The EcoEquity Interview: Wolfgang Sachs

Wolfgang Sachs is a senior research fellow at the Wuppertal Institute of Climate, Environment and Energy. He has long been active in the German and Italian green movements and is currently Chair of the Board of Greenpeace in Germany. He is the author of For Love of the Automobile: Looking Back into the History of Our Desires, the editor of the immensely influential Development Dictionary: A Guide to Knowledge as Power, and the co-author of Greening the North: A Post-Industrial Blueprint for Ecology and Equity, which goes beyond critique to envisage concrete alternatives and feasible processes for social transition. More recently still, he is the author of Planet Dialectics: Explorations in Environment and Development and, in the role that occasioned this interview, a co-author of the lead chapter of the Third Assessment Reports Working Group 3 report. Working Group 3, of course, focuses on mitigation, and its first chapter contains the TARs most explicit discussion of equity.

>This is a long interview, but it barely scratches the surface of the issues.

>Tom: Since youre best known for your critique of development, I wonder if you could introduce that critique. Can you put it in a nutshell

>Well, first of all, I look at development as an historical period. Its a particular period, the 50 years after the Second War, when North/South relations are being seen in the light of the development idea. What does that mean If you want it in a nutshell, take the metaphor of the race. It says that all countries are moving along one single racetrack, so thats the idea of a universalist global path. On this racetrack some countries are running ahead and these forerunners are leading the way for the rest. And how do you see that they are running ahead Because they have a high GNP. And, as in any race, the ruling imperative is to catch up. So those who are lagging behind have got to catch up. And that is what history is about. That is the historical mission of these countries, to finally catch up with the forerunners. Thats the basic idea, I would say, the skeleton of the development idea.

>Tom:> And you have a critique of that idea Presumably you do not believe that this is a race that everyone can win

>I guess the critique can be reduced to two moments. The first is that in the dimension of time it has turned out that you cant sustain that race infinitely. That development does not simply go on. The ecological crisis has shown this. Not only is the race we spoke about conducted in an unfair manner, but more importantly the racetrack is leading in the wrong direction. And secondly, in the dimension of space, development has not been universalized across the globethe catching up doesnt happen. On the contrary, the hope of catching up has turned out to be is one of the major blunders of the last half a century. So on these two grounds, to be very simple, I would say the development idea is obsolete today.

>Tom:> I read The Development Dictionary, and I read Greening the North quite carefully, and it seemed to me that they were quite different. I wonder if your critique of development has changed, and I wonder in particular if your engagement withIm thinking about the climate issueis altering the way that you think about these questions in any way.

>No, the last observation I couldnt confirm, at least I wouldnt have detected yet how that works. But my perspective has changed; I would put it that way, roughly speaking. The major criticism leveled against Development Dictionary was that it doesnt provide alternatives. In a way, it leaves you with only the debunking of a myth. So what now The major criticism, however, leveled against Greening the North was that it doesnt take seriously the ideological and economic structures of the world and that it is hopelessly nave in thinking that you can unleash these kinds of reforms. Now, both of these criticisms are probably right. They represent two sides of the same coin. So for me personally, the Development Dictionary phase was demystification. The Greening the North phase was perhaps envisioning. And I also have come to the preliminary conclusion that you cant do both at the same time. I guess it is very difficult to write a book that is both demystifying and envisioning. You have to do the one or the other.

>Tom:> But connecting to the climate issue, and the question of elaborating a concrete politics around the notion of equality within limited environmental spacesisnt that exactly what reality requires us to do, which is to demystify old myths but envision a way forward

>You asked me what the role of climate policies is in the evolution, for whatever its worth, of my own thinking. I would say that it confirms and gives clear expression to why we thought it necessary to demystify the idea of development. Having been at the Wuppertal Institute, what Ive learned, among other things is to express in more precise termsand climate policy is a very good examplethe critique of development. Now we have the idea of environmental space, if you want a quantitative way of expressing what we tried to express in the Development Dictionary, but which we approached on a much more philosophical or anthropological level. We spoke about development leading into the environmental predicament, and we had all kinds of examples, but we didnt think of environmental space and the possibility of giving our critique a quantitative skeleton. However, Greening the North does this, and other people do it even more at the Wuppertal Institute.

>Tom:> The reason why Im so interested in environmental spaceand this gets to the heart of the EcoEquity projectis that it forces you to imagine justice and scarcity at the same time, which in a way sort of closes the circle of the promise that environmental politics has always made.

