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Interview with Yvo de Boer, head of the IPCC secretariat
by the environmental journalist George Monbiot

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Questions to George Monbiot and Yvo de Boer

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[Transcript Helmut Lubbers 11.12.2008.]

Sixteen years ago, at the 1992 earth summit in Rio, the world's gouvernments agreed to stop dangerous levels of man-made climate change. They launched the Kyoto Protocol, which 183 countries have now signed. It obliges them to cut back greenhous gas emissions, but only by a little. Almost everyone now agrees that the proposed cuts are far too little and far too late.

In 2007 met again at the climate change conference in Bali, to try to agree a follow-up to the protocol. These were only talks about talks. Even so, largely to obstruction by the United States, they were a disaster.
    "We are not prepared to accept though this formulation." [Buuuuhh..]"
    "Thank you, the United States."
I went Bonn to meet Yvo de Boer, the UN's chief cliamate change negociator. He chaired last year's conference and is also chairing this year's efforts in Poznan in Poland. I wanted to know what went wrong in Bali.

It's not just the implementation of the Kyoto Protocal which is causing problems in spome places, is it, I mean the whole process has failed, hasn't it. We really lost 16 years, in which climate change needed to be tackled.
    "I wouldn't agree with you there. I think you could justifiably say that the Kyoto Protocol is a very minor step towards addressing this problem. But I do think that the Protocol represents the beginning of an international architecture that we can build on moving forwards."
It strikes me from watching all the negotiations that this process is not delivering the cuts that we need. In fact, you know, in the Bali meeting of course, they wouldn't even discuss - you couldn't even get an agreement with a number in it to suggest what the cut should be!
That's a disaster!
    "Well, I suppose it depends on your persepctive on the thing but my perspective on it is that we have managed to get virtually every country in the world to sign up to a climate change convention. So I see a process whereby commitments are gradually being ratcheted up and of course you can argue that it is moving far too slowly and that it is not delivering the results that the science is calling for. But nonetheless we've got an architecture in place that I believe in."
The conference of Bali constantly obstructed. After 12 days of negostiation de Boer could no longer hide his frustration.
    " ... The secre... ... The secretary was not aware that parallel meetings were taking place and was not aware the tax was being negotiated elswhere. ....[applause...]
The agreement came away without anything within it, no targets, no time tables, it's a wishy-washy agreement, isn't it, what you've ended up with.
    "It's not a wishy-washy agreement. It's a wonderful agreement, because it says very clearly that we need to negotiate targets for industrialised countries and measurable actions by developing countries. It says very clearly that we need to help countries adapt to the impacts of climate change and that technology needs to be transferred. So I find that pretty clear. Maybe you'll say that my level of ambition is too low because..."
But I will say that your level of ambition is too low ...
I mean the US has flatly refused to allow these talks to be based on a framework having specific targets and specific dates attached. Without that we're whistling in the dark, aren't we?
    "No, that is not true."
Look. The European Union said we want a target of a 25 - 40 percent cut by, what was it 2040, 2020, wasn't it? And the United States said, no way, over our dead body!
    Well, they didn't say over our dead body."
Well that's not an exact quote...
    "It's probably wise that they didn't. But was the Americans said was, we, the United States, just don't believe it's possible to achieve that kind of reduction. So why then take it as the basis for negotiation."
Do you believe it's achievable?
    "I think it's achievable, yes, if a really huge effort is made and we see a significant speeding up of the process.
    "The United States is very committed to this effort..." [US spokeswoman'ss voice]
After refusing to agree to the European reductions, eventually the US signed up to a diluted agreement
    "... and with that, Mr chairman, let me say to you that we will go forward and join consensus in this today." [US spokeswoman'ss voice] [Hororray and cheers from the floor...]
The United States did exactly the same ten years before, in Kyoto, didn't it, where it said we are not playing, we're not playing, we're not playing and we're stripping out all of these thing that we do not like and then at the very last minute they said, all-right then we will go along with it and then and everybody said fantastic, what a great achievement, the United States have be brought into the process. That was its plan all the time andd you were fooled by that. You were taken for a ride. Because you saw something to standd in the negotiating procedure and you thought this is a major break-through.
    "What I see in a negotiating process, in any negotiating process, is all countries trying to ensure that the outcome is as much in their interest as possible and trying to remove the things that are not in their interest."
Well, what the United States did was to ensure that the whole world committed to a much lesser reduction and a much longer time table than it would have done before. It put a wrecking ball at Kyoto. It put a wrecking ball through the Bali talks. And in both cases it was congratulated for doing so and in the case of Bali it was you that congratulated the United States and you said this is a major break-through.
    "In the case of Bali, yes, I thanked the United States for joining the agreement. I think that that that is critical. They have been outside the Kyoto process so far. And they committed to a negotiating process in Bali. I don't believe that the United States put - as you say - a wrecking ball through Kyoto. What I saw happening in Kyoto and what I also saw happening in Bali was countries negotiating very sincerely to try and get to an agreement."
One of the schemes set up at Kyoto was the CDM, the Clean Development Mechanism. It's aget-out clause, originally demanded by Al Gore, that helps rich countries meet their targets by buying carbon cuts from poorer countries. It's been fiercely criticised. It's been wide open to abuse and fraud. The best-known example is the scandals surrrounding factories in India and China, which were releasing chlorinated gases, powerful contributors to global warming. Under the CDM the factory owners are being paid around 4.7 billion dollars to stop producing these gases. This cost is passed on to gouvernments, which means us. But it turns out that the clean-up cost only 100 million dollars - just 1/47th of what the owners are being paid.

So you are happy to defend a process here which cost 47 times as mucg as it should have done, because of the way that it's been done under the Kyoto Protocol. That is defensible in your view?
    "The project doesn't cost 47 times as much. The project may generate a huge revenue..."
They could have eliminated those gases for a hundred million dollars...
    "They could have eliminated the gases for a lot less..."
      ... and they were paid 4.7 billion dollars to eliminate those gases. That's grossly inefficient under any terms, surely. It is not defensible in market terms, it is not defensible in regulatory terms. There are much better ways of doing it.
        "If the country in question decides not to regulate, you try and put in place a mechanism, in this case the clean development mechanism, that prompts a company to do something that it would not normally do and then the company starts to make a profit out of an environmental activity..."
      Well that's staggering! That a staggering profit! 47 times as much as it costs! That a profit beyond the wildest dreams of most enterpreneurs! That's defensible?
        "Yes. Right."
      Don't you see then that in the face of views like that that it creates a great deal of cynicism about this carbon purchasing market. People say, well, this is just a money printing excercise.
        "Well, it hasn't made my cynical. I see a huge number of projects in the pipeline of the clean development mechanism that are leading to investments in renewable energy, in the capture of landfill gas, in the improvement of transportation systems. I see economic transformations taking place that wouldn't take place on their own."
      You must be pretty releived to see the end of president Bush.
        "No, not really. I mean I was impressed by the change that he went through, on global warming. I saw him launch a major economy process. I saw him initiate a new financial facility at the World Bank. He was trying to engage on this topic within what he perceived to be the economic realities and political realities in his country and I respect that."
      So the UN's chief climate change negotiator is the only man on earth who doesn't think that president Bush was a disaster for climate change.
        "I don't think I'm the only person on earth. I think that he represents a number of political and economic realities that we need to respect, if we are going to move forward in a way that holds water."
      Thank you very much indeed. -- George Monbiot in a video produced by Greenpeace.