Australian PM Rudd on Climate Change, Copenhagen

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has bulletproof green credentials—his first act as P.M. was to sign the Kyoto Protocol, forcing his country to slash carbon emissions. In December he'll play a key role in negotiating Kyoto's successor at the Copenhagen climate-change conference. He spoke with Newsweek's Barrett Sheridan about the global talks. Excerpts:

What needs to happen at Copenhagen for it to be considered a success?
I believe that we need, at a minimum, a political agreement that includes targets on the part of developed countries and commitments on the part of developing countries.

What's the distinction between "targets" and "commitments"?
In the Bali road map, which was agreed on two years ago, those who were responsible for the accumulated stock of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere—the developed countries—would face binding targets for reduction of total emissions. For developing economies, the commitments refer to verifiable actions to bring down their greenhouse-gas emissions below a "business as usual" level.

What else do you hope for in a Copenhagen agreement?
An appropriate set of financing arrangements to support adaptation and mitigation for the poorest developing countries, such as low-lying atoll states like Kiribati and Tuvalu. On top of that, you'd need a political agreement on deforestation. And then finally, you need language which supports real technology transfer.

I assume you mean sharing alternative-energy technologies with the developing world.
That's true. My own view is that it is important that the global economy regard many of these technologies as public goods, rather than simply private markets. Remember what we're looking at is large-scale -systemic market failure.

China and India have stymied past climate-change discussions, but have lately made encouraging statements. Is this just public relations, or do you sense a real change of heart?
My view is that both leaderships have an open mind on what will be necessary to secure a comprehensive, global deal. But it's still very fluid.

Is the U.S. Congress the biggest stumbling block in the developed world?
Congress presents unique problems on this score. But I can say the United States Congress and the U.S. system of government has always presented unique problems, particularly when it comes to binding treaty law.

If Copenhagen fails to produce a substantive agreement, is there a logical next step?
I think it's morally indefensible for the governments of the world to stand idly by and simply allow the Copenhagen process to degenerate.

Australia is trying to become a global leader in carbon capture and sequestration, but many are skeptical that the technology will work.
There are a number of well-established technologies in the CCS field. What is missing, however, is sufficient projects at scale, by which I mean electricity projects generating 500 megawatts. The G8 has committed to having 20 of these projects online by 2020, but there are none as of 2009.

Do you give any credence to geoengineering?
I'm aware of some of the conflicting views on this subject, but I find it's still too early to reach any formal conclusions. Besides, I believe we've got a range of other available technologies which we should be deploying: CCS, solar, wind, wave, tidal, geothermal. But none of this is possible if the forces of climate-change skepticism are allowed to undermine the prospect of a global agreement. The clock is ticking.

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