Congress expert Norman Ornstein on what the debate over the debt limit says about dysfunction in Congress, and his ideas for how to fix it.
Guest Host: Steve Roberts
Earlier today, the head of the United Nations Evironmental Program said, “We are not moving fast enough. We are losing time.” He was addressing the 194 nation U.N. climate summit in durban, south africa. The talks are their second week. As key provisions of the 1997 Kyoto protocol are expiring, one issue is working out a timeline for a new treaty. But volunteer measures would also be needed to keep the earth from warming by 3.6 degrees by the end of the century. For this month’s environmental outlook: the struggle to reach consensus on global carbon emissions.
- Joseph Romm Senior fellow, the Center for American Progess; he runs the blog ClimateProgress.org; former acting assistant secretary of Energy under President Clinton.
- Juliet Eilperin Environmental reporter, The Washington Post, and author of " Demon Fish: Travels Through the Hidden World of Sharks."
- William O'Keefe Chief Executive Officer of the Marshall Institute, President of Solutions Consulting, Inc.
- Günter Hörmandinger First Counselor on the Environment for the Delegation of the European Union to the U.S.
As the talks at the Durban Climate Summit are in their second week, many countries are questioning what can really be accomplished at these talks. This skepticism comes at a time when new research shows carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels have increased by as much as 50 percent in the last two decades. Guest host Steve Roberts and panelists talk about the sticking points at the talks and what may be realistic goals.
The Main Goals Of The Meeting
There are two major issues those at Durban are grappling with, Juliet Eilperin said. One is grounded in technical details that have been left over from the previous two conferences, like figuring out how to structure a fund to help developing nations cope with mandatory cuts to emissions, and to figure out some rules for avoiding deforestation. The other is a broader issue about how the world is going to move forward towards the goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions linked to climate change.
A Slowing Down of World Commitment?
Even as the science supporting climate change is getting stronger, there is a perception that the U.S. is “hamstrung,” Joseph Romm said. The U.S. failed to pass a climate bill in 2010, which President Obama could have brought to Copenhagen as a starting point. But, Romm said, if the richest country that produces the most cumulative emissions in the world can’t reach an agreement, that sends a strong message. “I think a lot of nations are trying to jockey for position to not get blamed for the failure and frankly to pin it on the U.S. and intransigents in the U.S.
The Chinese Strategy
China is building new coal plants at an alarming rate. But at the same time, China is investing a large amount of money in clean energy. Also, China does not want to be blamed on the world stage for the failure to reach an agreement, so, Romm said, they use a lot of vague language that comes with “unknown strings.” China also has a big clean water problem it needs to address, Gunter Hormandinger said.
Prospects For Green Jobs
There is a strong market across Europe for new jobs related to green energy, but it’s not quite the same in the U.S. in the EU, there is regulatory certainty that drives the job creation, but this is not the case in the U.S., Juliet Eilperin said. There are also a few key subsidies ending in 2012, including a production tax credit for wind. “If that goes away, that’s huge problems for the wind industry here in the U.S.,” Eilperin said.
You can read the full transcript here.
MR. STEVE ROBERTSThanks so much for joining us. I'm Steve Roberts sitting in today for Diane Rehm. On this month's environmental outlook, the climate summit in Durban, South Africa. As the talks are in their second week, many countries are questioning what can really be accomplished at these talks. This at a time when new research shows carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels have increased by as much as 50 percent in the last two decades.
MR. STEVE ROBERTSJoining us in the studio, Joseph Romm of the Center for American Progress, he runs the blog ClimateProgress.org, Juliet Eilperin of The Washington Post who covers environmental issues for the Post and her book is called "Demon Fish: Travels Through the Hidden World of Sharks", Gunter Hormandinger is the first counselor on the environment for the Delegation of the European Union to U.S. and joining us from a studio in Richmond, Va. is William O'Keefe, chief executive officer of the Marshall Institute and president of Solutions Consulting Inc.
MR. STEVE ROBERTSWelcome, nice to have you all with us. And you can join this conversation, our wonderful listeners, at 1-800-433-8850, firstname.lastname@example.org, if you have questions or comments on the summit in Durban as well as other issues relating to climate change. And let's start with the basic outlook here, Juliet, what are the goals of the Durban meeting?
MS. JULIET EILPERINThere are two major issues that they're grappling with, the first are a suite of largely technical details that have been left over from the last two conferences, things like figuring out the architecture for a fund that would help developing nations cope with and adapt to climate change and cut their emissions, figure out some rules for how to avoid deforestation, try to ease their technology transfer from rich countries to poor countries.
MS. JULIET EILPERINAnd then there's really kind of the broader issue that's one of the main questions which is how is the world going to go forward in terms of cutting greenhouse gas emissions linked to climate change and there are two parts to it. One is will there be any second commitment period of emissions cuts by industrialized countries under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol?
