November 30, 2011; Source: Washington Post (Associated Press) | Top U.S. environmental nonprofits have found themselves at odds with the Obama Administration and with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton over climate talks. Both European delegates and African delegates at U.N.-sponsored talks on global warming have charged the U.S. with “foot-dragging on key issues.” As Seyna Nafo of Mali told the Associated Press, “for us in the developing world the biggest threat, the biggest enemy, is climate change.” Sixteen nonprofits joined in the criticism of the U.S. position, telling Secretary Clinton that “America risks being viewed not as a global leader on climate change but as a major obstacle to progress,” contrary to President Obama’s campaign promises. Among the U.S. nonprofits signing the letter were the Environmental Defense Fund, the Sierra Club, and the Natural Resources Defense Council. The critique of the U.S. position is that the U.S. has said it “favors voluntary pledges by countries to do as much as they can to control emissions.” And it is not taking a very authoritative position on raising $100 billion that western nations had said that they would devote to fighting climate change affecting developing countries.

Some observers think that the go-slow posture of the Americans reflects the unpopularity of climate change as an issue in U.S. domestic politics, but it may be more attributable to President Obama’s reluctance during the election-cycle for U.S. policy to be seen as controlled by or accountable to international bodies. Nonetheless, it is striking that U.S nonprofits are the internationalists against the cautious position of Secretary Clinton and President Obama. We get the environmental groups’ analysis that voluntary commitments to fight global warming will be worth little against a problem that affects everyone.—Rick Cohen