>Not to get off track and get into philosophizing, but you might want to distinguish between two notions of scarcity. The one notion of scarcity, which you have implied, is that nature out there gets ever more scarce, that theres simply less around. The second notion of scarcity would be socially constructed scarcityyoure living in a society that is organized in a way that it produces scarcity at ever-new levels. To my mind, the two notions are linked. We are, I guess, coming to grips with the scarcity of nature only inasmuch as we are going to be able to leave behind the scarcity produced by economic development. Therefore, I was kind of.

>Tom:> Im not quite sure I understand

>Economic development, in its mental fall-out, has the effect of making people feel that they are living in scarcity, meaning that what you have, be it money-wise or be it other resources, will always be insufficient, and your needs will always go beyond your means. So you have to scramble and the entire society runs on scrambling for the next level. However, it never arrives, so it’s in continuous scramble for the next level. Now that is, if you will, a core dynamics of economic development. If we want to deal with the scarcity of physical nature, we will in the end have to deal with the dynamics of economic development producing ever new rounds of social scarcities. Therefore, what we are up to is reinventing a social setting, a society, if you will, where there is more generosity, where there is a sense of enough-ness, offering some immunity against the spiral of scarcities.

>Tom:> Ill buy that. We all know thats true, but the struggle of an environmental radical whos trying to get practical is to find a way to engage this truth within the constraints of something like the climate negotiations. How does this question of ever escalating needs impinge upon the negotiations going on between North and South

>Tom, if you dont mind, maybe Ill bring up something I dont exactly see reflected in your questions. There is a problem with equity and I’ll tell you what. I guess Im zeroed in on your mentioning of scarcity because I sense that let me explain it, we come back to the same thing

>There is a limit to equity, and that is called sustainability, ecological sustainability. Its of course theoretically and politically possible that the climate negotiations will gain in equity but lose in terms of ecological sustainability. You can imagine a situation where convergence happens, but theres no contraction.

>Tom:> Its easy to imagine.

>So I think in the discussion about equity, its very important to keep in mind that sustainability has to go before equity. Now this has consequences, and I guess that therefore, I was kind of reacting and I would say that, for me personally, intellectually speakingthe critique of development is even more important than the critique of inequality.

>Tom:> Because development drives the ever greater

>Development makes contraction impossible, even though convergence is still possible, because you can always converge on a higher level of emissions. But equity makes sense only if its equity on a sustainable level, equity at a sustainable level. But sustainability is probably more difficult to achieve than equity. It is therefore a priority, politically and intellectually, to look for a break with the mimetic development model. Breaking mimetic development, which is being imitated throughout the world, is as important as the call for equity.

>Tom:> This is one of the reasons why we see it essential to engage the question of domestic equity. Its been noted that very few of the countries that are advocating equality as a principle within the global negotiations actually take equality as a serious domestic priority. For example, India and China have very high GINI coefficients. This is a very big problem

>Maybe there are two different perspectives from which one can plead for more equity. Theres one perspective, as you say, “I would like to have more equity in the climate policy to make it possible for the South to develop.” And that would be a perspective that finds friends in the South. And there is a perspective which rather would say, “I would like to have equity because we cannot allow the North to overstep its fair environmental space to this degree,” because forcing a confrontation with the equity issue is a driver for moving towards a more resource-light economy in the North.

>And I happen to be part of the second perspective. I dont find it adequate to say that you have to have equity to make the South develop in the conventional sense. Certainly, in order to have space for improving livelihoods in the South, that might imply some economic growth. But Im back to my question: what is development And I do think that the question, What is development or Are there many kinds of development is at the core of the equity question.

>Tom:> And it may be that the future of the development question and the future of the equity question are both driven by the climate crisis.

>That is right. Absolutely. Yes.

>Im interested in equity because it highlights the oligarchic nature of development. And I think that in particular our societies, or the global middle class, which includes Southern elites, have got to search for forms of well-being which are capable of justice. And since that is the point, for me, questioning development and pleading for equity are closely connected.

>Tom:> OK. Got it. Now, this is a question that is not in your development paper [see link above], but I have to ask if your friends in the South have ever criticized you for this perspective. Have you had any trouble with this Have you been in a situation where expressing the whole truth as you see it has been uncomfortable

>Yes, it has happened. However, at least among like-minded NGOs or activist intellectuals from the South, it comes down to the audience they are speaking to. Because I think they would to a great extent agree on the level of principle. But when it comes to the level of politics in the present diplomatic arenas, they feel vulnerable the moment they step back from the ruling development model. It weakens their bargaining position.

