Climate Talks Face Stalemate

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Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman, this is The World. In South Africa today the United States denied it's trying to delay a new global climate deal until the year 2020. Some delegates at the UN climate talks underway this week in Durban think otherwise. They claim the US wants to delay the start of a legally binding treaty to cut greenhouse gas pollution because of political pressures at home. But chief US negotiator Todd Stern told reporters that the US supports a new European proposal for a global deal. That proposal was revealed just today, providing an unexpected glimmer of hope for substantial progress at this year's climate summit. Whatever the outcome in Durban though it's almost certain to be far short of what's needed to meet the challenge posed by climate change over the next few decades. The process of trying to negotiate a new global treaty on greenhouse gases has nearly ground to a halt in the last few years. And that's lead many observers to call for a different approach. Kelly Sims Gallagher is an associate professor of energy at environmental policy at the Fletcher School at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts. Kelly, has the UN process hit a wall in your opinion?

Kelly Sims Gallagher: I believe it has. It's not that the United Nations process is fundamentally flawed, it's that there isn't any room or latitude within these negotiations for breakthrough ideas, for crossing issues, for...

Werman: So what do you see as promising alternatives?

Gallagher: In my view the United States and China need to have a different approach to these negotiations. The two countries need to step outside of the climate change issue and find a way to bridge their differences. And after they do that they can then bring a deal back to this negotiating forum.

Werman: Are you saying that these two huge greenhouse gas emitters should come up with some grand bargain that embraces a lot of environmental issues?

Gallagher: I'm saying that the two countries probably need to devise a grand bargain, but I think they probably need to look outside the environment in terms of tradeoffs to strike a deal.

Werman: And what about a little country like the Maldives? You know, that wouldn't be part of that process, but are seriously affected and will be so in the next few years with sea rise?

Gallagher: I think it's in their interest because fundamentally they need to get these two behemoth emitters to agree to emissions reductions. And that's not happening in the UNFCCC process. The essence of the dilemma that we just repeatedly come up against is that the US and China won't both agree to enter into an agreement.

Werman: What about just forgetting about trying to strike deals for binding emissions cuts and just pushing ahead on things like new adaptive energy technologies and market innovations that would help move the world away from fossil fuels?

Gallagher: Well, I'd argue that's what we've been doing, but it's clearly not enough because emissions are still rising and in fact, there was the biggest jump ever in annual emissions last year.

Werman: You know we ran a story on the show this week that was just hair raising in terms of ice melt and sea rise. After hearing that a lot of our listeners must be flabbergasted that global representatives can't seem to get it together in Durban. Is it worth talking about who's to blame for the failure of the UN climate process so far?

Gallagher: Well, it's very hard not to point towards the United States because from 1992 and the original framework convention on climate change, the United States has failed to meet all of the commitments that it agreed to in these past treaties. And I don't think anybody trusts at this point that the United States will actually achieve its 17% reduction that President Obama committed to in Copenhagen because there's been no policy enacted to actually achieve that goal.

Werman: Well, the talks in Durban aren't over yet, but tomorrow they will be. Do you hold out any hope for significant progress in the next 24 hours?

Gallagher: No.

Werman: Kelly Sims Gallagher, associate professor of energy and environmental policy at the Fletcher School at Tufts University, thanks a lot.

Gallagher: Thank you.