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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Bush Climate Talks

Air Date: Week of

Yvo de Boer is the head of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.(Courtesy the United Nations)

President Bush has invited leaders from the world's largest economies - and biggest generators of global warming gases - to a meeting in Washington next month. The president wants to forge agreements to reduce greenhouse gases after the Kyoto Protocol’s end in 2012. Host Steve Curwood talks with Yvo de Boer (Ee-voh deh bore) Executive Secretary of the United Nation's Framework Convention on Climate Change.


CURWOOD: It’s Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood. After the U,N. holds a major session on climate change this September in New York, President Bush is inviting senior officials from 15 countries to come to Washington for further discussions. The White House says it’s looking to engage major emitting countries in a "new global framework” to be administered by the UN after the Kyoto agreement ends in 2012.The Bush Administration has been floating a proposal focused on power plants emissions. Those emissions would be reduced at some future date, after inexpensive methods to capture carbon have been developed. Meanwhile, European nations are calling for tighter mandatory caps on virtually all sources of global warming gases, while the Japanese want the overall emissions cut in half by the year 2050.Yvo de Boer heads the U.N. Climate Change Secretariat, which is based in Bonn, Germany.
Mr. de Boer says he welcomes the Washington meeting and is hoping it will result in meaningful action.

DE BOER: The fact that the President has announced this initiative is very important because it also puts the spotlight on him in terms of what is he going to deliver. He’s indicated that he doesn’t like the approach that has been advocated by a number of countries including the Europeans. He has his own views on what is the right approach. And my feeling is well, fine everyone is entitled to his or her view. We’re trying to launch a process. Let’s see what this delivers.

CURWOOD: Well, the U.S. has refused to accept binding limits on greenhouse gas emissions. The Bush Administration has been quite outspoken about this. The proposals that are on the table envision binding limits on greenhouse gas emissions. How do you close that gap?

Yvo de Boer is the head of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. (Courtesy the United Nations)

DE BOER: Well, I think we’re in a bit of a dilemma in a way. I mean we’ve heard very clearly from U.S. representatives that they feel that engagement from big developing countries like China and India is essential for the U.S. to step forward. And conversely we’ve heard China and India saying that it’s essential for them in stepping forward that the U.S. should also engage. So you need an engagement from both rich and poor countries. The second dilemma is that China has indicated it’s got economic growth and poverty eradication goals. So has India, so have a number of other developing countries. And they need incentives for them to act on climate change. That takes you to the next dilemma, which is, that I think some U.S. officials have indicated they don’t feel a climate change agreement should be about subsidizing the Chinese to take jobs away from Americans. And that then takes you to the question of how can the carbon market then help to get you out of those dilemmas. And I think all of that can only come together through an approach whereby countries have internationally agreed commitments and have internationally agreed to work together.

CURWOOD: That certainly is a Gordian knot you’ve tied there haven’t you?

DE BOER: Well, I also tried to untie it. I don’t have the feeling that it is feasible, realistic, to expect China, India, Brazil, Indonesia, developing countries to accept legally binding targets to reduce their emissions because they have to grow their economies. They have to eradicate poverty. What I do see those countries perhaps being willing to do is to limit the growth of their emissions and to improve the energy efficiency in certain sectors of their economy and to improve vehicle standards, those kinds of actions.

CURWOOD: Now, the U.S. does not have a seat at the table in the Kyoto process. It never acceded to it. It is, of course, part of the framework convention on climate change. To date, how well is the U.S. observing its obligations under that original framework?

DE BOER: Well, the original obligation under the convention was that countries would, industrialized countries, would reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2000. Actually that was incidentally a non-legally binding international commitment that they were supposed to meet seven years ago. Only seven industrialized countries actually met that commitment and the U.S. is not one of them.

CURWOOD: In the last round, that is the Kyoto process, the Japanese in the end set the middle ground for what was agreed there. To what extent to do you think the Japanese position is the middle ground for the present round of negotiations? That is this notion of halving emissions by the year 2050 but not saying exactly how that would be done.

DE BOER: Well, I think setting a long-term target and then not saying how you intend to achieve it is not a great deal more than empty talk. Now the question it’s at the President’s meeting or at the table of the United Nations is how are we going to get there and how are we going to make it feasible and affordable for all of us to contribute to achieving that goal.

CURWOOD: We’ll be watching this space closely I’m sure.

DE BOER: Yes, I certainly will.

CURWOOD: Yvo de Boer heads the U.N. Climate Change Secretariat in Bonn, Germany.

[MUSIC: Zero 7 “ Somersault“ from ‘When It Falls” (Elektra/Wea – 2004)]



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