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Climate Expert Says He Hopes Copenhagen Agreement Fails

December 3, 2009

A NASA climate expert sparked controversy on Thursday when he said that he hoped international climate talks in Copenhagen this month would fail.

In an interview with the UK’s Guardian, James Hansen, Director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said it would be better for Copenhagen talks to fail in their effort to create an international legally binding agreement to cut greenhouse emissions.

“I would rather it not happen if people accept that as being the right track because it’s a disaster track,” said Hansen.

“The whole approach is so fundamentally wrong that it is better to reassess the situation. If it is going to be the Kyoto-type thing then [people] will spend years trying to determine exactly what that means.”

International leaders are set to convene in Copenhagen December 7-18 for the climate summit to discuss a treaty to replace Kyoto once it expires.

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has recommended that developed nations commit to reduce carbon emissions by 25 to 45 percent by 2020 in order to stop the earth’s temperature from increasing by more than two degrees.

So far, only Japan and Norway have vowed to cut emissions to the IPCC’s recommended range.

The US has proposed an emissions cut of 17 percent from 2005 levels, or four to six percent from 1990 levels.

The EU has proposed cuts of 20 percent from 1990 levels.

Hansen said these proposals coming from industrialized nations would not be near enough to make an impact on global warming.

“This is analogous to the issue of slavery faced by Abraham Lincoln or the issue of Nazism faced by Winston Churchill,” said Hansen.

“On those kind of issues you cannot compromise,” he added. “You can’t say let’s reduce slavery, let’s find a compromise and reduce it 50 per cent or reduce it 40 percent.”

“We don’t have a leader who is able to grasp it and say what is really needed. Instead we are trying to continue business as usual.”

Rather than taking the proposed cap-and-trade route, Hansen said that a direct tax on fossil fuels would be the only real way to make proper cuts in emissions.

“The approach that’s been talked about is so fundamentally wrong that it is better to reassess the situation,” he said.

“I think it’s just as well that we not have a substantive treaty, because if it is going to be the Kyoto-type thing, and people agree to that, then they’ll spend years trying to determine exactly what that means and what is a commitment, what are the mechanisms.”

“The whole idea that you have goals which you’re supposed to meet and that you have outs, with offsets (sold through the carbon market), means you know it’s an attempt to continue business as usual.”

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