Former president Bill Clinton took the stage at his eponymous conference and apologized for the continued climate change denialism in Congress: “The Senate voted [the Kyoto Protocol] down 95-0. We’re down to 50-50 denialists now.”
Clinton was joined on stage by Mexican president Felipe Calderón, who highlighted his own nation’s commitment to reducing carbon emissions and improving energy efficiency — including their effort to replace all incandescent bulbs with more efficient fluorescent ones, a program that, in the United States, has attracted scorn from conservatives. However, Calderón, like many American conservatives, suggested that a bad economic climate isn’t necessarily the moment to make drastic changes to current policies.
Clinton disagreed, noting that the 4 countries scheduled to meet their emissions reduction commitments (Germany, the UK, Sweden and Denmark) were outperforming the U.S. on unemployment and economic growth rates even before the recession “because they changed the way they produce and save energy.” Clinton later added, “We have got to make people understand that this is not an economic challenge, it is an economic opportunity.”
Unlike most U.S.-centric climate change discussions, there was little disagreement among the leaders here that climate change is real. South Africa president Jacob Zuma called it “a danger to humanity,” and Norwegian prime minister Jens Stoltenberg called denialsts “irresponsible.” Bangladeshi prime minister Sheikh Hasina also noted, “A one meter rise in sea level would cover one-fifth of Bangladesh and displace 30 million people.”
The participants all agreed that there was a real need for progress in the next round of greenhouse gas emissions reduction talks, though there was debate about the potential for real progress on the binding, comprehensive agreement all agreed was necessary. Grenada’s prime minister Tillman Thomas said, “We need to be realistic: we cannot make progress without some kind of global governance.” But Slovenian president Danilo Türk noted the political reality: “Global governance is taking place in a world without global government,” which makes consensus building slower at best. He called for including the business community “as a major ally” that was as-yet unengaged by governments in the process and, he believed, would welcome a clear agreement that eliminated uncertainty.
But as European Commission president José Manuel Barosso noted of the last round of negotiations, “the process was saved, but not the climate.” The only apparent certainty was that everyone agreed progress should be made, and no one seems to agree just how to make that happen.
Image credit: Clinton Global Initiative.