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Is the World at a Climate Turning Point?

Just after the summit of 80 heads of state at the United Nations headquarters in New York on Monday, and just before the world's 16 top carbon-emitting countries began talks at the White House on Thursday, climate experts gathered in Washington, D.C., to discuss the question: is the world finally at a climate turning point? At the well-attended event on Wednesday, co-sponsored by the Worldwatch Institute [0] and the Heinrich Böaut;ll Foundation [1], Worldwatch president Christopher Flavin and other international experts agreed that there is a new sense of energy and cooperation surrounding the climate problem--and that the United States and China are integral to this momentum.

Yu Jie of the Boell Foundation's China office noted that the U.S. and China are locked in a "game" in which each is waiting to take action on climate change once the other does. But China has already adopted the goals of reducing its national energy intensity by 4 percent each year and obtaining 15 percent of the country's energy from renewable sources by 2020. And while China is open to new technologies, Dr. Yu emphasized that "technology transfers" to the developing world are less desirable than "technology cooperation." China can help localize and adapt technology from the industrialized world for use by China and other developing countries, she suggested.

Harlan Watson of the U.S. State Department said the U.S. government hopes to bring the sense of convergence from the UN talks to practical application by the world's largest economies. He denied that the government seeks to end-run the UN climate negotiation process, which begins in Bali this December, and suggested that to tackle climate change, the U.S. will need to focus on major sectors of the economy, including coal-fired power generation and land use. Watson said that President George W. Bush is committed to low-cost financing options to stimulate greater interest and investment in clean energy around the world.

Nuno Lacasta of the Environment Ministry of Portugal (which currently holds the rotating presidency of the European Union) said that Europe is "ready to act" and believes that policies that fight global warming can benefit economies. "This is a moment for hope. It's a moment for realism as well," Lacasta observed. Karsten Sach, the lead climate negotiator for Germany, noted that his country has reduced emissions and simultaneously created more jobs via its ambitious and successful plans to improve energy efficiency and use renewable energy. The UN conference in Bali needs to kick-start negotiations to reach that goal, he said.

It is important for industrialized countries to take a lead on climate change, said Helga Flores Trejo, executive director of the Heinrich Böaut;ll Foundation, who observed that individuals who do not have large impacts on the global economy--such as small farmers, fishermen, and slum dwellers--will be among those most affected. "Climate change...is at the very center of global justice," she said.

This story was written by Alana Herro for Eye on Earth (e2), a service of World Watch Magazine in partnership with the blue moon fund. e2 provides a unique perspective on current events, newly released studies, and important global trends.

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