French Climate Negotiator Calls On Obama To Move Faster On A Green Economy

Sarkozy and Lalonde
France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy speaks with French climate change ambassador Brice Lalonde at the Major Economies Meeting on Energy and Climate Change (MEM) in Paris April 18, 2008.

The French government is welcoming the “new atmosphere” that the Obama administration brings to international climate negotiations, but is looking for results. Brice Lalonde, France’s chief climate negotiator, sat down for an interview with reporters in Hotel Willard’s Cafe du Parc, following the Major Economies Forum convened this week in Washington, D.C. Lalonde dismissed corporate pressure to block green economy legislation in the United States as an “arrière-garde” doomed, in time, to irrelevance, saying that the “economic center is moving.” While expressing great optimism for eventual success, Lalonde explained that the international community is looking for Obama to go farther than his campaign pledge for 2020 emissions reductions:

Politically it’s very important for the U.S. to go under 1990 levels by 2020.

Lalonde indicated that the means for achieving that symbolic target doesn’t have to be solely through domestic reductions, but could include international mechanisms. The World Resources Institute estimates that the Waxman-Markey Clean Energy and Security Act may achieve reductions of 20 to 38 percent below 1990 levels, if all complementary policies and offsets to the mandatory reductions are considered. Even before the Copenhagen treaty negotiations this December, he said, “We could go very far on forest issues.” He expressed great optimism that the U.S. Senate could take the lead on legislation to deal with tropical deforestation. “A deforestation agreement could be fantastic. You could have a bipartisan agreement on that.”

The participants at the Major Economies Forum were very aware of the implications of the global recession, and believe that “green recovery plans are the beginning of fighting climate change.” Lalonde described the fiscal and financial debt bubbles, and concluded, “Climate change is also a debt.”

Dismissing the argument that emissions reductions would kill the coal and oil industries, he expressed confidence that corporate resistance to action would fade: “It’s finished.” The hydrocarbon industries would continue to prosper in a clean energy economy, he said, discussing the numerous chemical and industrial uses of coal: “It’s a shame to burn it.” However he recognized that policy makers need the support of the public, and sounded almost resigned when asked about the American public’s low priority for action on global warming. “You had Katrina already,” he replied.

Despite his optimism and respect for the “Dream Team” that the U.S. now has on climate change, Lalonde was sober about the challenges facing small island states that face likely annihilation even with a 50% reduction in total emissions by 2050. “It’s going to be difficult to catch up with the eight years we’ve lost.”

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