>Tom:> You mean the South does


>Tom:> This critique tends to weaken the Southern bargaining position

>It tends to weaken the Southern bargaining position inasmuch as, let’s say you have two elephants fighting each other, but we are part of the grass. So the elephants are fighting and the grass is going to be wiped out. So what do you do in order to save the grass Of course you can say to one elephant, “don’t trample us,” and he might want to do that, but having to confront the other elephant, he’s in a weaker position. Therefore, at first sight, such arguments put you in a weaker position. As a consequence, friends in the South who act in the diplomatic arena feel uneasy. On the second level, however, it seems to me that the claims of the South to equity will only be credible if they are accompanied by a growing awareness and a growing search for more benign forms of development. Because if the environmental space argument is true, a claim for equity on the basis of conventional development is simply not credible.

>Tom:> In very concrete terms, the problem is, if you’re going to have diversity and one of the diverse groups is going to be the rich white people, right It’s not just a lifestyle-some people are gay, some people are straight, some people are rich, some are poor, right Just by virtue of existing, just by virtue of having one of the lifestyles on the planet be the rich, resource-intensive lifestyle, it becomes very, very difficult for other groups to imagine and advocate alternative models of development. My view is that the environmental movement, in its own way, is discovering the problem of class. Not by going back and saying, “Well, those Commies were right all along,” but because the problem of scarcity is, in a key sense, the problem of inequality, as it confronts us in the ever-escalating cycle of needs.

>Yes, from the moment you have closed space, the question of who gets how much becomes crucial. It’s a question you could avoid as long as the prospect of progress was infinite, because then in the end, everybody would get his share, and done with it. But scarcity, of course, moves equity into center stage. We’re not there yet, but it’s coming.

>Tom:> It seems to be coming, yes. But there’s a question, because the climate issue focuses on energy use, and there’s a very widespread sense that if you could create clean energy for everybody, then you no longer have the development problem in the same degree. Other than energy and the associated climate change, what other types of environmental space do you see becoming closed or full most quickly, and how could you address those through alternative development models Water and food are key examples; if everybody doesn’t aspire to eat as much meat, then you don’t have the same demands on land. What are the others And what about the widespread hope that the technical fix will solve all aspects of the environmental space problem permanently

>Several things.

>Tom: Do whatever you want. This is a free country.

>Another entry point is, unfortunately, in the environmental negotiations, where we are stuck with the zombie category of the nation-state. The nation-state is an artifact. It’s a category that does not reflect reality adequately, but we are stuck with it for diplomatic reasons, because there are people sitting there negotiating. Most importantly, what is being covered up by that artifact is that the real gulf in the world is not between the Northern and the Southern countries, but between the global middle class and the marginalized majorities, and that a quarter to a third of the global middle class is sitting in the South.

>Tom: A quarter to a third

>Let’s say a quarter. If you go to Mexico City, and also Singapore is still part of the South. And so on and so forth You have a Germany sitting right in India. Germany has 82 million inhabitants, not all of them are really rich; I mean, there are easily 70 million middle class in India.

>Tom: That’s a good point.

>So these Southern factions of the global middle class consume on average more or less what our middle classes consume. However, the distance of their consumption from that of their backyard, from that in the hinterland of marginalized majorities, is much bigger. The average energy consumption of the Indian middle class is five to six times higher than those who are excluded from the world market. That disparity is not as high in a country like Germany. Maybe it’s as large in the United States, but not in Germany. And of course this local disparity is socially much more important because inequality is a relative matter, it depends on the frame of reference you have.

> Having said this, I want to say that it has a consequence for the international negotiations. A good way to read these negotiations is that the Southern and Northern factions of the global middle class are negotiating with each other, leaving out the marginalized majorities, the social majority of the world. So in a way, 1.5 billion people are discussing with each other, but the other 4.5 billion, whatever it is, are excluded or included to a much, much reduced extent.

> Now, wait. I’m coming to your question. There’s much to be said for the climate negotiations. But certainly the one-third of mankind that lives directly from nature couldn’t care less. What’s much more important for them is biodiversity, since the climate negotiations concern the fossil resources, and the fossil resource crisis is basically a crisis of the middle class, while the crisis of living resources hits the other part of the world. And what is connected with the crisis of living resources is potentially more important than the climate negotiations.

