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25 June 2008 - News Article

Solana versus Sachs

Titans debate
(GHF. Photo: Daniel Rihs)
GENEVA, 25 June – The annual meeting reached a climax with a keynote debate between Javier Solana, the European Union's head of foreign and security policy, and Jeffery Sachs, a special adviser to United Nations Secretary-General on the millennium development goals, on the best ways of tackling climate change.

Mr Solana insisted that addressing the problem of climate change required a global approach. He expressed relief that although there was no consensus about the solution, there was at least agreement on the definition of the problem.


In March 2007, EU leaders committed to two targets for reducing EU emissions from 1990 levels by 2020: a cut of 30%, conditional on other developed countries agreeing to comparable efforts under the future global agreement and a reduction of at least 20%, independently of what other countries do, in order to continue the transition to an energy efficient, low-carbon economy in Europe. Solana said some countries have more responsibility than others and that it was only right that the EU member states should take a leading role in cutting emissions.

Jeffrey Sachs, who is also director of the Earth Institute at Colombia University, agreed that a global approach was needed but felt that it should be binding on all major emitters of greenhouse gases, not just developed countries. He said universal binding provisions were needed based on a shared technological pathway, and new low emission technologies should be adopted as soon as they became available.

Pragmatism needed

Sachs felt it was important to get the focus right.
“Railing against energy use is not the way forward. Carbon emissions are a side effect of technologies that have transformed our lives. The President of the Maldives described what was happening as a crime. This just leads to antagonism. We need to focus on lowering emissions and stay on a pragmatic path that also respects the need for countries to develop”.

Miserable leadership

He went on to criticize western leaders for their approach to tackling climate change problems, describing it as ‘miserable’. “700 billion dollars will be spent on the Pentagon this year. That’s 100 billion dollars more than the world has ever spent on helping Africa. If we were to invest 700 billion dollars – the equivalent of 1% of global annual income – we could create a global energy system and cut emissions by half”.

Fantastic market failure

Sachs recommended that between US$30 and 50 billion should be invested in new technologies per year, as opposed to the US$10 billion currently being spent. This money should be used to develop carbon-capture facilities, safe cars, low energy plugs for lithium batteries and solar thermal technologies for Africa in particular. As the private sector was not going to come up with the goods on its own, it needed a push from politicians and the public sector. Solana agreed that this sluggish development of low emission technologies constituted a “fantastic market failure”.

Who pays?

Sachs believes part of the costs for research and development can be covered by adaptation funds promised as part of the Millennium Development Goals. He added that consumers should also be prepared to pay a few more cents for clean power.

Solana is confident the public will support the measures needed to mitigate the effects of carbon emissions as well as adaptation but said a big effort was needed to raise awareness of the urgency of the challenges faced.

Sachs added, “We all breath the same air. We all cherish our children’s futures. We need to spend less time killing each other and more time trying to understand each other’s problems”.

By Julie Hunt


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