EU Sets Out To Lead Climate Changers

Connie Hedegaard, the European Union's Commissioner for Climate Action, has laid out an ambitious goal — in five years, she says, she wants to see "a Europe that is the most climate-friendly region in the world." Host Liane Hansen speaks to Hedegaard about the EU's attempts to move forward on climate talks. Commissioner Hedegaard tells Liane how Europe has benefited from climate legislation, and what it might mean for the U.S.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

Last December's United Nations Climate Conference in Copenhagen likely will be remembered for President Obama's last-minute efforts to break a stalemate that nearly led to the collapse of the talks. Now, the world is faced with building on the accords reached in Copenhagen and much of the responsibility falls on the shoulders of Connie Hedegaard. She's the European Union's commissioner for climate action.

She's laid out an ambitious goal. In five years, she says, she wants to see a Europe that is the most climate-friendly region in the world. Connie Hedegaard is in our studio. Welcome to the program. Thank you for your time.

Ms. CONNIE HEDEGAARD (Commissioner for Climate Action, European Union): Thank you very much for having me.

HANSEN: You organized the U.N. climate talks in Copenhagen before you started to work for the European Union. And youd said the Copenhagen accord reached by some of the countries in attendance fell short of Europe's ambitions. What exactly are Europe's ambitions?

Ms. HEDEGAARD: Well, of course, we would have hoped very much that we could also have, for instance, binding target coming out of Copenhagen. You know, you could say the leaders said, okay, we'll stay below the two degrees increase in global average temperature. We all think we have a co-responsibility, developed countries as well as emerging economies, which was a major step forward. But then they failed to say, and than we are doing exactly this and this and this. And that is - you could say they said A, they said B, but they didn't deliver C.

Now we must focus on practical deliverables. Specific action must come out of Mexico, where the next conference is going to be later this year. How can we deliver the fast-start financing for developing countries? They must see, there is something in it for me. The most vulnerable, those who are already experiencing climate change, what can we exactly do for them to help to sort of cope with that problem?

HANSEN: The Copenhagen accord, which President Obama helped to negotiate, promised to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the United States by 17 percent by 2020, but it hinged on the passage of a cap-and-trade bill. What happens if the U.S. Congress doesn't pass such a bill?

Ms. HEDEGAARD: I think that if nothing comes out of your Congress this year, then I understand that first, and maybe it will take years before you can actually make legislation. Then, of course, it will be a very, very bad signal to the international negotiations and it would sort of have a negative impact on the whole momentum buildup.

I also believe, which is probably more important for the Americans, that it would harm your own economy significantly. Because I think it's very important that we understand that this is not just about climate change. This is also about, where will our energy come from in the future? How can we become more energy efficient? How can we have enhanced energy security and where will our jobs in the future come from?

And, you know, climate deal or not, internationally, China is just doing this. I dont know if the listeners really realize how fast China's moving, how much is going on right now in India, in South Korea, in Brazil. So, I mean, it's also a question of where will the growth and the innovation in the United States come from in the future if you continue to be rather inefficient when it comes to energy? I think this will be a parameter in which you will compete in the future.

HANSEN: Do the targets from the Kyoto protocol for reducing greenhouse gas emissions apply? Because many European countries are behind those targets. How do you restore the momentum there?

Ms. HEDEGAARD: Well, all European countries were behind this, and the fact is that Europe delivered more than the eight percent cut up to 2012 that we pledged in the Kyoto protocol. And actually, we can see now that it has also had a positive impact on our economy. Because when you have to do more in renewables, for instance, then you find new solutions. Then your companies, they are getting more innovative. They come up with new ideas.

I saw a study very recently saying that in these Kyoto countries, those who pledged some kind of targets, actually patents in this field grew by 30 percent, whereas in the United States it was kept stable. So, I think it has been a driver for us. Today we can see that in Germany now, I mean, that's the biggest country in Europe - 80 million people - their industry in the field of renewables now employ more people than their old coal and fossil fuel industry.

So, it's a very fine example that it pays off. If you invest in this, you can actually gain a lot of jobs.

HANSEN: Connie Hedegaard is the EU's commissioner for climate action. Thanks very much for coming into our Washington, D.C. studio.

Ms. HEDEGAARD: Thank you for inviting me.

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