Sustainability: Global Climate Pact

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Arizona State University sustainability professor Sonja Klinsky recently returned from a United Nations meeting in Bonn, Germany where she helped fine-tune a draft of a global climate pact. Klinsky will discuss what occurred at that meeting and the goals of the pact.

TED SIMONS: Tonight's look at sustainability issues focuses on ASU professor Sonja Klinsky and her efforts to help fine-tune a United Nations global climate pact agreement at a recent conference in Germany. Sonja Klinsky joins us now to talk about what was talked about. Good to have you here.

SONJA KLINKSKY: Thanks for having me.

TED SIMONS: Alright, fine tuning a global climate pact draft. What are we talking about here?

SONJA KLINKSKY: This is an incredibly important year in the climate change world. In Paris this December there will be a global climate agreement which, for the first time, will involve absolutely every single country, taking some kind of action on climate change. As you can imagine this is not the kind of thing you write overnight. So it's really been a couple of years' process. The meeting that just happened in Germany was kind of the last chance to get the ducks in a row and get it lined up before the big negotiations this December.

TED SIMONS: And you were there in Germany watching of the ducks get lined up.

SONJA KLINKSKY: You know the old saying, trying to herd cats? Well, ducks are far more difficult. It's been a very slow, complicated process. I've been observing for a number of years now.

TED SIMONS: From what I've read now -- forget what I've read. Let's ask you. What does the pact call for?

SONJA KLINKSKY: The pact is really the most important part of it says that every country in the world has some obligation to deal with climate change, and every country in the world will do something. The important thing to remember, it sounds very vague, I know. But the important thing to remember is that every country is completely unique. Just imagine juxtaposing in your mind the United States, Sierra Leone, South Africa and India. Those are very different countries and for the first time ever they have all agreed to do something towards climate change, whatever is appropriate to their own country. The big part of this pact is every country coming forward with a commitment towards mitigation. By mitigation I mean what are we going do to reduce greenhouse gas emissions? That's a core part of this agreement.

TED SIMONS: If the goal, I read, was for temperature increase to global temperature, to cut it two degrees Celsius to preindustrial? Talk to us about that.

SONJA KLINKSKY: This has been an ongoing conversation. The best knowledge we have from science that is at a two-degree warming point we can still manage the warming without really major catastrophic effects. The concern is we don't really know what's going to happen after that. There's a huge potential for much more serious impacts. Several years ago the global climate process agreed to try to limit it to two degrees Celsius, kind of the mandate they are working within for this agreement.

TED SIMONS: So that's the framework and all the countries and nations of the world are getting together, I can do this, I can do that. What about those that can't do much because they simply can't afford it?

SONJA KLINKSKY: This is a huge part of the deal, a big issue. There's actually a number of countries --There are two issues here. One is what are you going to do to stop climate change, and the other is what are you going to do to protect your citizens from climate impacts. Certain countries are very vulnerable to climate changes this is a huge issue. Imagine a country like Bangladesh, which is very low lying. It already has a lot of human development issues and climate change could make those things worse. The global climate pact, if you will, has two elements to this: There is support, so financial support to help financially deal with the impacts of it. And helping countries make those big up-front investments they might not be able to make otherwise. Imagine you're India with huge solar potential. Investing in the initial solar panels is a big cost and you maybe can't afford it. In the long run economically you'd be better off. Part of this deal is trying to figure out is there a way wealthier countries can help poorer countries make those big upfront investments so that they can then contribute more.

TED SIMONS: And again, from what you're working on, is that more of a framework or are we getting to specific things?

SONJA KLINKSKY: Right now we're at a stage where the specific conversations are really starting to happen. There are three big parts to the deal. One is how much each country will reduce emissions. The second is how do we deal with adaptation, how are we going to deal with the impacts of climate change of the final one is what needs to happen to facilitate the kind of action in all countries. And what's happening right now literally as we speak in rooms around the world, are countries coming up with drafting their plans. A number of them have been released, countries proposing what they will do.

TED SIMONS: Is there a problem with the changing nature of science, what you discover, what you learn, what's developed by way of technology is moving the goal posts a little bit here as many this is great here in Germany and Paris by the end of the year, but science has already moved past. Is there a concern?

SONJA KLINKSKY: There's two elements here. In terms of the science of climate change, it doesn't change that fast. We've basically have heard the same messages with just increasing severity over the last almost 20 years. What we're really saying in the science of climate change is the problem is becoming more serious than we thought and more certain than we originally thought. Where science is really exciting is the other end of it, huge opportunities here, in terms of in motivation for technologies, in terms of abilities we didn't think we could, because the cost of solar production has really dropped, which is a game-changer for many countries like China who couldn't have afforded to do what they're doing now. They are making huge investments in solar energy that are just unprecedented. We never imagined that. Where science is really exciting and where it is a game-changer is the rapidity with which we're seeing new technologies come on board and the prices drop because we're learning by doing.

TED SIMONS: If I'm Bangladesh and I want to use this technology because it's very important to me, and by the time I get the technology up it's already obsolete, that's got to be a concern.

SONJA KLINKSKY: It depends on how you look at it. Having a solar panel that's working and driving your cottage industry is a solar panel you didn't have before. It might not be top of the line but it actually does the job. It's not such a big issue. The bigger question is how are we going to spur the kind of innovation in the long run that we need in this space. That is really a key issue. Solving the technology problem probably won't be addressed in the Paris agreement immediately but it's definitely part of the conversation. It sets a framework to have further technology discussions.

TED SIMONS: Last question: The place of the United States in these discussions now and in the discussions in Paris. We've been all over the map seems like in the U.S. regarding climate change officially. Where are we now and what place do we hold?

SONJA KLINKSKY: So the United States is obviously a really key player within the international space. We have consistently played a pretty constructive role, countries don't always agree with us, but a pretty constructive role in setting the scope for the debate. One of the real contributions the United States has made is bringing a better recognition of the importance of local action to the issue. American negotiators have really emphasized the importance of city level and state level engagement and the role of industry, which is pretty groundbreaking in the climate space.

TED SIMONS: And at least the United States now seems to have more interest than maybe it had in the past regarding these discussions.

SONJA KLINKSKY: And whether we like it or not, we can't forget, which is really a huge opportunity. This is all about innovation and the United States is pretty good at innovation.

TED SIMONS: Congratulations on your efforts and good luck as this process goes on.

SONJA KLINKSKY: Thank you very much.

TED SIMONS: That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons, thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening.

Sonja Klinsky : Arizona State University sustainability Professor

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