> Now I’m not saying that, despite the differences, there are no connections. Which, by the way, would be a nice thesis I haven’t seen it systematically reflecting upon the connection between the fossil crisis and the living resources crisis…

> You know the real equity issue is not the one of emission levels; the real equity issue is not the one between nation-states. The real equity issue is between the global middle class and the marginalized majority. They are affected by the climate by being the victims of climate change. Now that is the serious equity question. It’s a different level. There are two levels of equity in the climate discussion. And that’s the more serious one.

>Now here we make a loop to our discussion before. Now, the behavior of Southern governments to go after conventional development and not to take into account the climate problem right now becomes irresponsible vis–vis their own populations. So I would today take issue with any Southern government that is standing at the sideline and pointing at the North saying, “You were first.” They are not excused from vigorously embarking on a path that is less fossil fuel- intensive. And they are not focusing on this challenge today, and I think that is increasingly irresponsible.

>Tom: Well, to some extent they are. You know, of course, that the Chinese are doing much more to reduce emissions than the Americans. Also, the Southern negotiating position is excusable in the very short term by the Realpolitics of the Kyoto ratification dilemma. Our position would probably be that, once the Kyoto ratification has occurred, if it ever does, it will be time for a different kind of conversation, as the period of the Berlin mandate-the obviously clear moral solidity of the Berlin mandate-will have passed. But until that time, it’s not clear. Getting back to your elephants thing, at the moment, the Southern negotiators are between a rock and a hard place.

>It’s true, in the short term, you’re right. I tried to explain that before, but I do not see, coming to reinforce that predicament of the island countries, I do not

>Tom: You don’t see them getting ready.

>I do not really see the large developing countries saying, “We are going to be vulnerable, so we are going to do everything to get this going,” which means you don’t sit there having a passive role as they did the past years. I mean being a developing country seems to have given them the right to sit at the sidelines. Yes of course, as the climate convention says, it’s right for the North to take the lead, but that doesn’t mean that you just sit and wait to see what happens. It seems to me that they have not really realized that they are going to be first to be hit. Maybe it’s coming now, I don’t know, but

>Paul: There are a couple of different issues. First of all, the people who are negotiating are the Southern middle classes who are not going to be the ones who are hit. If they were as concerned about their subsistence populations as they would need to be to reflect this understanding in the climate negotiations, they’d be behaving very differently currently with their internal development policy. They could do much more for their subsistence populations, but basically they’re participating in their exploitation. For them to take a political stand based on concern for those populations would be inconsistent with their political positioning.

>The other thing is that it seems to me that their strategy vis–vis the North is that their bargaining strength comes from their threat to be able to destroy the planet, and that therefore to begin to take the lead on action – this goes back to what you were saying earlier – weakens their bargaining position.

>Well, right. Two comments. The one is that it is already a very weak basis for your bargaining power if your cooperation does not consist in saving the planet but saving yourself. That’s the question. And it’s only a matter of time until they’ve come through. Then the North will say, “You know, you are already going down the river here, you shouldn’t really”

>And second, yes, you’re right, of course, but as I said before, I do believe that there will be no solution to the climate crisis before we are not moving out of the competitive setting, where it is understood to be an environmental space which has to be conquered in a competitive spirit where everybody is called upon to grab as much as he can. So again, therefore, it is crucial to think about development as a process that does not necessarily increase emissions of CO2. So to delink development and CO2 and in that sense also to delink well being and development is again crucial. Funny enough, the more you do that, the less important the climate negotiations become, because you say “I don’t care, you know, what allocation you give me more or less, I don’t need that much in any case.” I exaggerate; I want to express the attitude.


>Tom: We’re going to change the topic and ask you about the TAR Working Group 3, which raises another meta-question. Is there any connection at all between this conversation we’ve been having about “development” and what went on in Working Group 3, any connection at all, or is it a completely different topic

>[Laughs] To answer your question, you would need to look at the first chapter, of which I was a coauthor, to see that it is in part an exposition of these problems, and that it highlights dimensions somewhat different from the rest of the report. Some of the issues we have touched upon here are alluded to in chapter one.

>Tom: In terms of the alternative visions of development

>Readers, looking at the first chapter, can say, “Hey, what is this Interesting.” And they can see that there is, of course, a plurality of approaches. But then the question: how does this discussion relate to the rest of the report Or the people who are more into the rest of the report could say, “You know, that is strange what they were talking about in the first chapter.” Which they do. The first chapter is quite controversial.

