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Flying Dutchman Is Climate Treaty Cheerleader

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Flying Dutchman Is Climate Treaty Cheerleader


Flying Dutchman Is Climate Treaty Cheerleader

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Next we'll meet a man who's in charge of trying to get an international deal on climate change. He's in Washington, D.C. this week trying to stir up support for a new global warming treaty. He works for the U.N. He's finding friendly new faces in the Obama administration, but huge issues need to be resolved between now and December, when the treaty is supposed to be negotiated in Copenhagen. NPR's Richard Harris reports.

RICHARD HARRIS: Yvo de Boer has a clumsy title: executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. At the moment, his job is really more like cheerleader in chief, or you could call him the Flying Dutchman, as he travels the world trying to forge a climate deal that would replace the current ineffective climate treaty, which was negotiated in Kyoto.

Mr. YVO DE BOER (U.N. Convention on Climate Change): About the only thing that I'm absolutely sure of is that 2009 will go down in history as the year of climate change, either because we failed to seek what I really see as a unique opportunity, or because we took a decision to ride a wave of change.

HARRIS: Success won't come easy. De Boer says he has to get the United States to commit to deep and meaningful cuts in its carbon dioxide emissions. He has to convince developing countries like China and India to step up too. And last but not least, in the face of a global economic crisis he has to convince rich nations of the world to come up with large amounts of cash to help poor nations cope with climate change.

Mr. DE BOER: That is the weakest link in the chain, and it's very much at the heart of the discussions that I'm having here.

HARRIS: He's pushing back against the notion that it's too much to cope with a financial crisis and the climate crisis simultaneously. And he's getting help from, among other people, Connie Hedegaard, Denmark's minister for climate and energy. At a Brookings Institution event where the two appeared on Wednesday, Hedegaard argued this is precisely the time to push forward.

Ms. CONNIE HEDEGAARD (Minister for Climate and Energy, Denmark): Not only because we need to tackle climate change, but also because how often are we provided with an opportunity to rethink business as usual?

HARRIS: Mr. Obama is trying to address climate change and the economy at the same time by stimulating green jobs, she noted. But that's not enough. In order to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, dirty energy will simply have to cost more. And Carlos Pascual from the Brookings Institution says that won't be an easy or quick sale on Capitol Hill.

Mr. CARLOS PASCUAL (Brookings Institution): I am absolutely confident that we are eventually going to get to a new regime on climate change. I don't know if we're going to get there by Copenhagen.

HARRIS: Pascual said the worst case scenario is that the U.S. goes to the talks in Copenhagen nine months from now and is simply not ready to agree on a deal, despite all the international pressure. That could stop momentum for a climate treaty in its tracks.

Mr. PASCUAL: Second case scenario is that we have a rerun of Kyoto. We go to Copenhagen and the United States makes all sorts of commitments on national emission targets, we come back here and we can't pass them through the Senate.

HARRIS: And the Senate needs to ratify a treaty with 67 votes, which is even harder than getting 60 votes for domestic climate legislation. So he argues we need a fall-back plan for Copenhagen in case the U.S. is not ready to sign a new climate treaty by the December deadline.

Yvo de Boer, the Flying Dutchman, was having none of it.

Mr. DE BOER: You can't go to Copenhagen and mumble. There has to be a clear commitment to emission reduction targets on the part of industrialized countries.

HARRIS: De Boer's challenge is to create that consensus in the next nine months. And the Obama administration isn't quite ready to go. As de Boer walks the Washington corridors looking for people to cajole, he says he still sees a lot of empty offices.

Richard Harris, NPR News.

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