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

Climate Diplomacy

Air Date: Week of

Jennifer Morgan (Courtesy of Jennifer Morgan)

With China onboard for UN climate talks in Bali this December, the Bush administration appears increasingly isolated in its continued resistance to call for mandatory caps on carbon emissions. Living on Earth talks with Jennifer Morgan, who advises the German government on climate change.


CURWOOD: Now for an international perspective we turn to Jennifer Morgan, who is an advisor to the German government and director of the Climate Change Program for the British advocacy group E3G.

The United States and China are the largest emitters of global warming gasses so a lot of the upcoming negotiations are focused on those two countries—the U.S., which repudiated Kyoto, and China, which has ratified Kyoto but is not bound under it to cap emissions. I asked Jennifer Morgan to explain the position of China, and its president, Hu Jintao.

MORGAN: My understanding of the Chinese position is that they very much recognize their responsibility in causing climate change and are ready to act to curb their emissions but that they don’t think that they should have to take on the same type of commitment as developed countries should. They are still working through raising people out of poverty, etcetera. And their per capita emissions are much lower than the West. So their very clear message is, ‘we want to do more and do it under the UN and not under any framework that’s competing with it but we’re not ready to take on a national cap but we’re ready to curb out emissions.’

CURWOOD: So, how does Hu’s position now contrast to the stance taken by the United States and what the U.S. is saying it’d like to see out of China?

MORGAN: Well, the U.S. does not differentiate between itself—or I should say the Bush administration—does not differentiate between itself and China in the level of ambition or effort that each should do. In other words, the Bush administration does not seem to feel that it has any greater responsibility because it has more historical emissions than China. So, what Bush seems to want to do is invite everybody to come and pledge to do something in a non-UN format, versus Hu Jintao, who’s saying ‘we want to do more but we want to do it in a multilateral framework.’ And I think besides the Bush administration, what I sense is a feeling of consensus that we know we all need to do our fair share and developing countries, including China, have used those words. And we need a plan, we need a mandate. We need a serious negotiation in order to crack that and that needs to start in Bali.

Jennifer Morgan(Courtesy of Jennifer Morgan)

CURWOOD: So, how does the United States fit into all of these meetings and ultimately the meeting in Bali? What kind of consensus can emerge given the position the Bush administration has been taking?

MORGAN: Well, it is a tremendous challenge for other countries sitting at a negotiating table with an administration that they know really hasn’t fundamentally changed its opposition to reducing its emissions but is still in power for 18 more months. While they look at the array of initiatives in the United States—from governors to senators to even what presidential candidates are saying—and figure out how they start negotiations with the Bush administration at the table knowing that those negotiations will end after that administration is out of power. And my experience in these negotiations is that those countries will need to come together. Europe will need to build partnerships and alliances with the big developing countries and Japan in order to overcome Bush administration opposition because we may or most likely will be facing a situation in Bali where we have a unified world that can bring breakthroughs and the question for President Bush is—is he ready to stand up and block that?

CURWOOD: Now, for people who don’t pay close attention to diplomatic matters this sounds all very abstruse. In other words what’s going to happen in Bali is perhaps an agreement to have negotiations to keep talking? What’s really at stake in Bali?

MORGAN: We face a very short time frame where we have to shift trillions of dollars of investment from very high-carbon-intensive coal and oil into renewable energy, energy efficiency, zero-emission technologies. And in order to do that the market needs very clear signals. They need to know that industrialized countries are going to cut their emissions dramatically and that developing countries are also going to change their development paths to do it in a lower carbon way.

What’s at stake in Bali really is a signal that that is truly going to happen in the next two years—that countries are serious about negotiating those types of cuts, and that their going to do it in a specific time frame, and that they have a certain level of ambition. The other thing that will hopefully come out of Bali is a clear signal that says: ‘we cannot go over a certain temperature threshold. We cannot increase our global temperature above 2 degrees Celsius or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit because it’s too risky. And we’re ready to join in and change the way we do business in order to avoid those impacts.’

CURWOOD: Jennifer Morgan is director of the climate change program for the British NGO E3G and an advisor to the German government. Thank you so much.

MORGAN: Thank you.



United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change


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