>I would say that the report is supposed to represent the opinion of the scientific world, and nobody can doubt that people in the scientific world share a number of the opinions that are now in the first chapter, so they’ve got to be there. The plurality of the scientific world has got to be represented in IPCC and if that is not the case, IPCC doesn’t carry out its mandate. It may not make things easier for policymakers, but that’s a different matter.

>Tom: So you believe, in fact, that the conversation, the concerns that you helped to articulate in chapter one of the Working Group 3 report are concerns that are representative of the scientific community on this planet at this time

>Well, I wouldn’t put it that way. There are three objectives of the Framework Convention on Climate Change. The first is, you could say, is development. You could also say economic effectiveness, but let’s say development to be a little bit more open. The second is equity. The third is sustainability, in that, at the end of the day, there should be no unacceptable concentration of greenhouse gases. Now, as it stands, the mainstream of climate economists, it appears, is interested in development and economic effectiveness, fewer are interested in equity, and the interest in sustainability is marginal.

>Tom: Less in sustainability than in equity

>Well, I don’t know.

>Let me say something in favor of these colleagues, and it’s certainly true for those who come from the US. If you look at this country, you face an enormously strong orthodoxy of economic thinking, a thinking that would out of hand reject any notion of climate politics, of climate economics. A minority of climate economists in this country have taken it on themselves to make an economic case in favor of climate mitigation, but having to face that enormously powerful orthodoxy, they do everything they can to apply the very same instruments that are applied by the orthodoxy. So they will try, of course, to work through the climate problematic in terms of an economic public policy methodology

>Paul: Cost/benefit analysis, specifically.

>Rational choice theory, cost benefit analysis and all of that. They do that for rhetorical reasons, as any science is rhetoric, meaning that you want to persuade somebody, and they want to persuade policymakers and economists in this country. So I can understand that they hesitate to touch the more sensitive issues.

>Tom: Sure, absolutely, no problem. Do I hear a “but”


>It doesn’t make the other issues go away, of course! The climate economists might eventually be capable of convincing the larger community of economists that a real climate policy after all will not be a catastrophe, that the country will not immediately fall into economic bankruptcy. But that still leaves open the question of equity on an international level, and it leaves open the question to what extent the kinds of changes introduced are commensurable to the challenge-that you want to arrive at, say, , 450-500ppm concentrations in, say , 50-60 years.

>Now you would have to take this goal and ask yourself, by way of backcasting, “What type of changes would vaguely promise to bring us closer to that kind of objective” But this is a question our friends the climate economists can’t really ask because the orthodox methodology is to evaluate given options, at a given moment. They don’t backcast.

>But the sustainability question in the last instance requires a normative approach. You accept a certain outcome of concentration, and then you backcast to try to envision a particular path of development that will get you there. And then you wonder under what kind of institutional design, what kind of tax reform, what kind of technology I would want in order to get closer to that goal. Equity doesn’t come up.

>Equity, basically, requires a discourse about rights, and a discourse about rights is at odds with the discourse about utility. The utilitarian discourse and the rights discourse don’t match well. For that reason, economists don’t feel comfortable discussing equity. They have methods of doing that, to a certain extent, to making it a utilitarian approach; you know, to take up some questions of, as they call it, distribution. But that is not enormously convincing for all of those who are outside of economics.

>Tom: It may be the case, though, maybe because God has a sense of humor, that we’re in a situation now where in order to imagine a plausible scenario, that he leads us to something, 500ppm or less, we have to imagine a significant degree of equity, or we can’t imagine an effective climate regime. I mean, to talk about another German philosopher, there’s the question of legitimation, which Habermas has made so much of. Whatever the diplomats agree to, it won’t mean shit unless it’s perceived as legitimate widely throughout the world

>Yes, but Tom, excuse me; we were discussing the tribe of economists, and for economists that is not accessible as such.

>Tom: That whole argument that I just


>At least in my view, because I mean, of course, your classical economists think in terms of optimizing choices, and it is always going to be utilitarian, it’s always going to be oriented within the range of available options. It has to do with decision theory, and decision theory requires that you make the decision here and now. It’s not open really for that kind of question. Therefore the usefulness of the climate economics as it is today is limited, in my opinion. You have to bring to the fore an approach in which ecologically normative approach figure at the same time, and that did not happen sufficiently.

