CCAP's Helme discusses progress on international climate talks after Bonn meeting

Will the future of the Kyoto Protocol be resolved at this year's U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change meeting in Durban, South Africa? During today's OnPoint, Ned Helme, president of the Center for Clean Air Policy, explains why he believes negotiators should shift their focus to more achievable goals. He also discusses progress made among developing nations.


Monica Trauzzi: Hello and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today is Ned Helme, president of the Center for Clean Air Policy. Ned, thanks for coming back on the show.

Ned Helme: My pleasure, Monica.

Monica Trauzzi: Ned, coming off of last month's international climate talks in Bonn there were mixed messages from attendees. Some were saying that there were encouraging signs of progress, while others said that resolving the future of Kyoto is still pretty challenging. What's your take on the outcome of that meeting? Where do we stand right now?

Ned Helme: I think we didn't make much progress at the beginning. The first week there wasn't a lot of -- there was still fighting over the agenda and that sort of thing. But by the end of the second week we were starting to talk more seriously about the tax and about the key issues, so I'm not troubled by where we are. I think it's -- you know, it's kind of where you'd expect after a big success at Cancun. We're sort of -- you know, we've got a tougher row to hoe now until Durban and certainly the Kyoto issue you raised is going to be challenging. I think the key marker really though is to look on the ground, not to look so much at what's happening on the surface and in the negotiations in UNFCC, but really look at what's happening on the ground in developing countries. And we can go through a whole set of it, from China passing us in the amount of renewable wind energy they have, total capacity in their country to us, and they're going to far surpass us in the future taking on new efficiency targets to Columbia doing things with bus rapid transit and refining their freight fleet and making big improvements there. Chile doing things in renewables. So there's a massive amount of action. India now has targets for 50 percent of the industry has energy efficiency targets and these are all steps that countries are taking because they make sense from a development and from an environmental and health perspective and I think that's what you should look at, that there's significant movement by developing countries to really take action on things that make sense. And, you know, yes, that will filter up to the negotiations, but I think it's a mistake to just focus on the negotiations and sort of judging where are we on climate.

Monica Trauzzi: And there were some complaints from officials in developing nations that they were not getting the $30 billion in climate financing that they had been promised by the developed countries. Why have things gotten to that point, how have they gotten there and is that actually true? Is the money not getting to developing countries?

Ned Helme: My sense, you know, the question about the money, I think the money is there. Now, some of it's not completely new. Japan's the biggest donor and some of that money was there already. But I think step back, again, 30 billion compared to 3 billion over the first 17 years. I mean this is like a tenfold increase, so there's a big chunk of opportunity out there and that's part of what's fueling this effort that I was talking to you about, about developing countries taking action on the ground. They see the chance to have support for the kinds of things that make sense for their own purposes and their own development. So there's a very big excitement level on the ground because of the money, even though there will be some complaining at the national level, about, oh, we need more at the international level. They'll do that.

Monica Trauzzi: You sound optimistic. Are you being loftily optimistic about the progress since the big question is what to do about the future of Kyoto and that's really a difficult road ahead?

Ned Helme: I don't think I'm being loftily optimistic. I do think the truth is -- test is what's in the pudding? And the putting is we're seeing action and that's what we got at Copenhagen and then at Cancun the commitment to these targets and the countries are following up and doing it. And I think they've discounted the U.S. We haven't. You know, I think we still have a chance of getting there on our own with, you know, the good development in terms of natural gas being very available and lower cost, the new renewables technology. So I think we're going to see the progress in the U.S, but for the moment, we're stuck and countries have discounted that and they're really focused on what they can do. In terms of the Kyoto question, let's be honest, we're not going to have a second commitment period of Kyoto. Let's be honest, that's not going to happen. What's going to happen at Durban is basically going to be progress on the green fund, progress on nationally appropriate mitigation actions and progress on the monitoring, reporting, and verification. And that three some, that triumvirate of issues is the heart of whether or not we make it at Durban. And I think part of that will be this question you asked about the money. Will we see the commitments for money 2013 to 2015? UK has already stepped up. They said £2.9 billion for climate assistance through 2014. Amazing, in a country that's cutting its budget by 30 percent they're doubling the amount of money they're spending on foreign aid and on climate assistance. It's really a profile in courage by Mr. Cameron and that's the kind of story we need to focus on.

Monica Trauzzi: So, in terms of the U.S.'s role in all of this, one environmentalist described the Obama administration's role as hostage taking. How do you characterize it? How are they playing into this discussion?

Ned Helme: I think that's giving them too much power. I don't think -- I mean I'm frustrated with the U.S. to a degree, but, you know, this is the U.S. tactic. I mean, you know, what do we see at Cancun? They were hardball position in negotiation right up till last night and when the final package was all put together and it was a take it or leave it, they took it. And I think the same thing is true of the Chinese. I mean both of us, China and the U.S., we tend to negotiate very tough right to the end and then we suddenly -- all our objections we were screaming about an hour before melt away because we really got what we wanted. So it's tactical. I don't see it as hostage taking.

Monica Trauzzi: So, there's another meeting scheduled for September that will set the stage for the Durban meeting. What needs to happen at that September meeting?

Ned Helme: Well, I think my three issues. You know, national appropriate mitigation actions, what does that look like? What does the finance look like? We've really got to make progress on that. And what is the monitoring or reporting, the transparency of what people are doing? Those three areas are what you really want to focus on and see if we move the ball in those areas. And I think we will.

Monica Trauzzi: How much legwork still needs to be done to workout options that are acceptable to all parties?

Ned Helme: Well, I think in those three issues we're not so far apart. We can move on that. On this Kyoto issue, I think we'll have to -- people will have to back off and there will be a lot of gnashing of teeth and pressure and so on right up to Durban. But I think, in the end, people will say, look, we can't get this done at Durban. You know, everybody knows the U.S. cannot ratify anything. So what's the point? We're not going to get this done at this point. We need to let the pendulum swing back. You know, we know in American politics the pendulum swings wildly. It's been swinging a lot wildly the last, you know, year or two. But my sense is that will swing back. I think people know the U.S. can probably get to its target by 2020, if things shift. At the moment we can't do it because we've got huge economic problems, but over time I think we can do it.

Monica Trauzzi: OK, we'll end it there.

Ned Helme: Thank you.

Monica Trauzzi: Thanks for coming on the show.

Ned Helme: Great.

Monica Trauzzi: And thinks watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.

[End of Audio]



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