\"The United States Is Putting the World at Risk\"
Por Néfer Muñoz
The renowned Harvard economist maintains that there is no reason why the United States should be beyond the scope of the Kyoto Protocol, which seeks to curb emissions of climate changing gases.
SAN JOSE, (Tierramérica).-
"Not for political, ethical or practical reasons should (the United States) be beyond the reach of the Kyoto agreement" that aims to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, says U.S. economist Jeffrey Sachs in an exclusive dialogue with Tierramérica.
Considered a "guru" of Western capitalism, and advisor to several governments in the developing South, Sachs is director of the influential Center for International Development at Harvard University in the United States.
A critic of Washington's environmental policy, Sachs recognizes, however, that his country's announced increase in aid for development, made at the recent Monterrey Summit (Mexico, Mar 18-22), marks a "real change".
He also serves as a consultant to United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, and participated in the Monterrey Conference on Financing on Development, after which he headed to Costa Rica to give a conference at a gathering of pro-development academics, students and promoters.
TIERRAMERICA: What do you think of the U.S. opposition to the Kyoto Protocol, the international treaty of 1997 that sets targets for curbing emissions of greenhouse gases?
Sachs: I believe the United States made a serious mistake by remaining outside that international agreement.
- Because the United States is the leading contributor to the increase in greenhouse gases. That country is home to four percent of the global population, however, it contributes 25 percent of those polluting gases. As such, there are no political, ethical or practical reasons why it should be beyond the scope of the agreement.
- President George W. Bush in February proposed an alternative to Kyoto based on fiscal incentives to convince corporations and individuals to voluntarily reduce emissions in the United States. Do you think it is a good option?
- It is not very realistic. I think it does not go far enough, because it isn't really solving the problem. I don't think the United States appreciates the fact that it is putting the rest of the world in danger. It is not only a domestic problem, because if the climate changes its consequences are suffered by the entire planet.
- What then would be an effective measure to halt global emissions of climate-changing gases?
- I am in favor of putting taxes on carbon emissions, a form of hiking the price of using fossil fuels. I believe it is the most effective way to channel the problem.
- Do you think the Kyoto Protocol will ultimately be successful?
- I think it is close to being successful, even though the United States, and perhaps some other countries, decides not to participate. All the other major countries should ratify the accord to reinforce it without the United States. However, it still isn't clear what will happen. Some say it is unlikely that it will be signed on time before the upcoming summit in Johannesburg, South Africa (also known as Rio+10, to begin in late August 2002).
- You have stated that globalization has a positive side, but also some negative aspects.
- Yes, here are some negative examples. A fifth of the planet's population lives in poverty and many countries ore on the verge of ecological collapse as a result. Also, it has led to the creation of negative international forces, such as terrorism, money laundering and other crimes. But of course there are positive aspects of the process, such as the deceleration of demographic growth, the explosion of new technologies and an increase in the population in urban centers, which facilitates access to public services.
- With respect to sustainable development, what is your opinion on the proposal that the rich countries should contribute 0.7 percent of their gross domestic product (GDP) towards helping poor countries, as was once again brought up, unsuccessfully, at the recent Monterrey Summit?
- That is also a responsibility of the rich countries to the poorest. The United States is the smallest contributor of the donor states, as it provides just 0.1 percent of its GDP. In contrast, the Europeans contribute an average of 0.3 percent, and some, like Sweden, Norway and Denmark, contribute 0.7 percent. I believe the United States should do more.
- Do you think there will be more changes in that aspect, apart from those announced by Washington?
- I am pleased with the announcement that the U.S. government will increase its foreign aid from 10 billion to 15 billion dollars. It is the first time that an increase of that size in the budget has been made in the last 20 years. Although it is not enough, it marks a real change, which gives some hope for global solidarity.
To learn more about the Center for International Development, which Sachs heads, connect yourself to: www.cid.harvard.edu
* Néfer Muñoz is an IPS correspondent.