ROBERTSWhich are due, the first commitments are due to run out within a year.
EILPERINYes, by the end of 2012 so the question is only the European Union has voiced its commitment to move forward with the second set of goals where other nations like Japan and Canada are retreating from that commitment. And secondly there's this broader question of identifying a road map beyond 2020 for everyone including the world's first and third largest emitters which are China and India as well as the U.S. comes in at number two.
EILPERINAll three are not bound under the Kyoto Protocol and kind of figure out whether both industrialized and major emerging economies can agree to start a discussion that ultimately would forge a new climate treaty after 2020.
ROBERTSNow Gunter Hormandinger, Juliet mentions the critical role being played by the EU. It's sort of the most open advocate of continuing this commitment, this world commitment. Tell us what the goals are of the EU and do you feel a little lonely these days given the fact that even allies like Canada have been pulling back from some of these goals?
MR. GUNTER HORMANDINGERWell it's good that you mentioned the Kyoto Protocol. This is not something that we are married to at all cost. This is something that the EU is willing to enter into not because we think this would solve the planet's climate problems, this is because there is an insistence by a large number of parties in the global climate talks that the Kyoto Protocol should continue especially on the developing countries side.
MR. GUNTER HORMANDINGERAnd the EU has said well we are willing to consider that but only if, as part of the package we make progress on the over-arching deal that is really needed. So this is not an unconditional offer, this is a conditional offer. We ask for reassurances to be able to agree to a second commitment period for Kyoto.
ROBERTSAnd what about the second half of my question, are you feeling increasingly isolated given the fact that so many countries are really showing resistance to this?
HORMANDINGERI don't think we feel isolated. Of course we feel frustrated, progress should be much faster but we feel there are sufficiently many countries also among the developing nations, the G77, especially those that start to feel the impact change, the small island nations, certain countries in Africa that feel the drought and the extreme weather events, they are, they've seen the light. They want this too but of course this is a complicated and difficult question yet we cannot simply say oh it's difficult let's quit.
ROBERTSJoseph Romm, how are you reading the dynamics here? I get a sense that there's a slowing down of the world commitment to this issue even as the science is becoming more and more alarming. What's your reading of the dynamic as we're seeing it developing in Durban this week?
MR. JOSEPH ROMMWell there's no question that as you say the science is getting stronger. We're at the high end of the emissions forecast and we're starting to see extreme weather, you know droughts and floods that scientists had been predicting. But the U.S. is hamstrung, we failed to pass a climate bill in 2010 and that climate bill would have been the basis of the commitment that Obama had taken two years ago to Copenhagen and if the U.S. can't make a commitment, we're the richest country in the world. We have the most total amount of emissions, cumulative.
MR. JOSEPH ROMMObviously if the richest country in the world that's gotten rich polluting can't make a commitment it's very hard to get a global deal so I think what you see since a lot of nations don't think that there could be a global deal and we're not the only nation in the world that doesn't want to take the necessary action. China just keeps building coal plant after coal plant. I think a lot of nations are trying to jockey for position to not get blamed for the failure and frankly to pin it on the U.S. and intransigents in the U.S.
MR. JOSEPH ROMMWe saw, for instance, China has been -- it's not clear exactly what China's been saying, but maybe they'd be willing to...
ROBERTSBut this is not the first time the United States is showing recalcitrance. The Bush administration basically rejected the Kyoto Treaty. Is that a fair description of it? I mean, the United States has not been a signatory to that Treaty to begin with so this is not new, the resistance on the part of the United States is not new.
ROMMNo, it's certainly not new. And, you know, the good thing about the Kyoto Protocol is the nations that agreed to reduce emissions have reduced emissions. Every other country which is to say the United States and the poorer countries, their emissions have gone up. What's new, I think, obviously is that everybody knew Bush/Cheney were not going to get a climate bill because they were oil guys. They didn't believe. They didn't accept the science.
ROMMObama campaigned on, you know, we're going to, you know, his famous remarks, we're going to slow the rise of the oceans and start to adjust climate change and he failed.
ROBERTSLet me bring in William O'Keefe here from the Marshall Institute. What's your read in terms of the dynamic as you're seeing it play out in Durban?
MR. WILLIAM O'KEEFELet's correct one fact. The Senate in 1997 rejected the Kyoto type model, 95 to 0. This is not something that ought to be pinned on the past administration. I personally think that 10,000 people in a meeting where half of them, or almost half are trying to protect something that hasn't worked, the Kyoto Protocol and the other half are trying to find a way to get $100 billion a year when the global economy is on the verge of collapse, is the height of folly.
MR. WILLIAM O'KEEFEIt's not going to happen and nothing involving 190 countries or 194 countries making commitments over the next decade or two is going to be structured. The best approach would be a regional approach where countries collaborate to develop technology that will slow the growth of emissions or move from higher-emitting energy sources to lower-emitting energy sources, cooperate.
