alberta tar sands. The State Department is currently conducting a review for the pipeline, but has been receiving significant counsel from the pipeline company's own lobbyists.
Exploiting the tar sands is a dangerous step in the wrong direction, and one that President Obama will decide upon before the year is out. This troubling relationship obscures the fact that saying no to Keystone XL is a positive step for the US to demonstrate seriousness in face of the climate crisis.”

This pipeline is not in the U.S. national interest, is a recipe for disaster, and will undermine efforts to address global warming.  And now the decision on Keystone XL is spilling into global warming negotiations.

A yes decision on this pipeline will hurt with the U.S. credibility in global warming negotiations.  After all, how can the U.S. ask other countries to build low-carbon economies when it unleashes a massive investment in the dirty energy of the past?

*Photo courtesy: Adopt a Negotiator

About the Authors

Jake Schmidt

Director, International program

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