>Paul: Were there more than a handful of non-economists in Working Group 3

>More than a handful, yes, but I didn’t count them. It’s not a matter so much of disciplinary affiliations, because you have varying types of economists, and you can also have very economically-minded philosophers.

>Paul: Paradigmatic rather than disciplinary.

>That’s right, yes.

>Tom: Was there anything that occurred that led you to believe that perhaps in the fourth assessment report, or the fifth assessment report, there will be some sort of paradigmatic revolution in Working Group 3 Anything that leads you to imagine the possibility of isolating orthodoxy

>Let me put it that way. It is like the icebergs in climate science. The IPCC has a certain slow evolution. At first in ’92, basically one only spoke about the economics of things. In ’96 there was a huge chapter on equity and there was also some other mention of equity. Now, in the 2000 report, equity is a bit stronger, and it’s not just in the first chapter; it’s also mentioned in other chapters, and the normative presence of sustainability is there too, in elements. Now you can imagine this kind of trajectory going on, so that the emphasis continues to shift towards equity and toward sustainability. This may be the case. But as you know, in the last instance, the shape of the IPCC depends on the shape of the powers involved. Because it’s not a simple scientific club, it’s this hybrid of politics and science. In the last instance, the chief authors are selected by politics. It depends, then, how the politics works in nominating a new round of IPCC authors.

>May I add something

>Tom: Certainly

>Working Group 3 is a very strange animal, because as you know, the entire IPCC works on a particular view of science-that science is a value-free process that, through competition and discussion and mutual criticism, will arrive at a particular truth, which then can be transmitted to policymakers. Now that might be true for climate science, though even there I doubt it, but at least it’s conceivable. But it is certainly not what science is all about when it comes to social change and politics. As everybody knows, science of social change and politics is as plural, if you want, as society is. So the hope that Working Group 3, which has to deal with the politics of climate mitigation, can arrive at a truth to be transmitted to policymakers, that is a pious illusion. So maybe the epistemological basis which is in a way given, imputed, to the IPCC, well it’s not there for Working Group 3. It doesn’t fit that model.

>Paul: One of the reasons that it has been so easy for it to be dominated by economists is because they are the ones that are the closest fit to that epistemological model. Once you start talking about how you might want things to be, you’re outside that range of discourse.

>Exactly And the chapter one controversy was not only about equity and contraction and convergence. Or at least, it was about both. It was also the normative emphasis on sustainability.

>The entire approach of chapter one was to be slightly more normative than the rest. I mean, chapter one gives you the impression that the IPCC has an idea of what a climate policy is, whereas economists, as they see themselves, never want something in particular; they calculate something I guess I’m only expressing a flavor, and the normative flavor in the first chapter was very much disliked by the Americans. It comes off like value-loaded advice. It’s not neutral; it’s policy prescriptive.

>Tom: Policy prescriptive! Imagine that.

>So you are supposed to be on the IPCC and to be dealing with climate change, victims, vulnerable, and not be policy-prescriptive. They don’t like that.

>Tom: So you’re supposed to say something like, if you wanted to prevent these people from drowning, you would do this.

>Not “you would do this,” but “you may do this”. May is the core. Wherever you have an indicative, you put “may” and now it’s scientific!


>Tom: That’s pretty funny. That’s pretty funny. But on the question of whether it was sustainability.

>If it wasn’t the equity question, it was the sustainability question. Then there were some reflections on risk and uncertainty, which came down to saying, once you are in a situation of ignorance, I put it now roughly, what the hell do you want with rational behavior So again, such a stance was not welcome. So it was the overall approach, rather than a specific bone of contestation.

>Tom: One thing that is very interesting for me is about the way in which the fate of equity and the fate of sustainability are bound together, and it’s very interesting to hear that they were also objecting to the emphasis on sustainability.

>But prior to the drafting of the TAR, there were, and this is based entirely on rumors and innuendoes – I wasn’t there for any of it – there were other incidents in which I’ve heard that the Americans tried to influence the research agenda, specifically to exclude per capita analysis of any type.

>I don’t know.

>Tom: And also to de-emphasize the 450 scenario

>It is true that the Americans are the most politically minded. I don’t want to exaggerate too much-maybe also the Chinese, but they are not there to that extent. But the other countries basically don’t care. You know, you’re scientists, and you should act like scientists. But the Americans are more politically minded; ; they seem to know they have a political mission, and it’s done like that. Many governments don’t even bother to comment on the drafts, but the Americans do, with a staff of many people. That was one thing I have learned, how influence and power works, even in such a relatively marginal kind of thing like the IPCC.