MR. WILLIAM O'KEEFEThe major emissions project or major economies model may be the best one. I think this is just the height of futility. It's not going to work and no nation faced with the kind of economic peril that is now confronting us is going to make a sincere effort to substitute economical and abundant energy sources for high cost alternatives that simply are not going to let their economies recover.
ROBERTSLet me ask Gunter Hormandinger. Is this a fair assessment or do you disagree with that?
HORMANDINGERWell, this is the triumph of the short-term over the long-term which we have heard many times in climate policy and I think it's just not good enough to think along those lines. One thing is, of course, we need to have approaches to develop technologies. In the end only better and new technologies and new energy sources and more efficient technologies will get us where we need to be. But how do you get those? Not by sitting together and saying, oh, develop technologies. There is technology development out there anyway.
HORMANDINGERYou need policy instruments to make those technologies come into the market. You need to subsidize them in the beginning or you need to have arrangements like feed-in tariffs and so on and all these you can only get the political pressure to do that, you can only get when there's a commitment and globally you get a commitment when you have legitimacy. And nobody has yet found anything that gives legitimacy other than an international negotiation.
ROBERTSBut Juliet, in terms of these international negotiations, the United States seems to have put these on a back burner. There are no members of Congress, unlike previous international meetings, a low-level delegation. What's your read of how serious the United States is about participating in and making the kind of commitments that Mr. Hormandinger is talking about?
EILPERINWell, the interesting thing is that the administration is focused on -- in some ways, what's interesting is that they actually have a very similar policy goal to what the Bush administration pushed for which is to make it clear that they will take action on the international level only if you have major emitters like China and India do it.
EILPERINNow the difference is that the Obama administration was sincerely pressing for a domestic cap on emissions which would have, in many ways, you know, provided legitimacy for this policy. The Bush administration was not pressing for that kind of mandatory limit, but there's just no question that while Obama has talked, you know, on occasion about climate change, and recently just has taken steps, for example, to have more efficient federal buildings and things like that. They are taking incremental steps here at home.
EILPERINThey just haven't delivered domestically, as Joe mentioned, and that makes it incredibly difficult for them when they're really pushing for -- they're pushing hard for a hard line here in Durban and the rest of the world is saying, you know, how can you be asking for this when you haven't delivered at home?
ROBERTSAnd there's this, partly as Bill O'Keefe said, because of the economics of it.
EILPERINRight, that's made it harder and it's unusual that the European Union is still sticking fast to its goals given its climate.
ROBERTSWe're going to be back with your calls and your comments about the Durban meeting on climate change so please stay with us. I'll be right back with my panel.
ROBERTSWelcome back. I'm Steve Roberts sitting in today for Diane. And our subject this hour is this month's environmental outlook, the climate summit in Durban, South Africa. With me in the studio to talk about this is Joseph Romm of the Center for American Progress, Juliet Eilperin who covers environmental issues for the Washington Post and Gunter Hormandinger who's with the European Union Delegation here in the United States. And from Richmond, Va. William O'Keefe of the Marshall Institute.
ROBERTSAnd, Joe Romm, we've just been talking about the inhibition, some of them political, some of them economic on the United States. The other great player in Durban is the Chinese. In the year since the Kyoto was formed, China has moved to become the largest single emitter of gas – greenhouse gases. And at the beginning of that meeting, on the eve of the meeting, there seemed to be a Chinese delegate raising the possibility of China at least considering some kind of international protocol. But a lot of people think that it came with a lot of conditions. What's your best read on the true Chinese attitude here?
ROMMWell, they are a paradox. They are building coal plants at a great rate and so they are the number one emitter. At the same time, they are putting a staggering amount of money into clean energy. You know, $30 billion a year to back their solar industry to the point where solar industry costs have crashed. And it's affordable, you know, increasingly in this country and around the world.
ROMMSo I think they're of two minds. I think they understand that it's not sustainable. So -- and they do not want to be blamed. They were blamed particularly back in Copenhagen for the failure of Copenhagen to get an agreement. So I think they try to use vague language that comes with sort of unknown strings. We will commit to a cap on emissions after 2020 if you guys do a whole bunch of things, which you -- we're not exactly clear what they are. But I think that they are sincere that we have to get off of our current path. But I don't expect them to sign on to a hard target anytime soon.
ROBERTSGunter, what's your read in the -- ECs read on the real Chinese strategy here? What are they really doing?
HORMANDINGERWell, that's a good question what they're really doing. What we see is positive noises coming from China. That's a very important signal. And as you say, you know, they are more positive than we've heard in the past probably because they also exposed themselves to the impact of climate change that they already feel. They are a nation that has a water problem. They will have bigger water problems. And they understand that.
HORMANDINGEROf course, they cannot move if America doesn't move and that's the real roadblock in the international negotiations. Those two need to figure it out amongst each other.
