The Nation Interviews Jeffrey Sachs

Jeffrey Sachs, The Age of Sustainable Development

“I believe that a large majority of Americans know the score right now…. They know that we should move to renewables, but the Koch brothers have more power than all of them in the way that money moves our political system right now.”—Jeffrey Sachs

Below are excerpts from a recent interview with Jeffrey Sachs published in The Nation. In the interview, Sachs discusses many of the issues from his new book The Age of Sustainable Development, including the technical and and political challenges that must be addressed to ensure the success of capping carbon emissions and paving the way for sustainable development. He also focuses on the importance of the forthcoming summit in Paris of world leaders to negotiate a binding agreement to reduce global carbon emissions.

On the importance of China and the United States working together:

“It’s a real watershed in that the two big emitting countries said we’re going to sign an agreement next year in Paris. That’s very important. The substance of it is mixed. China, for example, said it will peak by 2030. It didn’t say peak at what level, and 2030 is, after all, sixteen years from now. That offer can and should be improved considerably. The US said that it will reduce emissions by around a quarter by 2025, also not a breakthrough. And the administration said that’s what can be done using EPA regulations, rather than trying to get something through this obstructionist Senate.

So is this sufficient? No. Is it an opening gambit? I hope so. If it’s the final story before Paris, it’s not good enough. But I don’t think it will be the final story.”

On the challenges for poorer, developing countries to be green:

“Poor countries need the incremental help to develop in a clean, green and resilient way. Those who can and should pay—because they’re so rich or because they’re emitting a lot of pollutants— should put up some of the resources that are absolutely vital for poor countries. Poor countries need to be able to manage both the ongoing changes of climate and to enable the mobilization of large-scale renewable energy. Climate finance, and the broader issue of development finance, is going to be on the table in Addis Ababa in July, and there are no shared concepts yet on this. It’s one of the most difficult and still unformed parts of the whole agenda.”

On the role of oil companies:

“I think at the end of the day, the world is going to want to save itself. And this kind of traditional behavior, which after all has been the way the oil industry has worked for the hundred forty years or so of the sector, has to change. And it will change, but how fast? Tobacco use is coming down, but so gradually that there’s huge loss of life and suffering that continues decades after the dangers were discovered. With fossil fuels, it is so slow it’s threatening the planet in fundamental ways, and the whole point is we’ve got to dramatically speed up.”

On nuclear energy:

“My basic assertion is: do your arithmetic. You have to have some plan. You can’t just say no to everything. I know that nuclear is going to be part of the plan for a lot of countries. There’s no way that China is going to get out of this coal-based economy without a significant amount of base-load nuclear energy. Whether you like it or not, it’s the reality, and if you tell China don’t do nuclear, of if they decide to not do nuclear, you’re going to have a lot more CO2 emissions.”

On the promise of carbon capture as way to draw in fossil fuel companies:

“I’m recommending, and working with Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon and the French government as host of next year’s COP21, to try to create a large public-private partnership to test the proposition of carbon capture and sequestration over the next ten years. And I am calling on the major coal countries in particular and fossil-fuel countries more generally—the United States, Canada, Australia, European Union, China, the Gulf Cooperation Council, India—to join in a consortium to see if this is real, if it’s safe, if it could it be
made economical, if the reservoirs exist to do this in a prudent way. We don’t know the answers to any of those questions right now.”

On how to raise the money to curb carbon emissions:

We better raise real money on the table. How to do that? Many ways, but one way is that countries should contribute funds to this global pool based on their greenhouse gas emissions. If the rich countries paid something on the order of $5 a ton of CO2, which is much less than the social cost, and put that money into a central kitty like the Green Climate Fund. If upper-middle income countries paid something like $2.50 per ton of emissions, again much less than the social cost, we’d reach $100 billion of cash per year. While we’re probably not going to end up exactly with that kind of formula, we need something that says we need new financing, it should be linked the polluter-pay principle, and it should be real bucks pooled into the Green Climate Fund.

On the American political situation:

“I believe that a large majority of Americans know the score right now. They know that we’re in danger. They know that we should move to renewables, but the Koch brothers have more power than all of them in the way that money moves our political system right now. So we have to open up the corruption of the politics. We have to talk about the corruption of the politics. We have to talk about the fact that people like Mitch McConnell and others are just on the take of whether it’s coal or oil, that they’re there representing narrow interests, not the American people. We have to get out there and raise voices about this.”

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