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It is absolutely possible to reduce CO2 emissions by making energy plants more effiient in places like China, US and Europe says Professor Giovanni Baiocchi of University of Maryland

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SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore.

The international panel on climate change at the United Nations has released its synthesis report this week.

And we are in our studio today talking to Doctor Giovanni Baiocchi.

Thanks for joining us today.


PERIES: So, before we left the first segment, we were having a conversation about the largest emitters around the world, China and the United States and some of the European countries, all of whom have–from what I understand, China has made a commitment to reduce its emissions by 45 percent by 2030; we have the United States talking about reducing its emissions by 35 percent; and we have the European Union, who’s also said that they would reduce its CO2 emissions by 35 percent by 2030.

Now, the question on my mind is: is this actually possible, given the current economic organization and structure?

BAIOCCHI: Yes, that’s definitely an important question. And I would say that for some countries, like China, because they start from having power plants that are very inefficient–basically, coal-based, some old technology–for them, this kind of commitment, it’s possible, it’s more possible than for other countries. So by adopting new technology, cleaner technology, they can make major efficiency savings. Also, emphasis on renewables and wind and solar energy–I know that they are investing a lot into these technology. So I would say that it is possible for some countries. Other countries that already have efficient technologies, some European countries, for example, for them it will be much harder to meet this kind of commitments.

PERIES: So in terms of corporations cooperating with this initiative, those who are in the renewable innovative sector of the economy looking at energy sources would actually jump on this opportunity, because that means that they’re able to sell more efficient energy infrastructure in order to reduce emissions. Why would they be against it, as there is a huge lobby in the United States trying to curtail policy towards a better environment?

BAIOCCHI: The story is the usual one. There are pre-existing interests, and it’s very hard to move things in the right direction. There’s a lot of investment, what we call lock-ins into fossil fuel, technology-based. And this makes us dependent on that industry. The industry depends on us continuing our behavior, and changes are difficult.

The cost as well is an important factor, of course. Renewable technology is more expensive. So, if you like, margin of profits would be much lower, at least to start with, until enough adoption has happened, the technology matures even further. Without starting, though, likelihood of replacing existing fossil fuel based energy becomes harder and harder.

PERIES: Right. So here you’re talking about basically solar panels, wind energy. What other sources of renewable energy are we talking about here?

BAIOCCHI: Well, these are the most important ones, of course. There are other forms based on water currents. But those are the most important ones. But also for environmental, for climate-change purposes, of course, also managing forests. It’s renewable in the sense that you let a tree grow, and so you keep a balance between what you take and what you put back in in terms of carbon. So in this sense, these are also renewable resources you could look at. Yes.

PERIES: And in Europe, there is a more aggressive commitment to this kind us technology evolving in places like Germany, and hence allowing Europe to make a greater commitment, because they can see the possibilities of economic restructuring in order to make it possible.

What about developing countries? What about Brazil and India, for example?

BAIOCCHI: A much tougher proposition for these countries that they still have a lot of poverty in the country and standards of living that are not acceptable. It’s easier in Europe where you have a mature economy, stable. Think about–if you have a house, you have a family, you’re settled, what you want to preserve is the nice thing around you. There is–growth becomes more life quality, better air, nicer food, you know, this kind of things. In countries that don’t have this kind of luxuries, if you like, it’s much harder to reach that kind of sensibility, if you like. Growth is much more important, growth in a very crude tradition of kind of sense, material growth. We still need food, we still need housing, we need clothing, you know, in this sense, whereas in more mature economies you start to think about a different kind of growth, because if we keep thinking about growth as producing more stuff, we’ll be disappointed. So we have to start include other aspects–the quality of life. And we know now that more growth has not produced better results in terms of quality of life, life expectancy, for example, or health, if you like. So we have to rethink this growth in this kind of sense–but, again, much easier for countries that already have achieved a certain level of growth; much harder for countries like India, Brazil, and many parts of China, of course, and other developing countries that need to reach a level of quality of life. And that would make them value this kind of benefits of this kind of–the qualities, other qualities, in–they will value, I don’t know, different things from just material growth. This is what I mean to say. Yes.

PERIES: Well, one of the impacts of climate change is really the warming of oceans, I understand, as well, not just warming of the air. And the result of that warming has been devastating in coastal areas, mostly the poorer nations of the world. And so when you’re talking about the quality of life for changing the way we live, how are people expected to change the way they live in coastal areas, for example people that rely on the ocean fisheries for their livelihood?

BAIOCCHI: No, absolutely. It’s a big problem. And the countries that will be most affected by climate change are unfortunately the one that are least equipped to deal with it, especially coastal countries, small islands, and they have to be helped by other countries. That’s why we need a global agreement–we need to make sure that their status of being in danger is recognized and something is done about it.

PERIES: So part of this global agreement is really about also accumulating the resources necessary to implement the kind of changes that need to be taken place even in southern countries.

BAIOCCHI: Well, we need to come up with–and it’s–absolutely, there are many aspects of dealing with this, you know, financial resources, you know, many, many aspect–economic, technology. Everything has to come together to make sure that we reduce emissions so that these countries have lower risk of being affected.

Now, changes seem to be inevitable. Even if we stop emitting today, there will be sea level rises for the next thousand years. But by doing something now, we can prevent further damage and higher risk to these countries.

And this is why we need a global agreement. This is why we need smaller countries to be represented. Sometimes they are kind of literally left behind in the process. And the IPCC process should make sure–and it’s trying very hard to make sure that their voice is heard into these negotiations, yes.

PERIES: Dr. Giovanni Baiocchi, thank you so much for joining us today.

BAIOCCHI: My pleasure. Thank you.

PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

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Dr. Giovanni Baiocchi is an applied environmental economist. Giovanni's main research looks at the global and local impact of economic activity, including trade, urbanization, and lifestyles. He has published a wide range of interdisciplinary research in international multidisciplinary journals such as Environmental Science & Technology, Ecological Economics, Journal of Industrial Ecology, Nature Climate Change, and Computational Economics. Giovanni is a lead author for the IPCC 5th Assessment for Working Group III, focusing on the drivers, trends, and mitigation of climate change. He was also selected as a qualified independent expert for environmental themes by the European Commission.