ROBERTSBill O'Keefe, do you agree that it comes down to this failure of China and America to really talk and come to some agreement?
O'KEEFENo. I think it comes down to economic and energy realities, whether it's the energy information administration or the world energy outlook by the IEA. The conclusion is of every credible analysis that in 20 years 80 percent of our energy is still going to come from fossil energy. So the idea that there's going to be some agreement where we cap emissions and then reduce them I think flies in the face of reality. Because there is no technology that is currently feasible or commercially viable that could do that, and at the same time accommodate the population growth that'll take place over the next two or three decades, and the economic growth that's needed to provide the capital to develop new technology.
ROBERTSJuliet, what about this argument? At its core it seems that one of the key issues here is that given the fact that the world is going through such economic turmoil in the United States, in Europe, fragile economic recoveries, that there seems to be this argument that this would be a nice thing to do if we could afford it. But we're at an economic moment where it's very hard to afford. How important is this dimension in this whole calculation?
EILPERINIt's very important. One thing I just want to say on the China front, 'cause this is something I've been reporting on and just trying to get the updates today, is one thing that's so interesting is it sounds like China is, you know, publicly talking about its willingness to make a deal. But in private bilateral meetings, whether it's with the EU or whether it's with the United States, they're not showing quite that same openness. So I...
ROBERTSSo as Joe says they want the public relations benefit, but not...
EILPERINAnd the EU minister for climate action Connie Hedegaard has actually said something to this effect. So that's -- you know, so that's significant. In terms of this -- there's basically again -- and I think Gunter made this good point which is that what's very tough is Bill is absolutely right, when you look at these analyses and this trajectory you don't see the kind of penetration that, you know, people are talking about in order to get emissions down when you look at non-fossil fuel technologies.
EILPERINThe flipside of that is there's simply no question that it becomes increasingly expensive over time to cut emissions if you don't do it in the near term. So basically while it's true it would take a huge shift in governmental policy and a big investment up front, there -- it's just as true that it will cost much more to do this post 20/20 if you don't basically make a shift sooner.
ROBERTSNow, Joe Romm, let's talk a bit about the science here. Right on the eve, as I mentioned in the opening, there was a stern warning from United Nation's officials saying we're losing time, we're running out of time, that in fact the rate of burning the fossil fuels is increasing and increasing dramatically in part, as you pointed out, because of the enormous expansion and industrial expansion in China. But they're not alone. It's happening in India and other developing -- Brazil and other developing countries as well. So give us your best read on the science here as you read it. And then I'll give Bill O'Keefe a chance to give his view.
ROMMSure. Well, there's a just -- study that came out that basically said, you know, it's pretty clear that virtually all of the recent warming is due to humans -- human emissions and it's just going to get worse and worse. And I think that we've seen analyses that show that sea level rise is happening faster than people thought. That we are seeing -- that the droughts that we've been seeing have been increasingly linked to climate change. The hotter it gets the drier it gets. That's true in Texas and around the Mediterranean.
ROMMSo I think the science is getting stronger, but I'd also say one of the things that science and engineering is telling us is that in fact we do have the technology to act. And PR just ran a story this morning on how California is moving forward with its, you know, bill and plan to reduce emissions drastically. Why? Because they see investment in clean energy as a way to jumpstart the economy. And they understand that the leaders in clean energy are going to be the biggest job creators in the coming decades.
ROMMAnd even the International Energy Agency -- just to follow up on what Juliet said -- made clear that not acting now is a false economy and that every dollar we spend on clean energy now saves us $4 after 2020.
ROBERTSBut if that is so obvious, why is there still this apparent paralysis? Why isn't this science in economics more dispositive, more persuasive?
ROMMWell, as you know we need 60 votes in the U.S. Senate to do anything and that allows a minority to have a stranglehold on action in the United States. And so whereas there was an embrace of what was basically a Republican hydria which was to put a price on carbon, that people like Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney and John McCain used to support after Barack Obama got elected, and actually it became a real thing, they all flipped to oppose it. So, you know, we've had a minority being able to block action in this country and it's a great tragedy.
ROBERTSNow, William O'Keefe, there are an awful lot of people who -- at the UN and other places who are arguing, as Joe Romm says, that the scientific evidence is pretty clear. But you have a dissenting view and I want to give you a chance to raise it.
O'KEEFEYeah, I think that the science is actually weaker not stronger. If you look back at the projections that were made back in the late '80s when Jim Hansen and Al Gore made global warming a national policy issue, the temperatures should've been higher than they actually are. And as we've seen from the Berkeley earth surface temperature measurement, they've essentially been flat for the past ten years. That is not how the models say this should've worked. And it suggests that the climate sensitivity is less than the believers in impending apocalypse assume that it is.
