Online Discussion: Global Climate Change: Where Do We Go From Here?


Online Discussion: Global Climate Change: Where Do We Go From Here?

As we look back on the recently suspended climate negotiations in The Hague, the question everyone is asking is, "What now?" Eileen Claussen answered these and other questions on an online chat on December 5, 2000.

Moderator: Welcome to Viewpoint with our guest, Eileen Claussen. Eileen, we're glad to have you back, and please get us started with an overview of The Hague negotiations. What went wrong?

Eileen Claussen: Thank you, I am delighted to be back and hope that we have lots of good questions for me to answer.

So to start with yours, I think a number of things went wrong in The Hague. First, the agenda was too large and too ambitious. This made it hard for negotiators to focus on what really needed to be decided. Second, I think there was considerable difficulty within the EU -- so much so that they were unable to reach an agreement at the end. And finally, I think the fact that, at the end, it was essentially a U.S.-EU negotiation made resolution difficult. After all, where were the other countries, and what were their views on these very important issues.

College Park, Md.: Hello Eileen, A column in last week's Economist argued in favor of postponing stringent efforts to mitigate global warming. From the economics and political points of view, the Economist's case made sense and was very persuasive. But what about the science? I'm worried that once we heat up the oceans, which have a huge heat capacity, we'll be stuck with a warm planet for centuries.

Eileen Claussen: I believe that what the Economist was suggesting is that we focus first on the most cost-effective options. If you believe that a technological solution will be nedessary in the long term, then I think it makes great sense to do what is easiest and cheapest first. Not that nothing should be done (and in fact many believe that there are many inexpensive things that can be done), but that we should be selective in what we do as we work toward a non fossil fuel economy.

Madurai, Tamilnadu, India: What is the commitment for India, and how much percentage of Green House emissions the country should reduce before 2012 ? (I am asking on behalf of a leading newspaper that circualtes 5 lakh copies a day. Hence, please respond).

Eileen Claussen: In the Kyoto Protocol, India does not have a target. In fact, no developing countries have targets in the Protocol. However, in the Framework Convention, all countries are required to take policies and measures to reduce their emissions, consistent with their development status, and India would be bound by that provision.

Berlin, Germany: Dear Eileen Claussen, I very much admire your work at the Pew Center. Within the constraints set by the refusal of the U.S. legislature to pass any meaningful policies on climate change, you and the companies of the Environmental Leadership Group demonstrate that climate protection makes sense economically.

Now my question: Considering the refusal of another branch (the Senate) to pass the Kyoto Protocol, is it not time for the Europeans to act and go ahead to build a transparent and trustworthy regime? This should not be a closed shop, but allow the U.S. to join at some later stage. It appears to me that this would be very much in line with what you are doing inside the U.S.: Not to wait for the legislature but to implement the necessary steps for climate protection now.

Eileen Claussen: Perhaps I can answer your question by reminding you that the Senate has not refused to ratify the Protocol. It has never been submitted for ratification. And while I do not believe it would be ratified at the present moment even if it was submitted, we ought to pay attention to these details.

Now should the Europeans go ahead? I was asked while in The Hague what I thought a successful outcome for the Conference would be. I replied that it would be a success if enough decisions were made that would allow the EU and others to ratify, and if the decisions made would not prevent eventual ratification in the U.S.

And thanks for the compliment about the Pew Center!

Amarillo, TX: Ms. Claussen, Why was nuclear power relegated to renegade status and vilified at COP6? Nuclear power provides an almost immediate method to reduce carbon emissions. Nuclear power is safe and its waste is manageable - the objections are soley emotional and political. Nuclear power-generated electricity is relatively inexpensive (once the political regulatory morass is finished), reliable and renewable. (Yes, renewable. Use the 50,000 Pu weapon pits now languishing in simple storage at Pantax and the 70,000+ Pu pits the Russians are worried about safeguarding.) We should use nuclear power as an environmentaly friendly, stable, reliable and safe source for base line electrical loading of the grid.

