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Global warming: What’s next after Bali

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR: Environmental activists have ridiculed the U.N. climate change conference in Bali, calling it watered down. Environmental columnist George Monbiot calls it worse than Kyoto. The primary criticism of the conference is that no binding targets were included in the final agreement, even though the E.U. lobbied for reductions of 25 to 40 percent by 2020. I’m joined in the studio by ecological economist Peter Victor from York University in Toronto. So, Peter, your take on Bali. Was something concrete achieved? Or was it more hot air?

PROFESSOR PETER VICTOR, ECOLOGICAL ECONOMIST: Something was achieved. To my mind, not enough. The parties agreed to how they’re going to continue to talk to one another over the next two years with the intention of having something in place when the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012. The problem is that although the agreement has a lot of positive-sounding language, there’s no commitment at this point to the level of reductions that they’re going to negotiate after Kyoto expires.

JAY: I mean, there seems to be straightforward opposition to binding targets from the United States. Really in Canada, kicking and screaming, kind of agreed to some side agreement with the Kyoto countries to agree to a target. But, Canada didn’t want to. Is this really achievable, the kind of reduction that’s necessary to stop the worst consequences of climate change crisis, without very, very serious binding targets with real teeth?

VICTOR: Well, no. In the end we have to have binding targets. We’ve got to get very, very significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions globally. I think that’s very clear from the latest report of the International Panel on Climate Change [sic]. And that was one of the positive things that perhaps came out of Bali was the countries agreed to accept the IPCC’s latest report as the state of science. So that was good. But, no, it’s pretty clear: We do need binding targets.

JAY: And then the other problem is a country agrees to binding targets and then goes home. You know, you agree at the conference, go home and do nothing, go home and pass regulation that, on the face of it, is supposed to get you to the binding target but in fact never does. So why don’t we get into the real substance of if we’re going to hit the targets that are necessary to hit, that scientists are telling us by 2050, I think, scientists want an 80 percent reduction based on 1990 levels. Do I have my—

VICTOR: Something like that.

JAY: —numbers right? And the IPCC even talked about a potential temperature increase as much as six degrees if nothing is done, and which everyone is predicting rather apocalyptic consequences if we hit six degrees. So what are the policy options that are possible? And what’s your take on them?

VICTOR: Okay. First of all, we have to recognize that what we’re dealing with here is a global problem. Having said that, we have very weak global institutions, not just in the environment, but specifically with respect to the environment. So we’re in the middle of a real struggle here. We’re trying to deal with a global environmental problem relying on nation states, which, you know, 500 years, 600 years old as an idea, and it’s a very bad match. And that’s why, I think, that the negotiators are having such difficulty making the kind of progress that we’ll need to make to solve this problem. What this means then is that whatever approach the countries come up with end up coming back to the individual countries having to do their share, whatever that is and whatever they’ve agreed to.

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