O'KEEFEThere's also been work done by Dr. Roy Spencer at the University of Alabama that shows that the Pacific decadal oscillation, a 30-year cycle, may have accounted for the increase in temperatures that took place in the late '70s and may be the cause of why we're not seeing the increase now. We can have a long debate about the science.
O'KEEFEThe IPCC and the most recent extreme weather report had a sentence or a paragraph that says there's a lot of natural variability. And so they hedge their comments. We need to develop technologies to use energy more efficiently. There is a way that you can reduce the growth and emissions over time but no economist that I'm aware of believes that waiting until you have technology that is actually cost effective raises the cost of making those reductions.
O'KEEFEClean energy technologies that are being sought and promoted all require large subsidies. And the past four years, the subsidies in the United States have gone up at a very large rate. And those technologies are not viable on their own. It takes -- it involves taking money from taxpayers and giving it to rent seeking companies.
ROBERTSLet me ask Gunter Hormandinger. What is -- how do you view this in terms of this debate that -- of the scientific evidence which should be an issue that reasonable people can agree on, but apparently not. Where does the EC come in?
HORMANDINGERWell, you know, we take the advice of the scientists. I don't think we in this studio should be discussing the science. This is a high entry barrier activity. You've got to do your PhD. You've got to spend your life researching this. I've been in the field of physics myself in the past, but I feel not competent to discuss the climate signs and we shouldn't be doing that. And, you know, cherry picking individual reports doesn't help us. There are thousands of reports. Ninety-seven percent of the climate scientists agree, let's move on.
HORMANDINGERThe other thing I wanted to say is one of the arguments that I hear frequently in this debate is, you know, portraying things as static that aren’t static. Like, let's wait until the technology is available. Why will technology be available? Because it's being developed. Somebody must make it being developed. That's a question of public policy. That's not just waiting around.
ROBERTSAnd what about the question, Juliet, another key issue that you raised that is being discussed in Durban is this so called Green Climate Fund. You mentioned it earlier. Given all of the disagreements on the larger questions, is this at least one area where there's potential for an agreement?
EILPERINYes, there is some progress on this. And, in fact, again just in recent hours today we have seen that there seems to be an inching forward of something that looked a little uncertain before the talks opened. So again what we were talking about that could be hammered out are extremely technical agreements like the idea of who gets to sit on the board to deliver the money. We're not even getting to the question of how will you raise this tremendous amount of money, which again Bill O'Keefe referred to. We're talking about a goal of $100 billion each year by 2020.
ROBERTSI'm Steve Roberts and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let me turn to our -- some of our callers and allow them to join the conversation. And Jack in Bethesda, Md., you're first. Welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show." Jack. Jack, are you there? Okay. We'll have to move on. Kenny in Indianapolis, Ind., welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."
KENNYHi. Thank you. I just -- I'm in the solar energy business, but I'm calling 'cause I'm a parent and a grandparent. And it seems to me that trumps any business interest for all. I just want to make a few quick points, if I may, to disabuse some of the inaccuracy that was just said on your program earlier. First of all, most solar companies do not take tax money. There's no higher -- there's no greater industry that's supported with tax money than the fossil fuel business.
KENNYToday, for example, the Keystone pipeline. The only Republic issue is because of all the public easements and subsidies that will have to support if it goes through. The BP oil crash last year was basically supported by tax money to clean that up, even though BP allegedly is putting in 20 million -- or 20 billion rather. And I think that I'm mostly disappointed that when these kinds of statements are made that there're not experts on to immediately dispel them. For example (unintelligible) ...
ROBERTSWell, we do have experts on who are disagreeing with them. So that's really not fair. We've had several who have disagreed with it, but go on, make your point.
KENNYWell, if I can continue. As a small company here in Indianapolis, we're already shipping solar systems effectively all over the world to Africa and to South America. And the technology is here now. This is not something that we have to work on for another ten years to get it right. It's already here and the jobs of the future and the opportunities of the future are already here now. They do exist in converting the global fossil fuel energy economy over to green. That is already producing many more jobs than we would have by just maintaining the status quo.
ROBERTSKenny, thanks very much for your call. Joe Romm, what's your view of this? Is he right? Is the technology here? Are the jobs being created?
ROMMYeah, well, we've had independent studies that found that clean energy has been really the fastest growing jobs across the board. And solar has been among the fastest. And there's now over 100,000 people employed in the solar industry. It's been growing in the United States. The deployment has been doubling, you know, almost every year for the last two years. The costs have been coming down. The way you get the cost down -- R & D is good but deploying in the marketplace is what countries around the world have shown cuts costs.
ROBERTSIs this true in Europe? Is there a market for green jobs, Gunter...
ROBERTS...and new technologies?
HORMANDINGEROh, yeah, there's certainly a market driven by policy. We have an official goal of 20 percent renewable energy by 2020 and are on track to meet it. And each of the EU member states has -- is under the obligation to put policies in place to make that happen. Germany, for example, has feed in tariffs for renewable electricity. And that generates the business certainty that makes people invest and produce these things.