Eileen Claussen: I think it is important to distinguish between the NGO views on nuclear energy and what the governments were discussing. The overwhelming majority of NGOs present were totally opposed to any use of nuclear. But this was not a subject for debate in terms of what an individual country might do to meet its target. There, muclear could be used and counted. What was suggested in the text proposed by the Chairman (Minister Pronk of The Netherlands), was that nuclear be excluded from the Clean Development Mechanism. But that was not decided, since nothing was really decided.

Atco, NJ: Where do you think a Bush Administration is likely to go on the issue of global warming?

Eileen Claussen: It is a little hard to predict what a Bush Administration would do on the climate change issue. The Governor has said that he believes it is a serious issue. He has also said that he does not support the Kyoto Protocol. I would suggest that there is much in the Kyoto Protocol that a Bush Administration might like--namely emissions trading, the ability to use sinks, the flexibility of the target periods, etc. And I suspect the Governor would also listen to many of the companies who are supportive of serious action to deal with this issue.

In the end, we will have to wait and see.

Buenos Aires, Argentina: Can a non-Annex 1 country adopt a voluntary emissions reduction target, and then be allowed to participate in the emissions contact?

Eileen Claussen: The Kyoto Protocol is not entirely clear as to what should be done with a country that wishes to take on a voluntary target. Obviously, a country can do that. It is a sovereign decision. But in order to participate in emissions trading, a country must be part of Annex B, and either that Annex would have to be amended (which could only occur after the treaty entered into force), or a procedure would have to be established that would allow for countries to set voluntary targets and enter the system.

Washington, DC: You used to work in the U.S. government. What would you have done differently at the Hague if you had led the U.S. delegation? What could the U.S. have done to satisfy EU's demands, the demands of the developing countries and still come out with a ratifiable agreement?

Eileen Claussen: I did, indeed, work for the U.S. government, and I can tell you that it is a lot easier in hindsight to suggest what they should have done. But of course I shall go ahead anyway.

I think one of the difficulties with this meeting was that countries (and this includes both the U.S. and the EU) held to their rhetorical, hard-line posiitons far too long. When I was a negotiator, I always found that it was best to be up front early on what you could actually agree to and what you could not. That clears the air, and allows for a more honest negotiation. I think there was some effort in tat direction, but not enough.

I might add that there was not enough attention paid to the developing countries, either in terms of bringing them up to speed on issues, and then engaging with them on their views. This was a mistake made in Kyoto, and I think it was repeated in The Hague.

Alexandria, VA: It is obvious that the United States was willing to liberally negotiate its sink credits at the COP6 negotiations in The Hague. The European Union, on the other hand, was not at all willing to work towards resolution on this particular issue. Is this not further evidence that the European Union is not truly interested in the environmental benefits of a ratified Kyoto Protocol but looks towards the economic benefits that it stands to gain from such an international agreement?

Eileen Claussen: I actually believe that there is something else at work if we look at the U.S. and the EU on the sinks issue. And it extends to emissions trading as well. I think that the U.S. is convinced that the appropriate response to this issue is new technology, and that in order to develop and disseminate new technology, we need time. And therefore we should do cost-effective things, even if they are temporary like carbon absorption through sinks, in the short term. The EU, on the other hand, believes that the answer is behavioral. If only we could keep our houses colder in the summer and warmer in the winter, and if only we could take the bus to work, and if only we could consume less, we could solve this problem.

What this means is that the US looks for sinks and emissions trading, and the EU is reluctant to give in on any of it since they think it will not help in solving the problem.

I think this is a cultural divide that underlies a lot of the diffculties in The Hague.

Baker City, Oregon: How many of your corporate partners in the Pew Business Leadership Council support ratification of the Kyoto Protocol? How many oppose ratification?

Eileen Claussen: I think most of the companies in the Business Environmental Leadership Council would not answer that question until they could answer another question, and that is: what is the Kyoto Protocol? Once they knew what the rules of the road would be (are sinks in or out, are credits fungible among the mechanisms, etc. etc.), they would be able to give a clearer answer.

I can say that they are committed to real and serous action, and that they support an international agreement. One said to me that the result of the Hague meeting (with no decisions) was that they were "all ressed up with nowhere to go."

