Climate Change Conference

Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 11, 2007; 10:00 AM

Washington Post environment reporter Juliet Eilperin was online Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2007 at 10 a.m. ET to discuss the latest developments at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Bali, Indonesia.

For more Washington Post coverage of climate change click here.

A transcript follows.


Alexandria, Va.: Have you any observations about the role of religion and religious organizations in the thrust of the Bali Conference? The evangelical component of US protestantism is more visible here which is new. Are there new stirrings from the other of the world's great religions or do you find the meeting dominated by technicians who seem unaffected by the moral dimension of the climate change crisis? Ed Ablard member Episcopal Diocese of Virginia?

Juliet Eilperin: That's a great question. I am seeing a lot of input from religious groups here in Bali, and not just from Christian evangelicals. The president of Indonesia had an event today with religious leaders from multiple faiths, including Christian and Muslim figures, which I think reflects the increasingly active role religious leaders are playing in the climate change debate.


Pittsburgh: Given Bush's recalcitrance to committing to carbon caps, what good can come from Kerry's and other Dems' communicating their willingness to participate positively with other nations in reducing the global carbon footprint? Would it not be better to wait till bush leaves office before further pursuance of rewriting Kyoto? No matter what word Dems communicate to the world concerning global greenhouse issues, unless we have a president willing to consider more than free market values, what kinds of real changes other than what states and municipalities are accomplishing can the U.S. accomplish? Given that states and localaties already are taking action, isn't the world aware that the nation is sidestepping bush in order to cooperate in reversing carbon emissions? Doesn't that in itself the signal that only until bush leaves office and a president who cares about the corruption of the environment is put in place can American assume leadership? Why would Kerry make a trip to Bali to tell the world that bush actually does care? Why are Dems so ignorant and naive and just plain dumb about Bush?

Juliet Eilperin: There are a lot of aspects to your question, so I will just address one part of it. A number of environmentalists argue that the U.S. would be better off waiting until 2009 to push for climate legislation, on the grounds that Democrats are poised to make gains in the House and Senate, and may recapture the White House. Others argue it is important to act now, even if it's just laying the groundwork for 2009. So Kerry and some of his colleagues are embracing the latter approach.


Anonymous: The Warner-Lieberman bill on climate change would institute a cap and trade system, but some say that wouldn't work and thus advocate for a carbon tax. What are the benefits of instituting a carbon tax and why wouldn't a cap and trade system on emissions work since it did wonders in curbing SO2 emissions in the 1990s?

Juliet Eilperin: Advocates of a carbon taz, including Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.), argue that it's simpler to impose a straight tax on carbon emissions and that would encourage consumers and businesses to lower their emissions. Others, like most of the other Democratic candidates and two GOP candidates, John McCain (Ariz.) and Mike Huckabee (Ark), say a cap sets a defined limit on emissions, and ecourages free-market innovation.


Washington, D.C.: Wondered why Gore didn't use his Swedish platform to endorse Lieberman/Warner bill?

Juliet Eilperin: I don't know the answer to that, but he's coming to Bali later this week to give a speech, so I will try to ask him about that.


Freising, Germany: It sounds like representatives in the U.S. are divided on whether market forces can supply technology to combate global warming fast enough to avoid mandatory legislation.

What is the general feeling of the population in the U.S. these days? Are ordinary people willing to pay money to prevent global warming?

Juliet Eilperin: Your questions speak to some of the key issues facing Americans today. The Washington Post, ABC News and Stanford University did a poll this year that found the majority of respondents back a more aggressive federal policy on climate change. At the same same, it's unclear how much Americans are willing to pay to reduce their carbon footprint, and that's at the crux of any new policy.


On the Road: I can't understand why we continue to blame everything on politics, the environment, and energy consumption when the real problem is over population. We are now all scratching for a smaller piece of the pie and the pie keeps getting smaller and smaller. When are we going to wake up and see the bigger picture?

Juliet Eilperin: Many people have mentioned population as a question that needs to be discussed on the context of climate change negotiations. At the same time, some of the world's most populous countries, such as China and India, point out their per capita greenhouse gas emissions are a fraction of the U.S.'s per capita emissions.


