JEFFREY SACHS ON THE US AS OBSTACLE TO A CLIMATE TREATY

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28 october 2009

"US a laggard in climate negotiations"

Nitin Sethi, Times of India, TNN 28 October 2009

Jeffery Sachs, high profile director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, says the US is lagging, which would be one of the main reasons for the world not reaching an agreement in Copenhagen. Excerpts from the interview:

On changes in the US policy and attitude to climate change.
The US is finally waking up to this challenge but there has not been a complete organised breakthrough yet. We also had a major public opinion survey come out last week, which shows dismal level of ignorance of Americans on science on this issue. Only one in three believe in human induced climate change. There is serious misinformation, which is impeding the political process. A part of the business community has been mischievous. Some major companies such as Exxon Mobil have played a real role in creating confusion and disinformation.

By when do you expect a law on climate change to be passed in the US?
The likelihood is we will get legislative action by end of 2010.

On the US government's position that it will not offer any numbers for GHG mitigation or finance unless they have legislation.
It is the job of the president to put out a vision even if the Congress hasn't acted yet. They should state numbers, intentions, give rest of the international community something to work with than simply saying we are trying out best.

The US remains a laggard in international negotiations. I think China and India and other countries have every right to expect the US to go forward and explain what they are prepared to do. The fact of the matter is because of the US lagging, not the only reason but one of the main ones, we won't reach any kind of comprehensive agreement in Copenhagen.

On the difficulties within US economy to move fast on the issue.
US is not going to get anywhere close to the numbers the IPCC has called for -- 25-40% cuts below 1990 levels by 2020. Probably, for the US economy it is too late for that. What is really the fact of this issue is that the ability to constrain emissions depends on the investments in infrastructure and change in the industrial base over time. The US has not only wasted its own time, it has wasted the world's time for many years. And, its not going to be immediately recaptured. At the same time, the US public doesn't feel it wants to spend anything on developing countries.

Can the obstacles be overcome by December?
I doubt it. But I do think it is the responsibility of the president of the US to be explaining much more to the American people what the issues are and why we need to fund some of the change in India and the poorer countries or in Africa for example.

On the breach of trust between the rich countries and the rest.
The fact is that the rich countries have promised a lot over the years to poor countries that they have not delivered. There is a great reticence to talk about financing in general. Poorer countries have every right, in my view, to be annoyed with the way these numbers (on aid and climate support) have been quoted and withdrawn, promised then not fulfilled in the past. This is where lack of trust is coming from.

On carbon-based trade barriers proposed by EU countries and the US.
A unilateral imposition of border tax arrangement would be wholly inappropriate because it would be like saying rich countries can dictate terms of climate adjustments to the world and then choose what penalties will be imposed, irrespective of whether they are helping to finance the arrangements in the rest of the world.


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