Chicago, Illinois: Can you elaborate on the role of the business community? You seem to be saying that companies want a global warming treaty, and I thought most industry groups were opposed to the Kyoto Protocol.

Eileen Claussen: Just to elaborate a little byond my last answer, I think it is safe to say that the companies we work with (28 companies with annual revenues of over $770 billion) are not opposed to the Kyoto Protocol. And if the rules are rational, and allow the market to work, I believe most would be supportive.

Of course there are other companies that oppose it, period. But certainly not all, and certainly not the leaders.

Lexington, Mass.: Hello Eileen, My question is exactly that: Where DO we go from here? Thanks for your consideration.

Eileen Claussen: Where do we go from here? If you believe that the Kyoto framework is viable (and I do), then we need to do lot s more work on it. I try to think of this negotiation as rather like a trade negotiation. And the last one of those took more than 10 years. Quite honestly, this is a very complex agreement, and it is both an environmental agreement and an economic agreement. So if it is difficult, and takes a little longer, I think we need to put in the time and effort.

But this does not excuse the lack of action here at home. The U.S. is the world's largest emitter, and I am certain that we reduce our emissions quite significantly here in the U.S. And there is no reason why we should not proceed now, even as we move forward trying to reach a global deal.

Pittsburgh, PA: Has "meaningful" participation by major developing countries ever been defined? If not, this demand seems meaningless. If so, what is it? What is the prospect of the U.S. (Congress) ratifying the Kyoto Protocol without dropping this demand (unless it is made palatable enough to developing countries)?

Eileen Claussen: The phrase "meaningful participation" is one first used by President Clinton, and it has never been defined. Part of our problem is that we have not had any really informed debate on this issue, either domestically or internationally. What is fair and reasonable for the developing countries to do? We have identified lots of opportunities in selected countries in our report series on the electric sector, so this is not the issue. And, in fact, many developing countries are doing quite a bit on this issue. But the lack of discussion is unfortunate, since we will need to resolve this question at some point in time.

We are planning a major conference this spring to deal with the equity issue in the hope that we can at least begin a dialogue.

Bethesda, MD: Many are saying that the U.S. climate negotiator, Frank Loy, failed to get back to his European conterparts in time with the U.S.'s final offer, which might have contained enough enticements to win over the Europeans. Do you believe this to be true? What was the final U.S. offer? Can a climate change bill (one that the Pew Center would support) pass this divided Congress?

Eileen Claussen: I don't think this is accurate, even though I must admit that I was not there at the time. I believe that a handshake agreement was reached between some EU member states and the U.S., and then, when the EU met to reach a decision among all the member states, there was not an agreement. I do not believe that the EU went back to the U.S. to ask for a "final offer." John Prescott (the EU Deputy PM) just left the hall.

Washington, DC: If new market-driven technologies are really the answer to any long-term climate change problems we may have--as you seem sympathetic to this view--then why should we be wasting our time and energy on endless negotiations over exact timetables and emission limits?

Eileen Claussen: I think we need to distinguish between what we can do in the short term, and what we can do in the long term. There is no reason why we cannot reduce emissions in the short term. And short term reductions are critical and valuable. So I see no reason why we cannot do both. I would also question whether the long term technological solutions will be developed and diffused without some timetables and some objectives.

Washington, D.C.: I have heard it reported that the Kyoto Protocol, even though it is controversial and unlikely to pass ratification by the U.S. Senate, is grossly inadequate to address the concerns of climate change. What level of emission reductions would actually impact climate change, and how long after reductions would the earth begin to recover?

Eileen Claussen: The Kyoto Protocol is just a baby step considering what we will have to do to address the climate change issue. But I do not see how we will be able to take this on serously without a first baby step.

If we want to return concentrations in the atmosphere to 450 ppm, or even 550 ppm, we will have to reduce emissions globally by about 60%. This is enormous when we consider that the emissions of developing countries will first grow quite a bit as those countries develop.

And finally, we have already bought into quite a bit of global warming. Nothin we can do now will stop that , since the gases remain in the atmosphere for such long periods of time. So we wll have to adapt to a warmer climate even as we work to minimize the amount of warming.

