Interview from Bonn
Air Date: Week of October 17, 1997
Guest host Laura Knoy talks with Steve Curwood on assignment in Bonn, Germany about the currrent climate negotiations going on there. And the mood is...
KNOY: In December the nations of the world are scheduled to come together in Kyoto, Japan, to agree on mandatory limits on the emissions of greenhouse gases, which are believed to be warming the Earth. But before the Kyoto meeting, there's one final round of preliminary negotiations. Delegations are gathering in Bonn, Germany, from October 20th to the 31st. Our host, Steve Curwood, is covering the event, and he joins me now from Bonn. Hi, Steve.
CURWOOD: Hi, Laura. Hey, thanks for holding down the fort while I'm out here on assignment.
KNOY: No problem. What is going on at the climate negotiations there in Bonn?
CURWOOD: Well, the mood here is fairly pessimistic and nervous, Laura, primarily because the US, which after all is the world's biggest gorilla when it comes to emitting greenhouse gases, has yet to officially put its proposal for limits on the table. And you know, unofficially, just about everything that the Clinton Administration has floated as trial balloons has gotten both the Europeans and the developing world upset. You've got to remember that after Rio 5 years ago, the world agreed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to at least their levels of 1990. It was a voluntary program, and many nations tried to comply with it, though. Even though most of them didn't make it, in fact only Germany and the UK actually made it. But the point here is the US didn't even try. I mean, our emissions are up by some 13% from 1990. So the Europeans and the island nations want some substantial cuts to show that the US is serious about this issue. The island nations that are threatened with flooding if global warming takes off want a 20% cut below the 1990 levels. The Europeans would like to see a 15% cut. And the Japanese have recently proposed a 5% cut. The sharpest cut that the US has floated informally has been to just go back to the 1990 levels, not below them, with a lot of years to do it. And also, the US is pushing something hard here that the rest of the world doesn't really seem to like very much. It's something called joint implementation.
KNOY: Joint implementation. That definitely sounds like something that would come out of a diplomatic conference.
CURWOOD: (Laughs) Yeah. Well, you're right. They're long words, but it reflects a really interesting concept. I mean, essentially the idea is that, say, in Eastern Europe or China where there are a lot of dirty and inefficient power plants, it's more cost effective for a US company to build, say, the Bulgarians or the Chinese a new power plant that emits a lot less CO2 than it is for that US company to replace, say, a moderately efficient plant. And since the world only has one atmosphere, CO2 molecules saved in Beijing is just the same as one saved in Cleveland.
KNOY: So how does the rest of the world feel about it? The other countries involved?
CURWOOD: Well, they're not completely opposed but they really don't like it very much, because they don't want the US to use joint implementation as a way of avoiding dealing with our own emissions. Because buying an overseas power plant or sequestering carbon in a saved rainforest doesn't change the way we do business, we do industry, the way we do research here in the United States. The Europeans say that so far the US just hasn't taken enough concrete steps to show that we're really serious about dealing with the threat of global warming. We keep debating it. In Europe, the debate over the science seems to be over. Business officials I've talked to, government officials, private citizens all pretty much agree that global warming is a real enough threat to do something about it now. So, the joint implementation idea may be a good one, but the US plans come across as a stalling tactic.
KNOY: Is there anything in it for the developing countries?
CURWOOD: Yeah, there is. There would be the exchange of technology, but and the developing nations like that idea but they don't like the way the US is casting joint implementation. And they fear that if US companies come in to do joint implementation, they would snap up the lowest hanging fruit. The easiest sorts of emissions to limit or reduce. So that in the future, if the developing countries do get drawn into an agreement to reduce emissions, it will cost them more. The easy things will already have been done. As one minister of the environment for an African country told me, he said, "Look, Zimbabwe doesn't have any CO2 emissions, and in fact to grow, we're going to have to have some. And we're not going to take a plan that keeps us poor. In fact, we think joint implementation will make us poorer." Laura, there's an irony here. I think if the US weren't pushing so hard for joint implementation and trying to drag the developing nations into the Kyoto deal, probably at this point, probably some form of it would actually get into the agreement. But because the US has dragged its feet for so long, suspicions are really high. Indeed, the parties here in Bonn seem so far apart, you know, there may not be any deal in Kyoto at all.
KNOY: Steve, thanks for talking with us. And have a safe trip back.
CURWOOD: I'll try. Thanks, Laura.
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