ROBERTSWhat about the domestic situation here, Juliet, given the controversy of solar and some of the policies the administration investing in clean energy companies? Is that a setback? What's your...
EILPERINThere's no question it's a setback and again in contrast to the European Union where you have regulatory certainty, we're in this period of uncertainty now. Now your caller, it's interest -- I would say he made a good point. And the idea that for example if you look at the General Accountability office it found that between 2002 and 2007 fossil fuels, basically electricity generation got four times as many subsidies as renewables. They shifted somewhat in the last few years where you've had the Obama Administration subsidizing this.
EILPERINWhen we're looking ahead to 2012, a couple of the key subsidies are going away, including the controversial federal loan guarantee program which has run out of money and, of course, has come under criticism after Solyndra. And looking ahead, for example, there's a production tax credit for wind which expires at the end of 2012. It's been key for wind. If that goes away that's huge problems for the wind industry here in the U.S.
ROBERTSI'm Steve Roberts sitting in today for Diane. I'll be back with my guests and your calls and your comments in just a minute. So please stay with us.
ROBERTSWelcome back. I’m Steve Roberts sitting in today for Diane. Our subject this hour, as part of our monthly environmental outlook series, the climate summit in Durban, South Africa. And with me on the phone line is Keya Chatterjee. She is the World Wildlife Fund's U.S. director of international climate policy, just returned from Durban yesterday so delighted to have you on "The Diane Rehm Show." And what's your impression of what's going on in Durban?
MS. KEYA CHATTERJEEThanks, Steve. It's really been a bit of a nail-biter these negotiations in Durban this week. And I have to say the biggest impression I walked away with was this enormous dissidence between the negotiators and the pace at which they're acting and the impacts of climate change that people are talking about. We opened the talks in Durban with an extreme weather event where you know almost a dozen people died because of these heavy downpours. And of course, in the U.S., we've experienced the same. This isn't just something that we've seen in Africa. And the United States, for the first time in history, 47 states have experienced extreme weather events that are, you know, related to climate trends.
MS. KEYA CHATTERJEEAnd so one of the most shocking things to me, sitting through these meetings, is just this dissidence between what each of the countries are talking about in terms of impacts and the IPTC reports that are being reported back and this slow pace at which we're seeing action on all fronts, on the front in terms of actually getting progress towards a legally-binding climate treaty where the U.S. has been really, really reluctant. We've even seen progress on other fronts, but also in terms of preparing for the impact of a climate change that we're seeing today. You know there has been some progress in terms of establishing an adaptation, as it's called, committee. But everything is moving a lot more slowly than we would like to see.
ROBERTSWell, I’m sure that's true, but let me ask you why you think that's so. We've been discussing this and talking about the economic slowdown, the cost of this change, the political paralysis in the United States and elsewhere. What's your best analysis for this dissidence?
CHATTERJEEI think it's mostly related to the politics. I mean as you guys have been talking about, you know the technology is here, the economics are really compelling. UNEP, the United Nations Environment Program put out a report this week on bridging the gap that shows that there is this enormous gap between where we need to be and where we are today, but also that we have everything we need in order to close the gap. So the technology isn't the problem.
CHATTERJEEIn many ways, this is no longer a science problem. It's no longer a technology problem. It's a political problem and it's mainly a political problem here in the United States where there's this big divide between what the politicians are saying and doing and the interest of U.S. citizens. In many ways I would say that the U.S. delegation in Durban is not really at all acting in the interests of U.S. citizens right now who are suffering from the impacts of climate change.
ROBERTSOkay. Thank you very much for that report. We appreciate it very much. That's Keya Chatterjee. She's the World Wildlife Fund's U.S. director of international climate policy just back from Durban. Joe Romm, she says the real problem is politics. Is that true? But she also didn't mention economics. And we've been talking a lot about that in terms of how that is affecting the calculations, not just in the United States, but in China as well.
ROMMWell, I think different people come at this from different places. Obviously, Europe thinks it can forward with stronger cuts even though it's in the midst of its financial problem, same for State of California. I think China is making a bad choice in all the coal plants it's building, but everyone should understand that China is placing the biggest bet in the world that clean energy is gonna be the biggest job creator in the future. And they are trying to corner the market in solar with $30 billion a year in financial backing for their solar industry. They're cornering the market in wind. They're trying to corner the market in electric cars and electric batteries.
ROMMSo no one should think anything other than the Chinese know the future is clean energy. They just want to be the leader.
ROBERTSLet me go to some of our emailers and try to answer some of these questions quickly. Tracy writes to us from Raleigh, N.C. "Why doesn't anyone ever address the elephant-in-the-room issue, in regards to climate change, which is population growth? Unless we can significantly slow global population growth we are all in serious trouble with regards to climate change, growing sustainable food, as well as the economic pressures associated with exploding populations." William O'Keefe, your answer to Tracy?
