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【Beijing Forum 2010】Interview with Thomas Sterner

Peking University, Nov. 12, 2010: On the afternoon of Nov. 6, Professor Thomas Sterner, a key speaker in the panel session on environment, delivered a speech titled "Addressing Global Environmental Challenges: Policies and Actions", in which he discusses some necessary ingredients for a long run Global Climate Strategy as well as the "short run" issue of what policies to pursue in the meantime in coping with climate change. At the coffee break, Professor Sterner readily accepted our request for a short interview.

 

Q:Thank you for accepting our interview. First of all, I'd like to know whether this is your first visit to Peking University? And what's your impression of this university?


A: No, I've visited it for five times. It's a fantastic place and very impressive. It captures my
eyes every time I come.

 

Q: Since you're an expert in environmental economics, could you brief us about this emerging discipline? For example, the main research field or key issues of this discipline?


A: That's a big question.(Laugh) We have all the engineers and natural scientists tell us
what we need to do, what kind of problems we have like ozone deterioration or pollution, research condition of this new boarder, climate change and so on. And environmental economics tries to find a way to make the solutions actually happen. Engineers may bring sense and think of an energy-saving equipment like insulation. An environmental economist tries to understand how our society uses the energy and to create rules in societies so that the energy-efficient equipment is actually used. Otherwise, if we just stay at the laboratory, it doesn't do much good. If we really want to get real big change to insulated houses of using energy-efficient lighting or something, then for instance, we might need energy practice. When there is an energy tax, energy becomes more expensive and people become more interested in using energy-saving equipment.

 

Q: We notice that you've done a lot of research on resource management in developing countries. In your opinion what’s the urgent problem that should be tackled for the sustainable development of developing countries like China?


A: Well, I think China has done a lot of good things already. The impressive growth of solar
energy, for instance, but one thing I notice is the gasoline is still cheap. Assume one billion people all want a car and gasoline is cheap, then they will end up buying the wrong kind of car and climate change will be much worse as well as congestion and local air pollution and a number of other problems. So China needs to build cities and transport systems that are modern and efficient. And that is not the gas-powered car, which won't work. I have lived in the cities like London and already in the 1960s when I lived in London, the average speed of the car was lower than the speed of bicycle. That's the point of this situation and it's a waste of resources. China needs to have high fuel and energy prices to signal to urban developers and transport companies that they need to be energy efficient.

 

Q: Let's move to the next question. How do you think about abnormal changes in recent years, such as earthquakes, heat waves and thunder storms?


A: Well, I think the earthquakes are separate problems and the other problems are related
to climate change. But all of the problems are related to the way human society is built, such as there are more and more people and so they built the houses in places the way they like. For example, we Sweden like the houses by the water, so we build houses by the water. And poor people in Latin America build houses on the cities of mountain slopes. All of these places we are occupying to build bases are less safe. Earthquakes in those places cause more damage. Big earthquakes can cause poverty, so they are very poor and their living standard is very low. If we have the same strength of earthquakes in Japan or San Francisco, nothing much happened. But if we have earthquakes in poor countries, hundreds of thousands of people will die like they did in Haiti.

 

Q: What do you think the roles developing countries and developed countries should play respectively in coping with climate change?


A: Basically, I think climate change is such a serious problem that everybody has to
contribute. But I think it's not share of the poor countries where development is stopped. And I'm not talking about China. I don't really think China is a poor country. But India and Africa, for instance, which are very poor countries today, must somehow be compensated at the same time. As we deal with climate change, we must deal with poverty. So we need to be aware of we are doing by giving more emission rights to the poor countries. So if you flavor like global carbon trades, then you have to give more rights to India.


India, for instance, if we divide up the rights to emit, India is to do a per capital allocation.
They would get 16% of the world carbon emissions. But if we use grandfathering, and allocation is proportional to authority emission, then they would only get 4%. So the big difference lies in how you divide up the emissions.
It doesn't make much difference for China. China is an average country, 20% of the world
population, 20% of the world economy and 20% of the world emissions, so actually it doesn't make much difference for China but make a lot of difference for India and for Africa. Besides, it will make so much difference to the United States that they have to pay a lot or even more.

 

Q: Compared with academic held in Europe or America, what do you think of the Beijing Forum 2010? Do you have any suggestions for the improvement of it?


A: It is interesting to come and visit Beijing. I came from a small country, so it is quite
noticeable to come to a superpower. I think the forum is a little bit too ceremonial and pompous. As an academic, in the way I prefer more time for discussion and less ceremony. This kind of discussion is good but I would like I have even more time for discussion. And I believe the discussion will become more interesting if it is a bit more informal and a bit more scientific.

 

 


Reported by: Zhang Hao and Su Juan
Edited by: Chen Miaojuan