>Paul: I think that represents an important and probably true belief on the behalf of the US government that in fact, the IPCC reports are very, very potent tools in the hands of US NGOs for making really important changes in US policy. They understand that there are tens of billions of dollars at stake in what’s written in that report, and I think that’s an accurate perception. There’s no doubt that the second assessment report made a huge difference in this country in terms of climate science.

>It’s explosive material. And it’s not an accident that Working Group 3 was perceived by critical observers as somehow “wishy-washy.” It’s true, of course. It is wishy-washy.


>Tom: Let’s change the subject one more. Let’s talk about Europe. Wolfgang, when we had lunch last week, you used a term that I had never heard before, which was “the European identity movement.” And you talked about climate politics as a sort of football in this European identity movement. I know you’re pessimistic, but the truth of the matter is that none of us know what is going to happen, and in a sense, it’s gone farther than I ever expected it to go. I never thought Europeans would break with American policy to this extent, and if I might just ask the most high-level question: is it because the Cold War is fading from memory; is it because the Europeans are genuinely more concerned about the environment, or is it because of something that might be suggested by the term, “European identity movement”

>Ja. All three. They are also mutually reinforcing each other. The European identity is more necessary because there is no Cold War any more; and the environment is handy, if you want, given also the landscape of conflicts, to be a resource to be drawn upon for your own identity. So that somehow goes together.

> As I said, I am not overly optimistic here because Europe is not unified. It’s not only climate policy. Also when it comes maybe to free trade policies, maybe less so for defense policy, I don’t know. So Europe is a many-faceted entity. Like you I would not have expected it to go as far as it has, and that has to do that we have a positive feedback group-the search of Europe for a social identity, the anger about the lack of leadership from the United States, the anger and the rising distrust versus the United States, not only environment, also in Kosovo, and also the rise in environmental awareness-all of that suddenly plays together.

>And the declaration of Bush that the Kyoto Protocol was dead was the little piece of fire to inflame that. It triggered, suddenly, the awareness, “Hey, we are different!” And this awareness was fueled into what is an established and time-honored policy arena, the Trans-Atlantic relations, for 50 years the most important policy arena. So now it became a matter of grand politics. Now if it stays that way, I don’t know. I can’t tell.

>But on the other hand, it’s also true that the frictions with the US are growing. People realize that the only world power that is left has abandoned leadership, which by definition makes the world incapable of acting. And I do think that is going to put the legitimacy of American hegemony in crisis. Because once the leader is absent in an essential question, like the environmental predicament of the planet, people sense that is very dangerous. It’s as if your parents are not there, you know. Sooner or later you give them a hard time.

>Paul: This is a little different from the usual realist analysis of when there is only one hegemon, counter-hegemonic forces emerge. This is a situation that in a vacuum, you have to have an alternative form of leadership. That’s a different structure to the dynamic.

>I agree, because the model in which one hegemony makes opposition emerge is too much of a confrontative model.. But it’s not a matter here of other power brokers. It’s a matter of the world not getting its act together, and that would certainly be the message of Johannesburg [Rio+10] as well. If I had to predict today, the Rio+10 message will be that the world isn’t getting its act together, period! Why The United States. And of course, all the other, how you say, “crooks” can hide behind the United States.

>Tom: It’s a peculiar type of hegemony, because it’s a hegemony of “let’s do nothing,” which means of course it’s a hegemony of let the corporations do whatever they want.

>It’s as dangerous for power to negate the problem, to deny it, as to act.

>Tom: But it’s becoming obvious to a lot of people that this is a dangerous historic opportunity for the Europeans. What if, as pure speculation, what if the European leadership bloc who wishes to seize this opportunity, what if they get a chance Right Obviously the only way forward is by forming some sort of either de facto or de jure understanding between the Europeans and the G-77. Right

> How would that understanding deal with the problem of equity, the problem of sustainability, and the problem of development, which are the three big problems that we’ve been talking about in this conversation I would claim that the bottom line that the Europeans are going to stand with the South or the whole thing is going to fall apart. But that’s sort of obvious. What more can we say about this If the US just remains obstructionist, is there a possibility of some sort of historical understanding emerging in the rest of the world

>I will try to find out. Now, Germany would have the capacity to be a leader on that, but they do not have the historical stature to do that. Germany can’t afford to be a leader in anything. Nor do I believe in the European Union. Now, you have Berlusconi, you have Aznar in Spain, both of them couldn’t care less about the environment, couldn’t care less about climate. I don’t quite believe that European Union will exert enough power of persuasion to pull them in. I don’t quite believe that. But, I am open to surprise.

