Climate Change

European Commission counselor Donkers looks to next steps after Kyoto Protocol

Delegates from around the world will head to Montreal later this month for a conference on global warming and the Kyoto Protocol. For the first time, countries will begin discussing what to do after the Kyoto treaty expires in 2012. Robert Donkers, environment counselor to the European Commission delegation, explains the strategies European nations may use to get developing nations such as China and India to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Donkers also discusses whether new interest in global warming policy in Congress and in the U.S. private sector will affect the Bush administration's stance on international climate negotiations.


Brian Stempeck: Hello and welcome to OnPoint. My name is Brian Stempeck. My guest today is Robert Donkers. He's the environment counselor to the European Commission delegation to the United States. Mr. Donkers thanks a lot for being here today.

Robert Donkers: Thank you for inviting me.

Brian Stempeck: Now we have the U.N. Conference of the Parties that's coming up later this month in Montreal. It's basically the first time we're going to see the signatories to the Kyoto Protocol talk about what might happen next after 2012. As you head to this conference this month what are you expecting to see?

Robert Donkers: Well this is a combined conference. It's the 11th Conference of the Parties of the U.N. Framework Convention, so there's a lot of things to be done there. But as you said, yes, this is the first meeting really after the Kyoto Protocol came into force in February this year. And there's a lot of things to make the show really going, because that was a formal agreement, but now we have to have a lot of implementation measures. So the first and foremost issue there of course is to implement the commitments and to get that on the road.

Brian Stempeck: Now as you start talking about what happens after 2012, what are your expectations going in? What are you going to be trying to do during this meeting?

Robert Donkers: Well, so far the parties to Kyoto, unfortunately with the exception of the U.S. and Australia, they of course have made their commitments which they have to implement between now and 2012. But we would like to see of course after 2012, both developing countries and the U.S. and Australia to commit to a second round. Not necessarily as part of Kyoto because that may leave it difficult to accept for these countries, but at least there should be recognition that we have to do more than what is now on the table.

Brian Stempeck: What kind of measures are you considering? I mean everyone talks about in order to really address global warming you need to involve China, you need to involve India, Brazil, some of these developing nations that aren't really subject to mandatory targets under the Kyoto Protocol. How do you get those countries back to the table for a post-2012 treaty?

Robert Donkers: Well they are at the table. They were at the table. They are parties.

Brian Stempeck: Sure.

Robert Donkers: But we thought that since the developed countries have created most of the damage and the emissions, we shouldn't immediately ask these countries to also reduce their emissions while they're still in a very steep growth pattern. So we would like to encourage them to come onboard, but not with reductions, but at least to be very efficient in their use of the energy and also a spread of energy sources and not just the most polluting ones. So what we would like is to start discussing, but I don't think we will end up with that in Montreal already. But the beginning of that discussion is to have a system where every country, according to its capabilities and competencies, engage itself to certain targets to get a sustainable part of energy use. And it may still be for these countries that they grow in their energy use, but they could do it in a very energy efficient way.

Brian Stempeck: Now there's been some talk about, currently the United States has a target related to greenhouse gas intensity, basically linking greenhouse gas emissions with economic growth and trying to reduce the amount of emissions per unit of economic growth. Is that a way to get China and India and these countries that are very concerned with the growth of their economies, is that a way to get them to sign onto some kind of mandatory commitment, by maybe going to this kind of metric?

Robert Donkers: I think so, but then specifically for developing countries. I don't think this is the real way for a developed country like the U.S. Because even with the 18 percent targets for 2012, intensity target, by the way 14 percent would've been happening anyway. This is not influenced by ...

Brian Stempeck: These are natural efficiency gains.

Robert Donkers: Yeah, exactly. So let's say the added value is 3 or 4 percent now, under this administration, but anyway, U.S. will still go up 30 to 32 percent emissions even with reducing the intensity. And we think that that's something indeed you can ask from developing countries, but not from developed countries who have been already having their economic growth for the last hundred years or so.

Brian Stempeck: So if you had your ideal situation, you're looking out past 2012, would you see a split like that where you have China and India say reducing 20 percent on an intensity target and then the United States and other countries signing on to actual emissions reductions ...

Robert Donkers: Yeah, I think so. There should be absolute targets for developed worlds and there should be relative targets for these countries, yes.

Brian Stempeck: There doesn't seem to be much interest though from the United States in going on that approach.

Robert Donkers: No.

Brian Stempeck: As you've seen, they're not a signatory to Kyoto. The United States has its own intensity target. What do you expect to see from the United States in Montreal?

Robert Donkers: Well that's a very good question and I've been part of the discussions with the U.S. and State Department to find out what their plans are. But they don't want to discuss at all any post-2012 issue. No word so far has been coming out of anyone, anyone in the administration.

Brian Stempeck: Any thoughts on what it will take from your commission to get them back to the table?

Robert Donkers: Well, they think that we only should focus what they are doing and that's focusing on technology and development. And we don't disagree with that. Of course if you really want to get to a carbon, not carbon free, but at least a much more smart use of the carbon as we have and also with other sources, then of course you have to have a lot of technology. So we fully cooperated with the U.S. on that and hydrogen economy and on other issues, but for us that is not the solution. Its part of the recipe, but it's not the only ingredient. And you asked me a very tough question, if we would know, if I would know or one of my colleagues would know how to get the U.S. on the table. I think they should get more pressure, both from industry, who is confronted with our successes in Europe, with our emission trading scheme with their doubters there and also by the regional royalties now coming up in the U.S. at state level. It's like in California, but also in the New England states. I think there are a lot of people and a lot of entities in the U.S. pressing for other and more policy signals and directions and not just a technology framework.