Harrisburg, Pa.: What is China's role in this conference and what does the Chinese government state about global warming and whether they are willing to make environmental adjustments that might slow their economic growth?

Juliet Eilperin: The Chinese government has been very involved in the talks. One of the main arguments its delegates have been making is they are willing to pursue significant emissions cuts if the U.S. eases technology transfer to their nations.


Takoma Park, Md.: As someone supposedly being "represented" by these obstructionist head-in-the-sand clowns on the US delegation, I feel so frustrated and helpless. What do you think is the best thing Americans can do to express solidarity with the rest of the world, particularly the developing countries that are going to suffer the most from climate change?

Juliet Eilperin: There are plenty of groups that focus primarily on the question of how climate change will affect developing nations. One of the main groups working on that question in the U.S. is Oxfam America, though there are plenty of other groups..


Alexandria, Va.: Hi Juliet,

Is there dissatisfaction? about the free market trade of carbon credits coming out or is there a willingness to discuss governmental taxing as an alternative because of the experience within the European Common Market with the alleged failure of the cap and trade system there? If so what went wrong and how do governments and others propose to do better and do people say that the US Warner-Lieberman plan address these defects?

Juliet Eilperin: One of the issues that's surfaced in light of the European Union's experience in carbon trading is how important it is to allocate allowances fairly. So that's a major focus of disussions concerning cap and trade, both here and in Washington.


Washington, D.C.: How often is the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change held, and how was Indonesia chosen as a location? Thanks.

Juliet Eilperin: The UNFCC meets every year. It met in Nairobi last year, for example, and Montreal the year before that. I'm not sure how Indonesia was chosen as the host country, but they often alternate between developing and developed countries.


Troy, N.Y.: How accurate are climate/weather model predictions? Can they predict next week, next month, next year, next decade well? Have past models been accurate? The Earth is hardly a controlled experimental environment. Could there be additional pathways that the climate picture more akin to the mess that is human metabolism, as opposed to a simple CO2 makes planet hotter, SO2 makes planet cooler and acid rain?

Juliet Eilperin: Climate models and weather models are two different things. Weather experts look at short term variability, climate scientists look at long terms climate changes. There are active debates on how accurate these climate models are, but they've become increasingly sophisticated over time. One person who's devoted a great deal of time to pinpointing the "fingerprint" of humans' impact on the climate is Benjamin Santer, a climate scientist at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory in California.


Anonymous: How important is it to get developing countries to abide by a mandatory standard for cutting emissions, whereas under Kyoto it only mandated more developed countries to do so? How effective could an agreement be without mandated emissions levels for developing countries?

Juliet Eilperin: Many people from different ideologies, including President Bush and John Kerry, believe developing countries need to seriously cut emissions in the near future, and that this issue can't be addressed without everyone taking action.


Washington, D.C.: Some of the questions here have suggested that government regulation of carbon emissions and the "cap and trade" option are two fundamentally different routes to curbing CO2 levels. This is a common misperception - in reality they are linked. Carbon credits only have value in a market because of their scarcity, and that scarcity comes directly from governments instituting mandatory caps on carbon emissions (at the national level). This is the primary reason why the price of carbon on the Chicago Climate Exchange is so much lower than the European exchange - the US has no mandatory cap, and hence the value of the commodity is low in this country.

Juliet Eilperin: That's an interesting point and you're right, a mandatory system would raise the price of carbon credits.


Alexandria, Va.: Today's front page of the Post Business section has a story about the peculiar lack of unity of the operators of large computer banks which operate on direct current. Cong. Frank Wolf has advocated an underground direct current power link from a shorter point to point across the scenic district he represents. Is there an international flavor to this debate which involves massive funding but would save many Gigawatts of power but perhaps can only be funded by governmental intervention and therefore hasn't rumbled to the surface? The US Department of Energy had to subsidize a commercial test link in Bixby Ohio of AEP's technology by 50%. AEP has huge international competitors with their own version of this technology. Data Centers Caught In Power Play (By Kendra Marr, Dec. 11)

Juliet Eilperin: I'm just not familiar with this subject, sorry.


Juliet Eilperin: We seem to have run out of questions, so I'm going to sign off now. Thanks for all the good questions. Juliet


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