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

Climate and the Economic Summit

Air Date: Week of

At a recent meeting in Japan, the leaders of the developed world are moving towards an agreement to cut global greenhouse gases in half by 2050. However, they haven’t agreed on what level they’ll be cutting in half – current, or 1990 levels of emissions. Was it all a lot of hot air? Living on Earth turns to Elliot Diringer, Director of International Strategies for the Pew Center on Global Climate Change for an analysis of the meeting, and a look ahead.


GELLERMAN: From the Jennifer and Ted Stanley Studios in Somerville, Massachusetts - this is Living on Earth. I’m Bruce Gellerman, in for Steve Curwood. By 2050 the world could see greenhouse gas emissions slashed in half. That’s the promise made by world leaders, meeting in Japan at the G-8 summit of industrial countries. President Bush declared the meeting a success, but some aren’t so sure, saying the fine rhetoric lacks fine print. Elliot Diringer is the director of International Strategies for the PEW Center on Global Climate Change. Hello Mr. Diringer.

DIRINGER: Glad to be here.

GELLERMAN: So what really did happen in Japan? Is this a lot of talk and not much substance?

DIRINGER: Well, I think, you know, if you look at the history of the G8 really the most it ever can accomplish is amassing a crystallization of some political will. That’s not the place where countries sign on to binding agreements. It’s the place where some leaders try to apply pressure to other leaders to move them along and reach a higher level of political consensus. And I think we saw that to some degree here, the willingness to embrace that goal of 50 percent reduction by 2050, that’s a step forward. But they didn’t put themselves on record with a strong declaration that they’re prepared to meet early targets, the kind of targets you’d need to meet if you’re ever going to meet that long-term goal. So that really was a shortcoming and it was a missed opportunity to show some leadership.

GELLERMAN: The G8 countries have pledged to cut greenhouse gases by half by 2050. But the question is: half of what?

DIRINGER: Well, they actually didn’t specify that, it was left open. Does that mean 50 percent below 1990 levels which some believe is what’s needed or is it 50 percent below current levels. By not specifying I think really the only way to interpret it is 50 percent below current levels.

GELLERMAN: But would that be enough to forestall or prevent runaway global warming?

DIRINGER: It may prevent runaway global warming. It’s probably not going to prevent all serious climate change but it will do a great deal to reduce the odds of catastrophic impacts. I think it’s important to put this in some perspective and see what we’re really up against here. I mean right now emissions are growing faster than ever. They’re projected to grow 130 percent by 2050 so what we’re talking about is avoiding all of that growth and then reducing another 50 percent below where they are today. That’s really an epic undertaking.

GELLERMAN: So what will it take to accomplish that then?

DIRINGER: Really it requires a revolution in the way we produce and use energy. Tremendous improvements in energy efficiency, transitioning to other types of energy, non-fossil energy, and where we continue to rely on fossil energy finding a way to capture those greenhouse gas emissions and bury them in the ground. It’s gonna require really serious efforts on a number of fronts.

Eliot Diringer

GELLERMAN: Well when is the next opportunity, in what 2009 November, the UN has its meeting in Copenhagen to talk about global warming, is that the next chance that we have to deal with this on a global scale?

DIRINGER: Well there will be opportunities along the way for the G8 and for others to offer up stronger statements and work towards a deal. The deal hopefully will be cut in Copenhagen that’s the goal that’s been set by all of the parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. I think that’s going to be pretty tough actually. I think we might hope to see the broad outlines of a deal come out of Copenhagen but I think most of the details will probably have to be negotiated even beyond then.

GELLERMAN: Well President Bush is calling the meeting a success. Would you agree?

DIRINGER: Well I think if you had reasonably low expectations going in and I think those are the only realistic expectations to have, then they were met. So if that’s the measure of success then yeah I think it was a success. But I think in measured against the scale of effort that’s needed, the urgency of the issue, I don’t think you could really stack it up as a great success.

GELLERMAN: When a new President takes office, a new administration takes office, in January, do you expect things to change?

DIRINGER: Absolutely. I think there are very strong indications from both of the candidates that they’ll be prepared to approach this issue much more aggressively both on the domestic front and internationally. Just how quickly and just how far they’ll be prepared to move, I think we’ll have to see, we’ll have to see what other issues are on their plate the day they walk into the Oval Office. But I think absolutely we can certainly expect a different posture from the US within the international negotiations.

GELLERMAN: Elliot Diringer is the Director of International Strategies for the PEW Center on Global Climate Changes. Mr. Diringer, thank you very much.

DIRINGER: You’re very welcome.



The Pew Center on Global Climate Change

To learn more about the Pew Center's ongoing work toward a post-2012 international climate agreement, click here


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