A Hostage Situation

File this one under the Department of Following Your Own Advice. In the daily U.S. press conference yesterday afternoon Todd Stern, lead negotiator for the American delegation, opined on the need for countries working towards a global climate deal to avoid letting the perfect be the enemy of the good.

Stern said that pursuit of a legally binding deal should not prevent progress on important issues like a global climate fund, REDD and the development of clean technology. "Let's not do nothing," he said. "Let's not be hung up for year after year after year."

Yes! Exactly! Stern's plea is a shrewd reminder that negotiations require us to seize success where it's available. So it is all the more hair pulling that U.S. negotiators seem to be taking exactly the opposite approach in Cancun.

U.S. negotiators have taken a hard-line in their efforts to achieve their own definition of "balance" in the Cancun outcome. To move on any of the top priorities under discussion, they're demanding transparency from developing countries in the mitigation actions they are taking domestically. Meanwhile, the U.S. has not accepted full transparency in its own actions when it comes to financing.

Transparency is a goal all countries should vigorously pursue. But it shouldn't be something that undermines the progress on the other critical issues at hand. In their singular focus on transparency, Stern and his team have repeatedly held hostage movement on a series of topics including the establishment of a climate fund and adaptation.

In other words, instead of seizing progress where it is available, they are getting hung up on just one. The result is outcomes, which achieve only the lowest common denominator even when more is on the table for the taking. Hardball tactics can be useful if they lead to positive outcomes, but if all you get in return is more disappointment and bad will, what have you achieved?

This week has seen a great deal of progress. For the first time, drafts under consideration would move the ball forward on the establishment of a fair climate fund that would protect the millions of people whose livelihoods are on the line as climate change gets worse. It would be a shame to let the pursuit of perfection let these important advances slip through our fingers once again.

The U.S. negotiators have said the establishment of a fund is something they hope to see progress on in Cancun. They have spoken forcefully about the benefits a fund would have for U.S. economic and national security interests. They can ensure this goal is achieved and show true leadership to protect poor and vulnerable people all over the world, all they have to do is follow their own advice.