O'KEEFEWell, I think nations and individuals make their own decisions. I don't think there ought to be a global policy to reduce population growth. In fact, that would be as flawed as one that tries to mandate emission reductions over the next 20 years. I think that we simply ought to face up to the reality that this is a combination of economics, technology and uncertainty. And that the statements that all these weather events are due to human activity simply do not stand up to scrutiny. Humans have an -- the big debate is not whether there is global warming and climate change and not really whether humans have an impact on the climate system. The debate and the difference of opinion is how much.
O'KEEFEAnd that has not been resolved and it's not close to being resolved. And I take the position that if you want to talk about population, there are two billion people in this world that don't have access to commercial energy. They don't have adequate diets and access to potable water. They have very high disease and mortality rates. That is the worst environmental problem. And yet nobody is making a serious effort to deal with that today, although we know how. And instead we have 10,000 people talking about what might happen in the latter half of this century and all the predictions since the early '80s have been like the horizon. They recede as we approach the time in which all these disastrous effects were supposed to take place.
CHATTERJEESo I don't think we're gonna reduce the world's population. I think we ought to find a way to allow those 2 billion people to increase their standards of living and have healthier and longer lives.
ROBERTSNancy writes to us, "There are only two ways of reducing global warming. One, tax the people polluting so they pay for their own damage. Two, accept that the Earth has limits on growth." Gunter Hormandinger, is this fair or not?
HORMANDINGERI think I would say yes to the first. There has to be a price on carbon. The Earth has limits, absolutely, but that doesn't mean we have to stop economic development. We have to develop in smarter ways. We've been developing in a certain way that's been working for awhile. We hit the limits. We must become smarter. And we know how to do that. In the EU, we have a world map that leads all the way to 2050. Se we already have an idea how to decarbonize the European economy. It can be done. It just needs political will to do it.
ROBERTSPolitical will? So you agree that that's really the single biggest stumbling block.
HORMANDINGERI believe so.
ROBERTSJuliet, do you agree?
EILPERINYeah, I think there's no question. And particularly when you look at talks like this, that that is the question that, for example, in Durban you know when these people get together there really isn't an argument about the science. That's not what they're talking about. I do think it's interesting when you look at what, for example, Keya Chatterjee is saying, that, for example, environmental groups, particularly U.S. environmental groups have been very critical of the Obama administration. They have not really directed their anger towards China and India which you know again, obviously are also resistant to submitting to curbs on their carbon emissions. So there is a disconnect there, but there's just no question that it's politics that's at the root of this.
ROBERTSLet me turn to some of our callers. Jeffrey, in Chapel Hill, N.C. Welcome, you're on "The Diane Rehm Show." Jeffrey?
ROBERTSPlease, you're on the air, please go ahead.
JEFFREYHi there, Steve. Great panel, great discussion. I have some things I'd like to add to it and even the listeners to consider this. First of all, we need to look at this as a war on global warming. So I hate to use that word war, but I think it's gonna take the industrial complex that we can put together in this country and become competitive in our price around the world using non-fossil fuel. The problem is the fossil fuel. That gets the rankles of a lot of our congressman because it takes out of their pockets, I think.
JEFFREYSo with that being said, my political said, here are the three -- I have three that are off-the-shelf how we can use them. Two of them only use natural gas and they leave a carbon footprint as like 90 percent reduced. The third one is completely functional use. They're selling the rights to build and let me go over those.
ROBERTSWell, why don't you give us one example? We really only have time for one. Give us one.
JEFFREYWell, probably the easiest one is one that NASA used. It's called CHP, which stands for combined heat and power. WhisperGen is a production and Honda, make these units.
ROBERTSThank you very much. Joe Romm, what about Jeffrey's point? Is this a -- are there these available technologies that are out there that are not being used well enough?
ROMMWell, I think there's no question. There's a whole host of technologies. That was what the state of California did a major independent study which said, if you look at all the technologies, I mean, certainly solar energy is one part. You have wind power. He was mentioning combined heat and power, that's where you generate electricity and heat at the same time. It's much more efficient.
ROMMCogeneration. CHP, that's what he was talking about. There's also energy efficiency, which we haven't talked about at all, but is the most cost effective because the power plant that you don't build, that's the cheapest one. So we're seeing next-generation lighting, LED lighting. We're seeing more efficient motors. We're seeing you know just simple things like caulking and all that. When the state of California has done this for 30 years they've kept per capita electricity consumption flat for 30 years. Whereas it's gone up 60 percent in the rest of the country. So it's not something you do in one year. You do it continuously over many years.
HORMANDINGERGunter, you seeing that in Europe, too? Are you seeing the decline or at least the leveling off of per capita use? And what are the keys to this as you study it in Europe?
