Former Norwegian PM and U.N. Climate Change Envoy Gro Harlem Brundtland on the Challenges to Curb Global Warming

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Nearly 1,000 diplomats from around the world are meeting in Bonn, Germany, this week to draft a new global treaty to control greenhouse gases to replace the Kyoto Protocol which expires in 2012. We speak with former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland, one of three prominent international figures named special U.N. envoy on climate change. She is former director-general of the World Health Organization. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Nearly a thousand diplomats from around the world are meeting in Bonn, Germany, this week to draft a new global treaty to control greenhouse gases to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012. The conference began Monday, just days after the U.N.-sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued its third major report on global warming. Earlier this year, the panel declared the warming of the Earth’s climate system unequivocal and attributable to human activity. On Friday, the group of 2,000 scientists said the means and technology to prevent global warming exists, but that citizens of the world and governments must quickly take action.

RAJENDRA PACHAURI: This report for the first time has dealt with lifestyles and consumption patterns as an important means by which we can bring about mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions. So, of course, you can look at technology, you can look at policies, but what is an extremely powerful message in this report is the need for human society as a whole to start looking at changes in lifestyles and consumption patterns.

AMY GOODMAN: Many environmental groups praise the IPCC’s findings. This is Catherine Pearce, a climate campaigner for Friends of the Earth.

CATHERINE PEARCE: It shows that the options to tackle climate change are available. They’re here and now, very affordable. And it’s time, really, for governments to take heed of some of the information in this report and actually take on board some of the technologies that are available to us, some of the policies and measures that are working to reduce emissions, and act now to tackle climate change.

AMY GOODMAN: At the United Nations, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has named three prominent international figures to serve as special envoys on climate change. They’re Gro Harlem Brundtland, the former prime minister of Norway; Ricardo Lagos, the former president of Chile; and Han Seung-soo, the former foreign minister of South Korea.

Gro Harlem Brundtland joins us on the phone from the United Nations. In 1981, she became Norway’s first female prime minister. In ’83, she established and chaired the World Commission on Environment and Development, known as the Brundtland Commission. The panel issued a landmark document outlining the political concept of social and economic sustainable development. In 1998, she was elected director-general of the World Health Organization. She is a medical doctor and scientist by training. Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland, welcome to Democracy Now!

GRO HARLEM BRUNDTLAND: Thank you very much.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about what your charge is right now?

GRO HARLEM BRUNDTLAND: What — the work we are doing?


GRO HARLEM BRUNDTLAND: Yes. So, well, the secretary-general has decided that the climate issue is so vital for the world that he has put it at the highest level on his agenda, and that he is aware that this year, 2007, is indeed very crucial, because of the importance of having a change in the atmosphere, politically speaking, between countries before the Bali meeting that is our hope for getting a new commitment through a new climate convention protocol that can come after the 2012 first Kyoto Protocol, which expires at that date. So it’s not just that everyone has to do more, and immediately, very quickly now, even with the existing agreements, but we risk to have a gap where countries have no agreement at all if we don’t have a change in the political will during this year. So the envoys will be trying to solicit the views of heads of states and government and to help the secretary-general get the full picture of what could be helping to move that process forward and not to lose time.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about when you were pushing for sustainable development in Norway, the total turnaround that took place? You had industry. You had the oil companies opposed. Explain what happened.

GRO HARLEM BRUNDTLAND: Well, first, already in the 1970s and early '80s, we had very strong policies to force old industry in Norway to change into new technologies. So even before the report and before I worked on that issue in an international sense, Norway was, you know, starting on a road to a cleaner environment. However, the drama and the size of the problem, when you also added the climate change issue, which we were aware of during the commission's work, and the first really serious scientific reports came out, then we prepared for Norway a CO2 tax. So already in 1990, when I re-entered government after a short period of a conservative government, I presented to the Norwegian Parliament a CO2 tax, which also included, of course, our oil industry. And so, we took action early.

And, you know, I’m just dreading the thought today, if we hadn’t done that, then they will, I can tell you, scream, not only in Norway and by the oil industry, feeling that they were unfairly treated, because no other oil industry around the world had heard of anything like it. Not only that, but I was really put under pressure from other oil-producing countries. They thought I was crazy. You know, how can a Norwegian prime minister and Norway, as a country, introduce a CO2 tax, seemingly undermining their whole asset of oil? So, you know, this was a hard discussion even before the Rio Summit, when I met many of the OPEC countries and especially the Gulf states. But we have done it, and certainly it has made a difference. If we hadn’t done that, our total CO2 emissions today from Norway would have been considerably higher.

