Last week we posted our interview with Erik Solheim, Norway’s Minister for the Environment. We asked the minister to comment on our debate on nuclear energy and the challenges facing global climate change negotiations. On the latter point, the minister told Debating Europe that:
The number one problem when it comes to climate change negotiations is the Republican party of the United States of America. As long as the US, due to the efforts of the Republicans, are not able to come up with a considerate approach to climate change then there are limits to what the rest can do.
We had a number of interesting reactions from readers. Mike Mangan, a Republican voter, criticised Europe’s “childish environmental fantasies” and argued that all subsidies for “bogus” renewable energy technologies should be eliminated. Karl-Friedrich Lenz argued for a more market-based approach (and we will take his suggestion to policy-makers and experts for some reactions). Willy De Backer, on the other hand, thought that it was “too easy” to scapegoat the Republicans when the problem was much more complex, whilst Giovanni Macchia agreed with Minister Solheim that the Republicans must share some of the blame.
We asked Dr Fatih Birol, Chief Economist of the International Energy Agency (IEA) – and a man recently described by Forbes as the fourth most powerful person in the world in terms of influence on the global energy scene – if he agreed with Minister Solheim that the Republican party in the US was the number one problem.
When I look at the climate change issue, where the energy sector is the main responsible sector and where two-thirds of emissions come from energy – I see that almost half of all emissions are coming from just two countries: the US and China. It is very important that both of those two countries take measures. Even though the other 191 members of the UN might come to agreement, if those two countries don’t move then it won’t change the picture much.
In Europe we talk a lot about whether we should reduce emissions by 20 per cent or by 30 per cent. The difference between 20 per cent or 30 per cent in Europe is equal to two weeks of the emmissions of China. To put it into context – whatever is done in Europe, if the others do not move together, will not matter. Therefore, while I appreciate the exempliary efforts made in Europe, it needs to be accompanied by efforts made in China and the US.
But are the Republicans to blame for the lack of movement by the US? Or are the Democrats also a part of the problem? Has President Obama done enough to help tackle climate change?
There have been several signifcant efforts made in the United States recently, for example in improving efficiency standards. It would be wrong to say that enough has been done, however.
Regardless of who is to blame, then, would you agree with Minister Solheim that the “big bang” approach of Copenhagen has failed? We have to approach the problem “stone by stone” in order to reach global agreement?
I’m afraid that we would need a “big bang” approach if we wanted to limit the temperature increase to 2 degrees, because what is happening now is that the global energy infrastrucutre is being locked in. In the absence of any signal from the international climate change negotiations – much infrastructure is now being built. These are going to emit for 50 or 60 years. If we are really serious about keeping temperatures lower than 2 degrees celsius, we need a big bang approach. We need an international legally binding agreement. Whether or not that is feasible is another question.
What about the discussion on nuclear energy that we’ve been having? What does Dr Birol think of the suggestion we had from Max that countries in Europe should all follow Germany and Italy’s lead and abandon nuclear power?
Some countries are retreating from nuclear power – and it is their right to choose what they go for. However, it is far from being a secret that, in the absence of nuclear power – the alternatives will be extremely, extremely expensive. We may not like nuclear power, but it is one of the very few electricity generating sources which doesn’t produce CO2 emissions. Therefore, the retreat from nuclear may mean we may not be able to reach our climate goals.
What do YOU think? Do you agree with Dr Birol that we need a “big bang” approach to climate change negotiations? Perhaps you agree with Minister Solheim that the only way to proceed now is by taking a step-by-step approach? Or maybe you agree with Mike Mangan that these are “childish environmental fantasies”? Let us know in the form below and we’ll take your comments to experts and policy-makers for their reactions.