>Which means there is only one other alternative left, that you try to envisage a set of climate alliances between groups of countries. So basically there is nothing which would prevent, particularly in such a situation as a lack of leadership, which would prevent, let’s say, Germany and Holland and Austria, maybe also the UK, to say, “You know, we are going to do that, in alliance with, say, India and also an African country, maybe three or four others, South Africa maybe, and what we do is establish a compact. We are going to reduce this way, you are going to converge in this way, and we will establish forms of cooperation, looking for ways of developing, let’s say, into a post-fossil stage on both parts.” I wouldn’t see it in the first place as a matter of money, though money will be involved at a certain point. Probably the political agreement is more important than the money involved. And the real cooperation, the common search, which is different from exporting environment technologies into those other countries.

>Tom: What’s the difference

>Normally, when they say cooperation, it’s a euphemism for marketing.


>Tom: How would the equity or the sustainability factor, or both

>The equity factor would come in insofar as you would agree upon intentions or on a program that would be comparable to a contraction/convergence approach. You would have an understanding which says, maybe not in the same terms, but which says, “You are going to increase your emissions, but at a much slower gradient, and we are coming down with our emissions. So you have got to look for a different model of development in order to leapfrog the fossil stage, and we have got to look for a different model of development in order to pull out of the fossil stage.” And here you have the equity and the sustainability search.

>Now if one did that, if you imagined that there are two or three groups of countries emerging, different kinds of countries, maybe also of different political closeness or interest, I could imagine that the Kyoto protocol would become temporarily irrelevant, and it can be taken up again after we don’t have to deal with a leaderless world power any more.

>Paul: The problems with that kind of solution, obviously, are that it allows as much of the world as is not involved to free-ride. But the advantages are that over the short 10- to 20-year period, it’s much more important to get significant technological and political advances, regardless of how much you really change emissions. To set the examples, that that’s much more important than

>And to prove that the free-rider problem doesn’t exist, because free riding implies a benefit. If you don’t have a benefit, then let them free ride, who cares

>Paul: Umm. OK

>And aren’t we saying all the time that it would be to a great extent also beneficial The more you say there are co-benefits rather than burdens, to speak in the terminology of negotiations in IPCC That was already a big success, not to have ancillary benefits, but co-benefits. But, true enough, it requires courage, and it’s a risk. But that’s what politics is all about.

>Tom: Politics is about taking risks if things won’t work out

>I mean in the full sense of the word. If you think that the oldest art of politics is to go to war. Nothing is as risky as going to war.

>You know, in all this, I did not expect to the extent that Bush would such be a confessionary president

>Tom: Confessionary

>That he acts out of confession, out of conviction, out of belief. What you have now, the US is a religious/industrial complex.

> I thought that this type of politician has already died out. There’s nothing post-modern in that.

>Tom: They believe their own bullshit!

>Ja! They believe! He goes there and isn’t affected in a minimal way and he doesn’t even have the majority. You see Any normal politician would have tried to have a much broader consensus in the middle. But no, right through!

>Tom: Which of course is solidifying the European opposition.


>Tom: And the US opposition, even the American environmental movement.

>It ignites again. The flame is back.

>But I must confess what I said before the elections, I said maybe it’s not all that bad if Bush wins. I said that if Gore won we would have the same Congress constellation, and Gore, by virtue of being a Democrat and in a way pro-climate, would not be capable of changing that, while Bush is. I though that if Bush took a climate-friendly policy

>Tom: There were a lot of people taking that position. That was the Nixon-to-China scenario.

>But it sometimes happens. As in Germany when Joschka Fischer took us into the Kosovo War. Germany could not have gone to war in Kosovo without the Greens in government, let’s face it.

>Tom: Is that really true

>Otherwise the streets would have been full, and the country would have been destabilized. But when one of the symbols of pacifism is the foreign minister, what can you do Not even two months-weeks, after they came into government. If there had still been Helmut Kohl, it would have been much more difficult. And I said that the same reasoning applies, that Bush would have the political clout to make a real move into climate policies, because he could carry the Republican side, while Gore wouldn’t.

>But I was totally wrong! [Laughs] So don’t trust my predictions!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.