So, you know, you need to take into use mechanisms that really make change. And now, the rest of the world — I mean, everyone are doing different things — but now we need a change in pace, because the last scientific reports are so much stronger in the drama that they paint that we can no longer sit around waiting for years to agree on the fairest possible way of dealing with the problem. We really have to move much more quickly forward.

AMY GOODMAN: As you know, Gro Harlem Brundtland, the United States has not signed onto the Kyoto Protocol. What is your comment on that?

GRO HARLEM BRUNDTLAND: Well, I mean, we have been critical and very unhappy that this has taken place. It is a real problem because of the leadership role that the United States normally needs to play in international context. And in this case, it is also the largest emitter. So it is a big problem. But I am more hopeful today than I would have been even a year ago, because the debate in the United States itself is changing. It’s not only a few, you know, specially green or special politicians who are now realizing that there is a real problem and that the debate about science and the debate about diagnosis is over. I mean, the diagnosis is clear. We must take action, and many more Americans are now aware, even after the Hurricane Katrina and other events that have shown people that the climate is indeed affecting us all.

AMY GOODMAN: And the news that’s continually come out in this country about the White House vacuuming words like "global warming" off of government websites and the pressure that scientists are under, government scientists, in raising this issue.

GRO HARLEM BRUNDTLAND: I’m really more referring to the civil society and to citizens at large now being more aware than before in the U.S. and also the fact that several states and cities have made rules for themselves, even without the federal level. So, I mean, there is a stronger move here than there was a couple of years ago. But, you know, we need to get progress during this year and, included in that kind of progress and the background, to have movement so that there is a broader consensus. One important aspect is also to take care of the concerns or the worries that the U.S. administration feels are important, because we really need to have all key countries on board.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you think is most important for the industrialized world to do right now?

GRO HARLEM BRUNDTLAND: Well, I do think that the whole point of a carbon market that really makes it possible to move much more quickly to use mechanisms which give economic incentives so that some of the major emitters in the large and strongly developing, you know, countries like India, China, that movements can be made there with their increasing emissions by the use of the mechanisms of the Kyoto Protocol, but at a much higher pace and with more long-term commitment, which will make investments in cleaner technologies in these countries start moving, because it’s much too slow now.

Twice a week, there is a new coal-fired plant in China. And every time a new plant comes up, it has no cleaning systems. So, I mean, it really is something that is a challenge to all of us, that we can help jump over the technological stages that we had in the Western world in the OECD countries and which we are overcoming and putting a lot of emphasis on research in where we don’t have good technological solutions but they are not far away from us. But these technologies need to be used in other countries, but we will have to pay part of that bill.

AMY GOODMAN: World scientists, it’s pretty much concluded now — we’ve got the issue of scientists saying that the world needs to reduce carbon emissions by 90 percent by the year 2030. How can this be accomplished?

GRO HARLEM BRUNDTLAND: You know, my country, Norway, just a couple of weeks ago, made the announcement that by 2050 there will be 100 percent carbon reduction. All carbon emissions or CO2-equivalent emissions from Norway will be taken care of before 2050. So 90 percent before 2030 is indeed possible, but, you know, you need to take serious action. And many countries, of course, are far behind that kind of thinking yet. It’s possible, and as you said here earlier on the program, the technology is basically there. The science is there. The technology is there. It is not out-of-this-world costly, and in many areas, as in energy efficiency, it is — it saves costs in the long term to change into energy-efficient systems that will reduce the total emissions of the results of energy consumption.

AMY GOODMAN: What will your role in your new position as one of the three envoys on climate change be?

GRO HARLEM BRUNDTLAND: Well, it will basically be to help the secretary-general have movement and increasing political will between nations happen as quickly as possible and to analyze where the barriers are and to try to help overcome them, so that there can be greater consensus during this year. And he is looking at having a high-level event just before the General Assembly, and he wants to consult with nations, and we will help him do that at the head-of-state level.

AMY GOODMAN: Gro Harlem Brundtland, I want to thank you very much for being us with, appointed as one of the U.N. three special envoys for climate change. She is the former prime minister of Norway, the first woman prime minister, and also former director-general of the World Health Organization.

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