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Q&A: “It Pays Off to Become More Energy Efficient”

Rousbeh Legatis interviews CONNIE HEDEGAARD, European Union commissioner for climate action

UNITED NATIONS, Sep 27 2011 (IPS) - With the Kyoto Protocol’s first commitment period set to expire in 2012, Connie Hedegaard, EU commissioner for climate action, is pushing for more countries to agree on binding commitments to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Connie Hedegaard Credit: Courtesy of Connie Hedegaard

Connie Hedegaard Credit: Courtesy of Connie Hedegaard

Heads of state will meet this December in Durban, South Africa, to renegotiate their commitment to creating a global response to the international challenge of climate change.

The most cost-efficient way forward in climate change policy making, according to Hedegaard, would be the marked-based system of trading emissions. “As politicians, we can set the targets, but it’s the businesses and the industries that have to come up (with) and implement very specific solutions” in order to halt adverse impacts of climate change, she said.

Hedegaard spoke to U.N. correspondent Rousbeh Legatis about European experiences in dealing politically with countries with high GHG emissions, their interests and emission reduction strategies.

Excerpts from the interview follow.

Q: In your opinion, where do we stand in terms of global climate policy-making?

I don’t think the (political) will is shrinking, but the problem is, it’s not growing – that is the challenge. Many governments are actually doing things domestically at home, so it’s not that they are not realising it is serious. I agree, however, that there is a contradiction between the urgency of the matter as we see climate change unfold in front of our eyes and the lack of good enough progress in the international process… That is why Europe is still pushing for an ambitious outcome of the international process. But in order to achieve that, we need not only emerging economies to commit, we need also the United States to commit and also to commit in a binding form…

Europe is expanding in renewables, even in these years when we also have economical challenges. We are making the transformation. So we are living proof that it makes a difference if you are actually committing in a more binding form and if you are setting targets, and that is why we think it’s so imperative that other big emitters are following that example.

Q: Why should other countries follow EU’s lead in climate policies?

A: We think that we can use ambitious climate policies as a driver for our economy. As we see it in Europe, this is also a question of who will be best positioned for taking what will be growing markets in the future – namely, the market for energy efficient solutions. So, we don’t only talk about climate as an isolated thing.

In the European debate climate, energy and resource efficiency, job creation as well as finding more innovative solutions (are) very much linked. And I think that these days you would have a hard time to find CEOs in Europe who would not realise that it pays off to become more energy efficient. We have shown in Europe it is possible, we have grown our economies over a period of time with more that 40 percent, we have grown the manufacture output with 36 percent and in the same period we decreased emissions. So for us it is not theory, we have shown over very many years in Europe we can have economic growth and yet diminish energy consumption and emissions. It is possible, it is doable.

Q: Looking at emerging countries’ carbon dioxide emission rates, which have increased dramatically, what kind of role do you think these countries should take on?

If you take Brazil, China, India or South Africa they have domestic targets and domestic policies starting to evolve. They are already doing things back home. But what we need in a global world with a global challenge like climate change (is) to agree on a global response. In the world of the 21st century it is not enough that the only one(s) who (are) signing up to the global response is Europe, 27 countries, plus Switzerland, Norway and maybe New Zealand. Together we might account for 13 to 14 percent of global emissions. What is about the last remaining more than 85 percent? We need them to commit also in a binding way. That doesn’t mean that we in Europe would ask the same from India as we ourselves should do. Of course, we in the rich part of the world will have to do more and we would have to do it before others. But the point is, in a globalised world, whatever we pledge, we must be legally and equally bound by it.

Q: Is there a risk that only emissions trading will be kept, while targets and binding elements of the Kyoto Protocol will be cut out?

The way we see it in Europe is that there is a link between having emissions trading and having a cap on emissions, because (otherwise) emissions trading is just another tax. The good thing is that you put a cap to how many emissions you can allow to be emitted and then there is a price for emitting that. But you sort of put the cap there in order to ensure that there is an environmental outcome as well. Up to recently Europe was alone in having such a carbon trade system, now Korea is doing the same, I understand that California is moving forward with some kind of carbon trade, Australia has right now a majority for getting this kind of legislation through the parliament having carbon trade from 2015, in New Zealand they have an emissions trading scheme.

So we are not in a perfect world yet, but… Europe (was) alone five years ago in making a carbon trade system. Now we can see countries start to follow, why? I think because when countries start to set domestic targets they realise that they have to find a system to reach them in the most cost-efficient way and that is by activating market forces.

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