Thu. February 22, 2018 Get Published  Get Alerts
IA-Forum Interview: Elliot Diringer

International Affairs Forum: The G8 has often been called a toothless organization where the member nations simply make claims they cannot live up to. Last week they agreed on a "shared vision" to cut carbon emissions by "at least 50 per cent" by 2050. However, G8 leaders are widely believed to have sidestepped several issues, including the base year for pledges to slash greenhouse gases and specific midterm targets for cuts. How do you view the prospects for achieving this goal?

Mr. Elliot Diringer: Let me start by putting the role of the G8 in context. The real objective is to get fair, effective, and binding commitments from all the major economies. That’s what it will take to effectively address climate change. That agreement will have to be negotiated in the U.N. process under the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change. The role of the G8 is to provide political impetus to that process by demonstrating leadership on the part of the world’s industrialized powers.

The recent summit fell well short of the leadership that’s needed. The G8’s endorsement of a long term goal was a step forward but was a far cry from a solution. What was really needed and what was missing was a clear declaration by the G8 countries of their willingness to assume binding midterm emission targets.

IA-Forum: In response to the G8 meeting, Achim Steiner, head of the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP) said the world couldn’t afford to wait until the year 2050 to tackle the problem of climate change. Do you agree?

Mr. Diringer: Absolutely. I don’t think anyone is suggesting waiting until 2050 to address the problem. The point of a 2050 goal is to drive and frame the efforts that need to begin right now. A long term goal is helpful in that way but what is much more critical is getting agreement on the actions countries need to start taking right now. That requires a set of binding commitments in a new treaty.

IA-Forum: What steps does the US have to take to ensure such a goal and the Bali Road Map are successful?

Mr. Diringer: First and foremost, the U.S. needs to adopt and implement a mandatory national program to reduce its emissions. Second, it needs to commit internationally to reducing its emissions. Third, it needs to provide assistance to developing countries to help them reduce their emissions and to help the poorest and most vulnerable countries adapt to the impacts of climate change.

By doing all those things, the U.S. will demonstrate leadership and ensure a successful post-2012 agreement.

IA-Forum: How important is China in the fight against climate change? Can effective climate change policies occur on a global level if the China chooses not to participate?

Mr. Diringer: No, we can’t solve climate change without China. They are now, or will be very soon, the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitting country, and their emissions are rising very rapidly. We need China to act at home and be a full partner in the global effort if we have any hope of substantially reducing global emissions.

IA-Forum: The United States has had some success with carbon emissions trading on a local level such as Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. How realistic is a nationwide cap and trade program in the near future?

Mr. Diringer: It’s very realistic. The momentum is moving that direction. The emergence of cap and trade systems at the state and regional level is actually putting greater pressure on Washington to establish an economy-wide cap and trade system because business would rather deal with one system than a patchwork of state and regional systems.

There are several major proposals before Congress right now to establish a national cap and trade system. That’s where the debate is headed. There’s a good chance we will see one enacted within the next couple of years

Elliot Diringer is Director of International Strategies at the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. Mr. Diringer was formerly Deputy Assistant to the President of the United States and Deputy Press Secretary. He also served as Senior Policy Advisor and as Director of Communications at the Council on Environmental Quality, where he helped develop major policy initiatives, led White House press and communications strategy on the environment, and was a member of U.S. delegations to climate change negotiations.

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