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

U.S. Still Behind in Climate Talks

Air Date: Week of

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Jennifer Morgan is Director of the Climate and Energy Program at the World Resources Institute. (World Resources Institute)

Jennifer Morgan of the World Resources Institute is at the climate talks in China. She tells host Bruce Gellerman the international community is still looking to America and hoping President Obama will take a strong stand on cutting greenhouse gas emissions.


GELLERMAN: Jennifer Morgan was also in Tienjin. She once served as a senior advisor on climate change to the British and German governments. These days Jennifer Morgan is Director of the Climate and Energy Program at the World Resources Institute.

MORGAN: I think the mood is mostly one of pragmatism- a sense that there’s quite a lot at stake with these negotiations. So, you do have a greater sense that people are trying to find solutions to get some outcomes at the next big meeting in Cancun.

GELLERMAN: Jennifer, what’s the biggest nut to crack in the climate talks?

MORGAN: I think one piece is countries around the world- many of whom are already moving to put renewable energy laws in place and energy efficiency laws in place- are looking to see that the United States is really serious about tackling this problem.

The lack of the Senate’s ability to even vote on a climate bill has brought a bit of dismay, I would say, internationally. So, I think one big step is, that they need to hear from the President that this remains a priority and that he stands by the promise that he made at Copenhagen.

GELLERMAN: Can there be a new international climate treaty without US legislation?

MORGAN: It is possible. We, at WRI have done some analysis on how far the US could reduce its emissions. Based on some very basic authorities that the administration already has, given to it by the Supreme Court, and we found that if the US is able to, the administration, to really push far ahead and states move forward in acting- that without legislation they could get close to the Copenhagen pledge that the president made last year.

GELLERMAN: In the absence of federal legislation, the states have been moving ahead. Thirty or thirty-one states have renewable energy portfolio standards, which demand that there be an increased amount of renewable energy used in their states. But, there is the effort in California now, to roll that back- to move California away from a renewable energy standard.

MORGAN: Yes, I don’t understand that effort at all. California is one of the leaders, which has befitted it not only from, obviously, reducing emissions that cause global warming, but also making it much more efficient, and therefore less vulnerable to electricity and energy shocks, and also positioning itself in the clean energy race, as far as investments in renewable energy.

So, it doesn’t make sense either from an economic or an energy jobs or climate perspective. And I certainly hope that those efforts to roll that back don’t succeed.

GELLERMAN: Are we running out of time? The UN scientists had hoped to keep global warming below two degrees Celsius. There was a leaked document earlier this year that suggests we’re heading to three degrees Celsius.

MORGAN: Well we are certainly running out of time. I mean, the pace of these negotiations is so far away from the pace of the build up of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere and the impacts that are already starting to happen around the world.

And, what we would hope is that the gap would be closed between that science and the political will. We need emissions, optimally, to peak in 2015 to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. And unless leaders really re-emerge and make sure that the world collectively is on track, we are not going to be able to avoid some of those impacts.

Jennifer Morgan is Director of the Climate and Energy Program at the World Resources Institute. (World Resources Institute)

GELLERMAN: I remember in Copenhagen the sense of enthusiasm was palpable, and then by the time this thing ended, there was such a sense of disappointment. I’m just wondering now- do you feel that the momentum has been regained?

MORGAN: Some of the momentum is being regained. This weekend, actually, there is a day of action on the tenth of October in 2010, where I believe there are actions planned in over 170 countries around the world to take action and show that the movement to tackle climate change amongst youth and everyday citizens is still strong.

And I hope that that can enthuse the governments to listen to their citizens and not to be just dismayed from one meeting. But, to really take on this challenge and find solutions, because time is ticking. And, there is an opportunity to grasp in Cancun.

GELLERMAN: Well Jen, good luck. I look forward to seeing you in Cancun, Mexico.

MORGAN: Thanks! I think we will need luck, but hopefully luck will be on our side.

GELLERMAN: Jennifer Morgan is Director of the Climate and Energy Program of the Washington based World Resources Institute. She’s in Tienjin, China for the climate negotiations. Jennifer, thanks a lot.

MORGAN: You’re very welcome, thank you.

GELLERMAN: Living on Earth will have extensive coverage from Cancun when climate negotiators meet in December. And check out our website. There you can explore the issues, the effects and the science of climate change. You’ll find it at L-O-E dot org. And while you’re on line, head over to our Facebook page. It’s PRI’s Living on Earth.



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