Washington, D.C.: What are the key issues that remain to be worked out between U.S. and European Union negotiators tomorrow (Wednesday, Dec. 6) in Ottawa? Will resolution of most or all of these issues be enough to secure promises of ratification from both the United States and the EU on the Kyoto Protocol? What are the prospects of the Kyoto Protocol entering into force without the participation of the United States (that is, with enough other nations ratifying the treaty)?

Eileen Claussen: The meeting being held in Ottawa this week is an attempt to see if the "deal" that was almost negotiated in The Hague between the EU and the Umbrella Group can be agreed. But of course these are not the only countries involved in this negotiation, and the other countries of the world (particularly the G-77 and China) will also have to agree to what may (or may not) be decided in Ottawa. And then we have to understand that this "agreement" even if it is reached, covers only a small number of issues, and there are many more to be negotiated. Not to mention that we will have another President by the next formal meeting, and we will have to see what the new Administration thinks of this "deal."

Sydney, Australia: Eileen, One of the singular failures of those involved in promoting activity on climate change in the U.S. seems to be the failure to connect with the community. Political movement comes with electorate pressure and the electorate appears to have no broad understanding of climate change and its implications. Do you agree and if so, what are the measures that might work in the U.S. context to engage the community?

Eileen Claussen: I do agree that the public has not made its views known concretely to it selected officials. But citizens are beginning to respond, at least in some parts of the country. For example, during the primaries in the campaign for President, Senator McCain was followed around by someone who kept asking for his views on global warming. The result is that the Senator held a series of hearings late this summer and this fall on the subject of climate change that were and will be, imnportant as we move on. I also believe that there are enough Members of the Senate and the House for some serious consideration of this issue in the next year or two. In fact, I would predict some legislation on the topic soon. It may not include all the answers, but it should, and we hope will, be a start.

Toronto, Canada: It has been reported that the rules around SINKS was the “deal-breaker” in the Hague. What specifically was it about our position that was so untenable to the EU?

Eileen Claussen: I think that the sinks issue was the "deal breaker" in The Hague. In particular, it was the demand on the part of the U.S. and the Umbrella Group that it receive credit for "business as usual" forest management. The Europeans viewed this as a "free ride" for the US, a most unappealing prospect, and the US believed that it was promised some number of tons in Kyoto. In fact, the U.S. says that it would not have agreed to the target of a 7% reduction without sinks.

Falls Church, VA: The US media tends to ignore the non-Western world when describing climate change negotiations. How would you describe the role and influence of the vulnerable small island states in the negotiations? Did AOSIS (and the G77/China) oppose the US position in the final deadlock?

Eileen Claussen: You are right that the US Media tends to ignore the non-Western world in these negotiations. Even many of the negotiators ignore the non-Western world!

I believe the small island states are influential in calling attention to the problem, but are less influential in terms of what can precisely be done about it. And we do not know what the G77 and China thought of the "almost deal" since most of the Ministers of those countries had left by the time that it was almost done.

Washington, DC: As you've said, the issues are complex. What do you see as the key issues that needed to be resolved sooner rather than later in order to send a strong enough signal to the market to move our economy in a carbon-free direction? And to get us on the path to prepare for climate change, i.e., adaptation?

Thank you.

Eileen Claussen: I think it is interesting that very little attention is paid to adaptation, particularly since we will have to adapt. Of course what we need here is a stronger State and local focus, not only on reducing emissions (and some States and some cities are doing quite a bit) but also on how they might adapt to rising sea levels, changes in precipitation, etc.

I think we need to resolve the basic rules of the road of Kyoto to get some real progress, and this means not only the "big" political issues, but all of the smaller ones, like what projects will be acceptable under the Clean Development Mechanism, who will make the decisions, etc. There are many in the private sector who are anxious to begin, but it is hard to do so when we do not have the basic rules.

Birmingham, AL: Greetings Eileen, The Energy Information Admn. has just increased its estimates of energy consumption for the next 2 decades. A World Energy Outlook has also just forecast much higher electricity demand worldwide. How are we going to reduce carbon dioxide emissions with this increased consumer demand for power?

