Q & A With David Waskow
David Waskow is director of the Washington, D.C.-based World Resources Institute’s International Climate Initiative. The Initiative is focused on international cooperation that catalyzes and supports action on climate change at the national level in developed and developing countries. Waskow visited New Delhi, Bhubaneswar, Chennai and Kolkata in February and interacted with students, academics, government officials, business executives, members of NGOs and research scholars. Excerpts from an interview with Giriraj Agarwal.
How important is the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s 2015 global climate change agreement and what are we trying to achieve through it?
This is a critical moment and it’s one that can really provide a turning point in terms of addressing climate change. The world is currently not on the right trajectory. We are headed toward something on the order of 3 to 4 degrees Celsius warming above pre-industrial temperatures which will lead to quite catastrophic consequences. Various regions are going to be affected in different ways, but certainly the evidence is that South Asia and southern parts of Africa will be most heavily affected in terms of declines in agricultural production, along with many other serious impacts. Just the increase in temperature—not even storms, not anything having to do with variability in rainfall—is essentially going to bake the crops. Even if we cut carbon emissions to zero today, we will have 30 years of increasing warming and increasing impacts.
We are seeing countries moving to take action on climate change, but we also know that it’s not fast enough. The impacts are here already and we need to take greater action, and that’s where the 2015 agreement comes in. What we see as essential to this agreement is creating a process and an outcome that catalyzes change in countries, both developed and developing.
What progress have we achieved so far?
What we are seeing now is that many countries are acting. There are over 90 countries that have taken various kinds of commitments and pledges to take action and 60 of those actually have targets for what their emission levels would be, like the one that India has which is a pledge of commitment of 20 to 25 percent reduction in emission intensity below 2005 level by 2020. In the United States, last year the President introduced his climate action plan that is aimed at meeting the U.S. commitment to reduce emissions by 17 percent below 2005 level by 2020. There is still tremendous need to make sure that the public and the policymakers clearly understand the consequences that we are facing.
There are several aspects to the new international agreement that I think are quite important. One is, countries between now and March 2015 are meant to develop their proposals for national contributions and to put them on the table in the negotiations next March. There will then be a process of assessing those proposals between March 2015 and the point when they will be agreed at the major climate summit in Paris, at the end of 2015. But right now, we have a year’s period during which countries have the opportunity to have a national dialogue and to look at their economies and to determine what they can do, what they want to do, what’s going to benefit them and what’s going to benefit the world.
Is it possible to have a formula that all countries agree on? How can we ensure equity?
We have to really think through in a serious way who takes how much action and who should take how much action. That’s critical to reaching an agreement. We are developing an online equity tool that would allow you to look at equity from a number of different perspectives. We are thinking about it as enabling stakeholders to look at the issues through a number of different lenses. Some of it about historical emissions per capita, some of it about current and projected emissions, some of it about GDP per capita and also human development index, for example. It’s also important to look at the vulnerability of countries to climate impacts and to think about how that can be incorporated in the equity discussion.
It is also important to look at questions like relative cost of action, how much it is going to cost in each economy to be able to take action. And then there are benefit issues that are extremely important to consider. If you are reducing carbon emissions from power plants for example, you are also improving health benefits because you are reducing the kind of emissions that can be very damaging to health.
How is the World Resources Institute (WRI) contributing in these efforts?
One of the things we are doing at WRI is to work as part of a consortium of other research institutions to look at different frameworks for the new international agreement. The consortium, called ACT 2015, is a group of various research institutions, both in developed and developing countries. We are developing three different models for how the agreement might be designed and also options for the various elements in the agreement. We will be holding workshops in countries around the world, including here, to explore these different frameworks. And we will be taking all of that input and making suggestions about what may work best for creating the 2015 agreement.
What are the possibilities of U.S.-India collaboration?
The opportunities are quite significant. Already we have seen with PACE, the clean energy collaborative between the U.S. and India, the ways in which the two countries can work together effectively, and this can be expanded significantly. There is also a U.S.-India strategic energy dialogue. Energy efficiency is one area where quite a lot of opportunity exists. I think there is a broad recognition among businesses in India that energy efficiency is a win-win opportunity. Given the policymaking importance of states in both countries, there are also significant opportunities for states in the U.S. and states in India to directly collaborate on climate solutions.
How challenging is it to make trade policies environment-friendly?
What’s really important is for the U.S. and India to have much deeper dialogue about these issues and to really bring a diversity of government representatives to the table. That means bringing not just trade representatives to the table, but also those involved in energy, environment, foreign affairs. What’s essential to create is a dialogue that can make sure that the way that the countries approach trade policies will be positive for renewable energy at the end of the day.