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Panel Discussions - Monday, June 21, 2010

Progress on Climate Talks: “A Marathon, Not a Sprint”

Acknowledging the disappointment that many people felt after United Nations climate talks in Copenhagen in December, but urging people not to let temporary setbacks undermine faith in long range success, Harvard University Professor Robert Stavins described the development of climate policy as “a marathon and not a sprint.’”  For his part, Columbia University Professor Scott Barrett called current methods of addressing the climate problem “a massive failure.”

This frank discussion, which took place on June 21 during an IPI policy forum, reinforced the complexities and challenges facing climate negotiators as they prepare for the next climate summit in Cancún, Mexico at the end of the year.

Professor Barrett and fellow panelist Mohammed Reza Salamat, Senior Program Officer in the Secretary-General’s Climate Change Support Team, agreed that an essential component to the negotiations is to win the support of the general public, especially in the United States.

Referring to a participant’s comment on this subject, Mr. Salamat said, “In my view, we need to promote some value-based messages so that we can encourage American people and other nations to care for their children, for the planet, and for the next generation, articulating the fact that we are all living, as you rightly said, in one planet, and we are—we will sink together if we are going to sink.”

Though Professor Barrett discussed some avenues for progress, most of his remarks were a stark assessment of the process so far. “If you want to stabilize atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases at any level… you basically have to bring, relatively quickly, net emissions worldwide towards zero,” he said. “So the ambition, I think, we’re asking for in climate policy is huge, and where we’ve gotten to so far is nowhere near it.”

Said Mr. Salamat, “Those who have been involved in climate negotiations for a long time say every global issue is easy, except climate change.”

The event, titled, “International Climate Negotiations: Options for a Way Forward,” was moderated by Warren Hoge, IPI Vice President for External Relations.

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