Global climate conference unlikely to be successful

Friday, December 18, 2009 | 12:49 p.m. CST

Editor’s Note: Global Journalist was broadcast before President Barack Obama appeared in Copenhagen.

Stuart Loory, Lee Hills Chair in Free-Press Studies, Missouri School of Journalism: The 194-nation conference on global climate change is ending, and there is almost no chance of a successful outcome. Rich nations are bickering with poor, big nations with small. Island countries threatening to sink in the oceans have different needs from countries with large rain forests that need to be preserved. At the last minute, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Copenhagen and announced that the United States was willing to join with other wealthy countries to give $100 billion a year to poorer ones to help them prepare for heavy cuts in greenhouse gases. China, the world’s largest greenhouse gas polluter, sees little hope an agreement can be reached. Is it really as bad as reports from Copenhagen indicate, and if so, why?

Julian Isherwood, Nordic region correspondent, BBC, Copenhagen, Denmark: It is chaotic at the moment. The Danish presidency attempted to put forward a draft document (Wednesday), but inside fighting between the developing nations and China on the one hand and the industrialized countries on the other, meant that the draft was not put forward. The main problem is between China and the U.S. or the industrialized countries. Clinton said the U.S. wants to make sure that if they’re going to put money into some major fund, that money will not go to China and that China will put money into a fund too.

Loory: Where will this money actually go? How will it be used?

Isherwood: This is another problem; it is different sets of money. The industrialized countries have all agreed to provide $10 billion each year between 2010 and 2012. The contention is the long-term financing. The idea is to create a fund that the poorest countries can use to mitigate the effects of climate change. Exactly what these projects would be, nobody is quite sure yet. Who would look after these $100 billion in the long-term is also a bone of contention. Some suggest it should be the World Bank that should decide who gets what for which projects.

Loory: Why is China representing itself as one of the developing countries when it is already a pretty wealthy country?

Chris Gelken, correspondent, radio talk show host, Beijing: China itself is a wealthy country, but the per capita GDP is a fraction of the richer nations. It does have a lot of money, but it is not equally spread throughout the country.

Loory: China is the largest producer of greenhouse gases of any country, although the U.S. has a higher rate per capita. Is China willing to cut greenhouse gases?

Gelken: It is making significant strides. China’s economy does rely on high-carbon emissions, so they do need time and help — unless there is a major technology revolution. About 70 percent of new power plants to be built by 2030 will be coal-fired. China is looking to sacrifice its GDP to reach its stated target of 40 percent reductions. Since 2006, China began efficiency targets by announcing a plan to reduce energy consumption per unit of economic output by 20 percent in the period from 2006 to 2010. It is achieving that, and more than 16 percent of China’s energy needs come from renewables. It is a world leader in that area. It is looking for this effort to be matched by the richer nations.

Loory: The feeling around the world is that the U.S. is not willing to do enough in either decreasing greenhouse gas emissions or giving enough money to help out poor countries.

Jennifer Lakye, deputy director, Climate and Energy Program, World Resources Institute, Washington, D.C.: In the last year, the U.S. Congress and this administration have made a tremendous amount of movement. Clearly, this administration needs the support of Congress, particularly the Senate, to advance a cap-and-trade program to create a price for carbon and begin reductions. Cap-and-trade is a market-based approach. Emitters would have to purchase credits based on the limits to a market. The idea is to allow those that have the lowest cost options to make those investments and then sell credits into that market to allow for the most economically efficient environmental program possible.

Loory: Is cap-and-trade an acceptable idea at the Copenhagen meeting?

Isherwood: Industrialized countries are very happy about it because it enables them to emit more carbon dioxide. By buying credits, they are able to emit more and not cut back as they would have had to do.

Loory: Is Africa dealing with the problems that are being discussed at this meeting?

Raymond Louw, editor and publisher, Southern Africa Report, Johannesburg, South Africa: Very haphazardly. South Africa is conscious that it is 13th on the list of countries with high carbon emissions. Our power supply is very coal-based, and we continue to build coal power stations. President Jacob Zuma went to Denmark and made an offer to slash the growth of its greenhouse gas emissions by 42 percent by 2025, on condition that the rich world offers adequate financial and technological help.

Loory: India is also a major emitter of greenhouse gases because it is such a large nation. What is being done to deal with the problem?

Mehul Srivastava, correspondent, Bloomberg News, New Delhi: Indians see themselves — because on a per capita basis they don’t pollute that much — as being on the receiving end of global warming. India won’t agree to binding cuts in emissions; they want voluntary cuts. About three weeks ago, the government announced a significant solar power project that might increase electricity generation by 2020. India is having an electricity shortage right now, and so they are not likely to invest much money in expensive renewable energy.

Loory: Is there much anticipation that Obama’s speech can turn the situation around in Copenhagen (on Friday)?

Isherwood: Everybody is hoping that he arrives with either more money or some new ideas. But the U.S. has made it clear that it will not give billions of dollars unless China does the same.

Loory: Will the Kyoto Treaty continue to be enforced or will it be replaced by another idea in Copenhagen?

Isherwood:  They have gone into working groups now. The idea (Wednesday) was that a new draft would be put on the table that would ignore Kyoto, but it seems the developing countries reacted very strongly on a procedural issue. So, we don’t know what is going to happen to Kyoto.

Loory: What might Obama say at this meeting?

Lakye: We have seen in Copenhagen, unfortunately, a lack of movement on any further details on how to link developed and developing countries’ actions. The most important message Obama can do is reiterate that this is a global problem requiring us to move forward.

Loory: Is it possible to link the rich and poor countries?

Louw: If they can get some money. They need money to prop up whatever happens to the industries as a result of introducing these reforms. Another aspect is that people may know about the island sinking in the Pacific, but they don’t know how it is going to be with them in their own backyard. There is not enough local information that would enable this whole campaign to be given greater impetus.

Loory: How are we going to replace the use of carbon-based energy? There was a time when nuclear energy was very much discredited because of the problem of nuclear waste. That problem hasn’t been solved, but yet there is talk of using nuclear energy again. Are we not just creating another serious environmental problem?

Lakye: We’re going to need all technologies available in order to make this transition. It is clear that we must look at and manage the issues associated with any additional nuclear activity in the U.S. We don’t have that road map yet.

Loory: Are alternative energy sources being talked about in Copenhagen?

Isherwood: Yes, but the whole issue here is simply about the amount of money that the industrial countries are going to pass on to the developing countries.

Producers of Global Journalist are Missouri School of Journalism graduate students Jared Gassen, Brian Jarvis, Sananda Sahoo, Melissa Ulbricht and Megan Wiegand. The transcriber is Pat Kelley.


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