Graciela Chichilnisky was extensively involved in the creation of the Kyoto Protocol, designing the global carbon market that became international law in 2005. She has been a lead author of the IPCC and is a professor of economics and mathematical statistics at Columbia University.
She's written a book called Saving Kyoto: An Insider's Guide to the Kyoto Protocol released just a few months ago. She took the time out from her busy schedule in Copenhagen to talk to me about the importance of the Kyoto Protocol, the likely outcome of COP15 and the strong need for effective carbon sequestration technologies and emissions reductions NOW.
What do you see as the greatest successes of the Kyoto Protocol?
The greatest success of the Kyoto Protocol was to introduce for the first time in history, hard emission limits - nation by nation - for the wealthy nations who are the main emitters -- and a carbon market to regulate them. Through the carbon market, over-emitters compensate under-emitters - this makes clean energy profitable and dirty energy undesirable for the first time in history. It changes the prices of all goods and services in the world economy.
The developing nations are not part of the carbon market because they have no emission limits - but they have strong incentives and participate in the carbon market structure through the Clean Development Mechanism that rewards with carbon credits those projects that are carried out in developing nations' soil and are funded by industrial nations -- to the extent that they can be certified as providing carbon emissions reductions.
The carbon market is now trading $120 billion per year, and the CDM has transferred $25 billion in clean projects in developing nations - representing a 20% reduction of EU's emissions.
A few weeks ago the reports were saying it was unlikely that anything meaningful would come out of Copenhagen, but now reports are starting to say the opposite. What do you think the COP15 talks will realistically accomplish and what would be your dream scenario?
The situation is confusing since the various groups know what they oppose but not how to achieve what they want. I am counting on the introduction of a $200 billion/year fund underwritten by OECD nations but funded from private sources, to develop power plants in poor, developing nations that suck carbon from air. To achieve this we need to accredit "carbon negative technologies" - [carbon sequestration], a process that was recently endorsed by Dr. Pachauri, lead of the IPCC -- and this is what I am working on here in Copenhagen.
The Indian government recently said it doesn't expect any financial help from developed nations in reducing its emissions. What obligation do wealthier, developed nations have to poorer, developing ones in the fight against climate change?
The first thing developed nations must do is to move forward the Kyoto Protocol emissions reductions post 2012 - since Kyoto's obligations terminate in 2012. Wealthy nations emit over 60% of the global emissions even though they house less than 20% of humankind. The critical issue is to cut their emissions, seriously.
How important is cap and trade legislation when it comes to the U.S.'s ability to reduce emissions?
It is crucial because "cap and trade" - as its name indicates - requires "caps" before it can work - and this is exactly what is needed: Caps on emissions by wealthy nations who are the main emitters. Carbon taxes do not achieve caps. In addition, the carbon market provides flexibility that is important as well.
By the way, "cap and trade" legislation is simply a local version in the U.S. of the Kyoto Protocol. The U.S. is therefore adopting a domestic version of the Kyoto Protocol.
Last week, the EPA announced that it has finalized its endangerment ruling on greenhouse gases and that "it will act" to curb climate pollution. Do you think this will help push Congress along to a better climate bill? Do you think it will help us negotiate better commitments at COP15?
Yes. This means that the executive branch of government (President Obama) can impose carbon emissions limits on its own without the Congress, according to the 2007 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, and confirming to the provisions of the U.S. Clean Air Act. This will allow President Obama to offer meaningful U.S. emission cuts in Copenhagen, which President Clinton could not deliver in Kyoto.
Other than a thriving carbon market, what do you see as an essential element to global climate action? Is there a renewable energy technology that you see as most promising?
I see as very promising - indeed necessary - all safe technologies that are carbon negative - namely decreasing in net terms the carbon concentration in the planet's atmosphere. The UK Royal Society and Dr. Pachauri of the IPCC have both endorsed carbon sequestration for this purpose. I have published scientific articles showing that only carbon negative technologies can avert the worst forms of climate change; we have procrastinated too long.
Is there anything else you think our readers should know about what's at stake at the COP15 talks?
The climate is very emotional because most participants are lost - do not know what to do. However, once a reasonable solution emerges, the negotiations will become much more productive.
I believe my one-two punch - carbon negative technologies that allow the building of power plants in poor nations using funding from the Kyoto Protocol - and the $200 billion/year fund that I have proposed are a possible solution for the current impasse in Copenhagen and the beginning of a win-win solution that involves a safer atmosphere and also accelerated development in poor nations - providing the energy needed for adaptation and mitigation of existing climate change damages in poor nations
Is there anything our readers can do to help?
Yes, talk with your friends as widely as possible - organize parties -- and spread the word virally of the importance of doing something about climate change ASAP.
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