HORMANDINGERWell, when we agreed on our 20 percent target on greenhouse gas emissions in 2008 we agreed it as a package with two other energy policy targets. One is on renewable energy, 20 percent by 2020 and one is on energy efficiency, 20 percent up by 2020. Those build a package in addressing one of them you address the others.
HORMANDINGERSo that's the central idea. And then each of the 27 EU member states finds a way of meeting those targets. That's how we go about it. And they have all very different situations. Some have lots of renewable energy, some have wind, some have solar, some have different ways of doing that. They have also different political decision-making systems, different procedures, different legal systems. They find their own way and they report to Brussels what they do. And from those reports we know that on the renewable energy and on the greenhouse gasses we're on track.
HORMANDINGEROn energy efficiency we're not yet. That's the one that's not binding our member states. That's why we have to do more work. But that's also the one that's actually making direct economic sense for the people who put in the investment. It pays to be energy efficient.
ROBERTSJuliet, what are you learning in your reporting about best practices here? This is if the Durban talks slow down there are things other people can do. There are a lot of people out there listening to us that say, well, okay. I want to make my contribution. What are we learning about what makes a difference?
EILPERINWell, I think again it's a whole suite of policies. And so for example you know again, Europe is a very good place to look because they've had an incentive to do these things. And so one thing, of course, you look at is, for example, Europeans are more comfortable using mass transit, ride-sharing, things like that which are making inroads in the United States, but haven't taken off to the same extent. Again, they've obviously put in energy efficiency.
EILPERINIt's worth noting that by 2015 the per capita emissions of an EU member state will be lower than China. So there are clearly things that they're doing. You know again, I think everyone feels that you know energy efficiency is really kind of the easiest things, particularly people can do on a individual level. And then in terms of you know you're not gonna deploy your own utility-scale solar project. But that said, you know one thing that we're seeing here in the D.C. area that's interesting is we are seeing a rise in distributed generation of solar as companies such as SolarCity, SunRun and Sungevity have come in. And so some people are switching over to that and getting cheaper electricity that way.
ROBERTSI'm Steve Roberts and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We have time for one or two more callers. Let's go to John in Naples, Fla. Welcome, you're on "The Diane Rehm Show," John. John? You're on "The Diane Rehm Show." Are you there? I have to move on. Jack, in Bethesda, are you there now? Jack, are you there?
JACKYes. Hi. A quick question, just on the topic of Durban and its relative, slow (word?) in terms of coming to any kind of unilateral agreement. It looks like, you know, it might (word?) by the end of the conference. This is primarily focused on efforts to mitigate climate change (word?) obviously it's -- there's been a lot of complex dialog been going on. I’m wondering why adaptation as a school of thought dealing with climate change hasn't gotten more play at Durban. And also there's some, you know, there's some scientists that adaptation is really the only way to deal with climate change, basically accept and adapt to its presence.
ROBERTSThank you, Jack. Your phone line was a little scratchy there. Adaptation, someone got an answer on (word?).
ROMMSure. Well, I think that if you were gonna do an adaptation you have to spend a lot of money. I mean and so you need a fund. And that was certainly gonna be …
ROBERTSWhat does adaptation mean?
ROMMAdaptation means sea levels rise so you have to build levees. And potentially some places can't be saved. Maybe you can't save the Florida Keys, but you can save Miami, but then you're gonna have to put up a big sea wall like you know the Netherlands have, let's say. And so adaptation should mean some people can't live where they want to live and some amount of money is gonna have to be spent to let people live where they want to live so it isn't cheap.
ROMMAnd I think that certainly in the Obama administration the climate bill was gonna have a carbon price which would create a fund to pay for it. If you don't have a fund to pay for it you end up with -- well, look at New Orleans. We didn't even build the levees to withstand a category 5 hurricane that we knew was coming. So it's very hard to get people to spend money to adapt to something in the future. And I've always been a believer that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
EILPERINWe are actually seeing other ways of just simply changing practices. And this is something that I would imagine Bill O'Keefe could also get behind. You're seeing things like Bangladesh now has an early warning system for cyclones so that people can shift where they are and cope with it. They're planting different crops. These are things that the U.S. is financing, that the EU is financing, Japan. So we are seeing shifts across in this kind of patchwork of responses to climate change.
ROBERTSFinal word, Gunter.
HORMANDINGERRight. Adaptation, I think, is not a school of thought. It's part of the package. It has to form part of it because the climate is changing and so we have to adapt, but it can only be part of the answer.
ROBERTSThat's gonna have to be the last word. I want to thank my guests for this hour, Joseph Romm of the Center for American Progress, Juliet Elperin of The Washington Post, covers environmental matters for The Post, and Gunter Hormandinger of the Delegation of the European Union to the United States; and by phone from Richmond, Va., William O'Keefe of the Marshall Institute. I'm Steve Roberts sitting in today for Diane. And we want to appreciate -- send you our thanks for spending an hour of your morning with us.
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