Opening Remarks Equity and Global Climate Change Conference

Equity and Global Climate Change Conference 



April 17, 2001

Good morning. Welcome to the annual conference of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. I'd like to thank all of you for coming, especially those who have traveled very long distances to be with us here today.

As you all know, we are gathered together here in Washington at a very urgent moment-temperatures are on the rise, and the climate is in flux. And I am referring now just to the politics of global warming.

But while some things may have changed in recent weeks, one thing has not: the need for international resolve in the face of global climate change. Judging from the attendance here today, international interest in this issue remains steady as well. Our speakers and panelists over the next day and a half come from [20] countries. Counting those of you in the audience as well, we have [some 40] countries represented in all. This remarkable turnout demonstrates not only growing concern about climate change around the world - but also a growing commitment to meeting the very real challenges it poses.

I believe our success in meeting these challenges hinges on the ability of the United States and other nations to forge a common, constructive path forward. Further, I believe this collective response must meet three fundamental criteria. It must be environmentally sound. It must be cost-effective. And, finally, it must be equitable. This third critical objective is the focus of our conference this year. We are here to explore how the international community, working together, can forge a strategy to deal with climate change that is fair to all nations, rich and poor.

Looking around the world, we see critical differences among nations-in their economies, in their past and projected greenhouse emissions, and in their vulnerability to the impacts of climate change. Against that backdrop, achieving equitable climate commitments is an extraordinary challenge. But failure to bridge these differences would undermine any global effort to address climate change. Because if we do not make it fair, we cannot attract the broad-based support we need for effective international action.

Michael Zammit Cutajar, executive secretary of the climate change secretariat, could not be with us today. But he has sent a statement, which is very helpful, I think, in framing our discussion. Copies of that statement are in your conference packets, and I'd like to take a moment to highlight some of his key points.

He reminds us, first of all, of the ultimate objective of the 1992 Rio convention: to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. He defines this as the "strategic burden to be shared." Michael reminds us as well that equity is a core principle of the Rio treaty, which calls on nations to share this strategic burden "in accordance with their common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities."

The Convention, he notes, further defines these differentiated responsibilities. It commits developed countries to take the lead by reducing their emissions and by supporting developing countries with finance and technology transfer. And it declares that the contribution of developing countries to the global strategy depends on the credible implementation of these commitments by developed countries. "This quid pro quo," he tells us, "is explicit in the Convention."

Ultimately, he says, the current paradigm, which aims at emissions reductions through quantitative caps, must evolve into a global paradigm, accommodating different types of commitments. And here I'd like to quote directly from the statement:

A long-term cooperative strategy to stabilize the global climate must eventually involve all countries. Developed countries will need to make deeper cuts than those called for by the Kyoto Protocol. Developing countries, initially, will need to limit the growth in their emissions. Developing countries are, even now, achieving globally significant emission limitation through the pursuit of economic and social reforms. However, they are not yet committed to any measurable targets under the Convention regime. Questions for debate and negotiation in shaping the evolving regime are: when should developing countries be so committed? And to what kind of targets?

Over the next day and a half we will explore the many complex issues surrounding these seemingly straightforward questions put before us by Michael Zammit Cutajar.

  • Later this morning, in our first panel, we will look at some of the approaches put forward to address equity concerns, including the establishment of per capita emission rights.
  • Our second panel will examine some of the economic realities at the root of equity concerns, such as the widely divergent costs and benefits to nations in addressing climate change.
  • Next, we will explore some of the ethical, moral and cultural considerations that shape differing perspectives on equity.
  • In our first panel tomorrow, we will examine how the Kyoto framework addresses equity, and some of the unresolved equity issues that arise within that framework.
  • And, finally, we will close with a panel that looks farther down the road at when, and in what way, developing countries can participate more fully in this global effort.

I am very pleased that, in addition to these panels, we will hear from several distinguished speakers who are among the leading voices in the international debate over global climate change.

As I worked with my staff to put this agenda together, we came to view this conference as the start of a conversation. No one expects that we will arrive at firm answers to the many difficult questions we face, only that the dialogue that begins here in the next day and a half does not end here as well. Our hope is that this dialogue will continue and grow, contributing to a better understanding of equity concerns and, in time, to climate solutions that we can all agree are fair.

With that, I would like to introduce our first speaker, Raul Estrada-Oyuela . . .