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

Countdown to Copenhagen

Air Date: Week of

International negotiations on climate change in Bonn, Germany.

Scientists say huge cuts are needed to avoid dangerous disruption of our climate. But delegates gathered in Bonn to craft the first phases of a new climate treaty made little progress, with major polluters, the U.S. and China, unable to reach agreement. But, as Living on Earth’s Bruce Gellerman tells host Steve Curwood, there does seem to be some good news for developing nations: direct aid, in the form of hundreds of billions of dollars and technology, is on the table to help poor nations adapt to climate disruption.


YOUNG: From the Jennifer and Ted Stanley studios in Somerville, Massachusetts, this is Living on Earth. I’m Jeff Young.

CURWOOD: And I’m Steve Curwood.

In December the nations of the world are planning to gather in Copenhagen to come to a new agreement to fight climate change. The Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012. In the beginning of June, delegates came to Bonn, Germany for a two-week meeting intended to hammer out some details of a new deal. And Living on Earth’s Bruce Gellerman joins me now from Bonn. Hi there Bruce.

UNFCCC Delegates are welcomed by demonstrators in Bonn, Germany. (Photo: Bruce Gellerman)


CURWOOD: So Bruce, this meeting is now the second in a series of five leading up to Copenhagen in December--- and I think the UN set up so many meetings because they easily get bogged down and need a lot of time. What kind of progress was there this time?

GELLERMAN: Well, for the first time there is a working draft of the text of a proposed climate treaty, and that’s a big deal. And delegates have been scrutinizing every word and every punctuation mark. But the problems at this stage aren't with the details. I spoke with Jennifer Morgan - she's director for the global climate change program at the European environmental think-tank called E3G.

MORGAN: I think there was progress just in moving forward on getting that text ready and discussing and understanding country positions but as far as making progress to really solving the problem and seeing signals from the big polluting countries that they're going to do something significant, no.

Jennifer Morgan, director of global climate change for E3G, in front of the UN Environment Building in Bonn. (Photo: Bruce Gellerman)

CURWOOD: So what exactly are the signals from big countries that people are looking for?

GELLERMAN: Well, there are two major issues - A - the big industrial countries - the ones in the Northern Hemisphere that Jennifer Morgan calls the big polluters - the question for them is: how much are they willing to cut greenhouse gas emissions, and B - money and technology - how much support will these big nations provide, you know, the developing countries.. To help them confront and adapt to climate change...change, which they say industrial nations caused.

CURWOOD: So, how now does the U.S. fit into this?

GELLERMAN: Well, under the Waxman Markey Bill, which is making its way through Congress, the United States would make domestic emissions reductions about 4 percent below 1990 levels – now you might recall Steve the Kyoto Protocol, which the United States signed that way back when, but never ratified the calls for cuts to seven percent below 1990, so the United States has slid backwards in the eyes of some.

Annie Petsonk from the Environmental Defense Fund waves a copy of the Waxman-Markey climate change bill at the meetings in Bonn.

And, by the way, Steve, the United States isn’t alone with such modest targets: Japan announced its goal here in Bonn and it’s just two percentage points below 1990 levels…that’s from six to eight percent. It really disappointed a lot of people - including Tasneem Essop from World Wild Life.

ESSOP: What did not help of course was Japan's announcement in the plenary about their targets. This was a real trust killer. Japan chose to make the announcement in the plenary in front of vulnerable countries, and clearly the kind of targets they placed on the table takes us on an emission a pathway up to three degrees or beyond.

CURWOOD: So, she’s talking about three degrees of global warming. Scientists say we’re gonna be in deep trouble if we have more than two degrees.

GELLERMAN: Yes, floods and climate change could be cataclysmic. But you know it’s still early on and Yvo de Boer, who’s the Executive Secretary of the UN Climate Organization, says he is not about to give up.

Yvo de Boer is the the Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC. (Courtesy the United Nations)

DE BOER: I'm optimistic because the political essentials of a good deal in Copenhagen are not rocket science. The political essentials of a good deal in Copenhagen are ambitious targets for rich nations, ambitious engagement of developing countries, and money on the table to help poor nations with adoption. That's not rocket science.

CURWOOD: And how much money on the table are they talking about, I mean how ambitious, is ambitious?

GELLERMAN: Sit down Steve! 250 billion dollars a year to help poor nations - that does include direct aid and the transfer of high tech technology.

CURWOOD: They're going to need a very big table!

GELLERMAN: Yeah, and there are a number of formulas and ways the negotiators are going to come up with it – here’s Yvo De Boer again.

DE BOER: At the end of the day, it always comes out of the taxpayer’s pocket. I hope that we will find a formula that basically follows the polluter-pays principle, and as far as I’m concerned, you can eat strawberries in the dead of winter, providing that you pay the environmental cost associated with getting those strawberries to you at that unsustainable moment in time.

A sign posted near the UNFCCC meeting. (Photo: Bruce Gellerman)

CURWOOD: So the rich pay for their high carbon diets?

GELLERMAN: Exactly, that’s the idea - and while the United States is the richest nation, China recently surpassed us as the number one polluter of greenhouse gases - which was why all the negotiators here in Bonn were talking about the bi-lateral negotiations going on between the United States and China in Beijing.

I spoke with Jonathan Pershing; he’s the deputy special envoy for climate change in the State Dept. He just flew into Bonn right from Beijing.

Jonathan Pershing.

PERSHING: My sense is that the Chinese are moving, that the Chinese are engaged in this dialogue at the most senior level of government, that climate change partly because of the U.S. interest and partly because of consequences to China of climate change has taken hold as a topic that they weren't working on five years ago and that’s now become one of the significant areas of interest. I think the bottom line is the question of how quickly we can all move.

CURWOOD: Bruce, before you go, tell about the speculation around President Obama coming to Copenhagen.

GELLERMAN: Yes, there was a lot of talk about that - which is why I asked Yvo de Boer, the executive Secretary of the UN Framework on Climate Change, if he thought President Obama would show up in Copenhagen in December for the final negotiations.

DE BOER: I think it would help a lot because Mr. Obama would come to celebrate success, so his arrival would be the signal of that.

GELLERMAN: Do you expect to see him there?

DE BOER: I don’t know.

GELLERMAN: I guess the question is “Do you expect to be successful?”

DE BOER: Um, I expect to be successful. I think we have to be successful. I think that Copenhagen is a unique moment in time that the world is looking for an answer there. What we’re still lacking is the Paul Revere who can ride out and get us the answer in Copenhagen. That’s why I’m calling for political leadership, but I think it will be done.

GELLERMAN: I can just see it - President Obama riding a horse through the streets of Copenhagen yelling, “Climate change is coming - climate change is coming!”

A protester asks for change. (Photo: Bruce Gellerman)

CURWOOD: Ha. So what happens next, Bruce?

GELLERMAN: There are three more rounds of UN talks - this summer and fall: Bonn, Bangkok and Barcelona. But the real action will be in Italy next month when the world’s wealthiest nations meet, and then in September when heads of state meet at the UN in New York - and then there's another big meeting in Pittsburg – and then on to Copenhagen in December.

CURWOOD: Thanks Bruce.

GELLERMAN: My pleasure Steve.

CURWOOD: Living on Earth's Bruce Gellerman at the UN Climate negotiations in Bonn, Germany.



Read the UNFCCC draft negotiating text.

To see the website of the Bonn Negotiations, click here.

To see videos of statements from governments, UN officials and non-governmental organization at the Bonn meet, click here.

To see a video of the closing press statement from Jonathan Pershing, Deputy Special Envoy on Climate for the United States, click here.


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