Eileen Claussen: In the end, of course, we will need a second industrial revolution. We will have to move to a carbon limited world. And this will mean that we need to plan a transition to other than fossil fuels, probably using natural gas (among others) as a transition. So I think we need to look at the world that way.

Of course, there are many things we can do to reduce demand, and these clearly should be done. One approach that has merit is the agreement that was reached between the government, the appliance manufacturers, and the NGO community, that would set an efficiency standard for washing machines, and then provide an incentive for moving beyond that standard.

We just need more approaches like this, as well as a long term plan to move away from fossil fuels.

Arlington, VA: What do you think the prospects are for reducing our greenhouse gas emissions further if G.W. Bush becomes president? He probably would continue voluntary programs, but are those going to be enough to make a serious dent in our emissions? Also, any negotiating team he sends to future climate change talks will be even less cooperative than current US representatives -- how will this affect the US's standing in the global community?

Eileen Claussen: Again, I don't think I can answer this question right now, but I do think it is intersting that Governor Bush suggested that he would favor a four pollutant approach to reduce utility emissions. That approach would include CO2, and, as far as we can tell, would be a regulatory appraoch.

Toronto, Canada: I am concerned that the sink provisions of the KP could be misconstrued by Parties so as to encourage the replacement of mature native forests with fast-growing plantations of trees…

Was this issue in debate at the Hague?

Eileen Claussen: The entire sinks issue, including the point you raise, was discussed in The Hague. But what I found rather disturbing was the lack of knowledge in most delegations on the sinks issue. We really have not had enough time since the release of the IPCC report on sinks, and the fact that that report was highly technical did not help either. We have to find a way to provide credible and straight forward information that can be absorbed and understood. Lots of work for the Pew Center, seems to me.

Leiden, Zuid Holland, The Netherlands: What do you think are the prospects of the forerunners of the international business community and a limited number of countries to pioneer international carbon trading? This could show national negotiators the immnese cost savings of carbon trading and might help to reduce at least one of the barriers that at present seem to block fast and incisive political agreements. What I mean is a pilot or demonstration project of several internationally active firms (such as BP-Amoco, Shell), together with a number of governments (For example US, Canada, UK, maybe even The Netherlands), to allow real trading between these big companies. Of course, this may require changes in allowed accountancy practices and tax laws. Therefore, the participation of governments is essential.

Eileen Claussen: Of course there is a great deal of interest in emissions trading, particularly in Europe and within the business community. There is no reason why the global business community can move forward in a pooling arrangement, and I believe that there are some businesses contemplating just that. And there are also a number of financial firms interested in working with companies on this. But getting the okay from governments is another story. One approach would be to try a demonstration, or an experiment. Another would be to implement the Kyoto Protocol (which I am convinced would mean incremental movement in this direction). I suspect that many governments would be reluctant to do a demonstration if they believe that Kyoto will be implemented in the near future.

Eileen Claussen: I am truly sorry that I have not had a chance to answer all the questions that have been posed. So perhaps I can conclude by saying that I believe what happened in The Hague was not conclusive, and that if we keep working at it, we may be able to find a way to move forward as a global community. In fact, we have to, since this problem can only be solved globally.

But, perhaps more important, we need to work domestically, at the national level, and at the State and local levels. We really don't know exactly what will work, and the only way we will find out is by trying. And we shouldn't be afraid to try.

And the same goes for the business community. Those companies that believe that this is a serious issue are going to continue to make progress, setting objectives, and putting in place programs to meet them. We just need to see more of the business community committed to action, and taking it.

Finally, we can't leave citizens out of this picture, as one questioner reminded me (although I did not have the time to answer the question). Consumer choices are VERY important. The cars you drive, the appliances you use, are all parts of this puzzle. We need to work on making sound decisions in this sphere as well.

So I suppose my prescription for everyone is more hard work. Which is what I intend to do now that this experience is over.

Moderator: Our thanks to Eileen Claussen, Pew Center and all who participated.