Brian Stempeck: Does it concern you at all though that you see leaders like Tony Blair coming out and saying, sounding a lot more like the Bush administration lately, talking about the need for clean coal, for nuclear or these technologies. And it seems like Blair is pushing more for the U.S. way of doing things. Does that concern you?

Robert Donkers: No. I don't think so. And people who take only these lines out of Prime Minister Blair's speech apparently haven't bothered to read the rest of his speech, which is still on the line of E.U., that there has to be severe targets. There has to be severe reductions in emissions, absolute emissions, together, as I just said, with technology development.

Brian Stempeck: As you look out beyond 2012 is a tough to gauge progress so far? It seems like a lot of the reductions in Kyoto happen between 2008 and 2012. So you have people on both sides, you have critics of Kyoto who will say right now, well, these countries aren't on target yet to make the reductions. And then you have members of the commission, other countries, saying well yes we are, our projections. But both sides are really looking at projections. Is it hard to look at 2012 without really having the full experience of the 2008 to 2012 time period under Kyoto?

Robert Donkers: It's difficult, but yeah, as you said, both sides are having their information on that. I mean I think the ones who are, like the 5th of October when we had this hearing in the Environment and Public Works Committee and Senator Inhofe said, well, they will never meet it. I mean the finish line is not on the 5th of October or not today on the 16th of November. And some of these measures are put in place and there will be others to be put in place if the economy changes, if the oil prices go down. I mean if it's raining more or it's freezing more, it's very difficult to put that all in an equation and say OK we have exactly 8 percent or we are 7.95566. That is very difficult, but that's why with the current policies we have in place in the European Union we aim for a bit higher than 8 percent.

Brian Stempeck: Now you just brought up the EPW hearing and I wanted to ask about that. I wanted to get your thoughts on what's happening in the U.S. Congress lately. In the past year climate change seems to have gotten more traction than it ever really has in the past.

Robert Donkers: Yeah.

Brian Stempeck: With some very close votes. The McCain-Lieberman bill is continuing to be pushed forward. Recently we've seen some members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee talking about how they're getting involved with some resolutions. What's your take on what's happening in the U.S. Congress right now?

Robert Donkers: I think however slowly, and I mean from our point of view slowly, but nevertheless encouragingly, there are some discussions going on. And I think it's only logical because climate change is not something for 10 or 20 or 50 years from now. I mean the permafrost is melting in the state of Alaska. There are severe droughts in Arizona, etc. I mean it's there. Now of course, and I don't want to have a big discussion on hurricanes, but I mean there are clear evidences that things are changing. Now we can wait and see until we have 100 percent of proof that it is climate change. Or we can use some let's say, as we call it, no regret policy and you take some action. It will always be good for your energy efficiency. It will always be good for energy independence and security. So I think that notion I think I see more and more reflected in discussions in the Senate at both sides of the aisle.

Brian Stempeck: Are you encouraged by these discussions so far? I mean what you think actually has the traction to get through the U.S. Congress?

Robert Donkers: Well, that is a difficult one, but I think with the current oil prices, and I don't think they will go down much, I think that that's already a good incentive to think through. I mean nobody would've imagined, not even two months ago, that the president of United States would encourage us to drive less. I mean this is revolutionary in that sense, that there's a notion that energy is not just forever there in terms of on the oil basis or as oil. And we have to be a bit more smarter there. Now, then climate change will be in the slipstream. So the driver will not necessarily be the issue, what can we do about climate change? But other issues will lead to be more smart and will lead to also less emissions in due course.

Brian Stempeck: Beyond what's happening in Capitol Hill, you also mentioned some of the things are happening in the states right now. In the Northeast we're seeing the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. Now I've heard European Commission members say in the past that there's a possibility that Europe could work with the Northeast or work with certain regions when it comes to say emissions trading. Do you still think that's on the table?

Robert Donkers: No, not for the first period, because we have now our pilots on the emission trading scheme, which started January this year. And we go for real, it's real of course, its market, so it's already working. But we go for the real real in terms of making our commitment to Kyoto in 2008. These rules are set and the rules of the game are set. We won't be able, under the current legislation we have in Europe, to link with other systems if they are certain national. And especially with countries who haven't signed and ratified Kyoto. But with post-2012 I think it's still open.

Brian Stempeck: You mentioned that the markets have basically been working for about a year now. What do you think is the lesson to take from how the European emissions trading scheme has moved forward in the past year?

Robert Donkers: Well we're still having some teething problems, but I think it has been taken serious. It's the biggest market in the world. And we are taking the lessons. We will be evaluating the pros and cons, not in terms of that we will abandon it. I think I can already say we will continue. But there may be some things which have to be improved and so on. I think the overall lesson is that this is, yeah, I think it's the first very good example of a market-based instrument working where we normally, until now, in Europe really were working only with command-and-control measures. So I think this is a very valuable experience.

Brian Stempeck: All right Rob. We're out of time. We're going to stop there. Thank you for being on the show.

Robert Donkers: Thank you.

Brian Stempeck: I'm Brian Stempeck. This is OnPoint. Thanks for watching.

[End of Audio]



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