Reith Lecture 2, Survival in the Anthropocene

 by Jeffrey Sachs

> SUE LAWLEY: Hello and welcome to Beijing for the second in this year’s
> series of Reith Lectures entitled ‘Bursting At The Seams’. Today we’re
> in the Room of the Ten Thousand Masses, at the China Centre for
> Economic Research at Peking University – and yes, the university is
> still called Peking University. It’s the first time the BBC has
> recorded a Reith Lecture in China, and we couldn’t be in a more
> appropriate place at a more appropriate time. Last week our lecturer
> Jeffrey Sachs, the international economist, set the scene for his
> argument, that all the world’s great powers can and must co-operate if
> our planet is not to descend into disease-ridden, poverty-stricken
> devastation. Nowhere is more important in this process than China, a
> country of 1.3 billion people, now being transformed into a global
> power of enormous influence and strength. What China chooses to do,
> and more importantly how she chooses to do it, will be crucial in the
> next phase of the world’s development.
>
> This recent great leap forward of China’s has already come at a price,
> not least in the damage that’s been done to its environment. It’s
> still a one party state without democratic elections, and many in the
> West believe that it can’t play a full part on the world stage until
> it address matters of individual liberty and human rights. Peking
> University has a reputation in the People’s Republic for revolutionary
> thinking, and with us in our audience tonight are many of its
> students, as well as academics, journalists, and businessmen, with
> whom we’ll discuss these issues. But first, will you please welcome
> this year’s BBC Reith lecturer, Jeffrey Sachs.
>
> (APPLAUSE)
>
> JEFFREY SACHS: Good evening everybody, and what a thrill it is to be
> at Peking University, and to be together with you. And what a thrill
> it is for me to have the chance to give this unique lecture series,
> the Reith Lectures, and to take part in a global discussion, a
> discussion that we must have in the beginning years of our new
> century, if we are to achieve what we hope to achieve — shared peace
> and prosperity around the planet. I think we all sense that we are at
> very important decision points in the planet, with obvious risks and
> huge opportunities. As Sue just said, there is no place on the planet
> of more significance for these choices — for its own sake as well as
> for the world’s sake — as China today, a country that calls for
> superlatives in its role, its dimensions, and the stakes for the
> world. Here we are in the famous, beautiful, magnificent Hall of the
> Ten Thousand Masses, as it’s called, but to account for China’s
> vastness we would need a hundred thirty thousand such halls of ten
> thousand people each to accommodate the 1.3 billion people of this
> country, which makes up one fifth of the world’s population and is
> quickly becoming an absolute epicentre of the global economy as well
> as many of the challenges that I’ll discuss tonight.
>
> China has been at the centre of world history for millennia, and for
> large stretches of world history China has been the leading power.
> Roughly from 500 AD to 1500 AD China was clearly the dominant economic
> power and the dominant progenitor of fundamental and leading
> technologies of all sorts, which empowered the world and changed it in
> magnificently positive ways. And of course we all see and expect China
> to play that role in the twenty-first century as well. After a long
> period of difficulty, economic hiatus and internally and externally
> caused disarray, China clearly is in the ascendancy in this century.
> It is far and away the most dramatic case of economic growth in the
> history of the world. Never before have we seen rates of economic
> progress, and what they signify — deep improvements of human
> well-being taking place at not only the pace but obviously the scale
> that we’re seeing now, with each decade bringing a doubling or more of
> living standards — in a country of these vast proportions.
>
> So the superlatives of the economy are well known and they cross lips
> around the world every day, but we’re going to talk about another
> aspect of that challenge this evening, and that’s the superlatives of
> the environmental challenge that China faces. Not only is it the
> world’s most populous country, it is one of the world’s most crowded
> countries, and it is certainly one of the world’s most environmentally
> stressed regions. This is a challenge that has existed throughout
> China’s history, but what has happened in recent decades and what will
> happen in the decades to come poses qualitatively new challenges that
> are emblematic of the unique environmental stresses that we all face
> on the planet together — some because of the special role that China
> will play in the future, and some because China is experiencing the
> same kinds of phenomena as in other parts of the world.
>
> I called my lecture today ‘The Anthropocene’ – a term that is
> spectacularly vivid, a term invented by one of the great scientists of
> our age, Paul Crutzen, to signify the fact that human beings for the
> first time have taken hold not only of the economy and of population
> dynamics, but of the planet’s physical systems, Anthropocene meaning
> human created era of Earth’s history. The geologists call our time the
> holocene –the period of the last thirteen thousand years or so since
> the last Ice Age — but Crutzen wisely and perhaps shockingly noted
> that the last two hundred years are really a unique era, not only in
> human history but in the Earth’s physical history as well. The
> Anthropocene is the period when human activity has overtaken vast
> parts of the natural cycles on the planet, and has done so in ways
> that disrupt those cycles and fundamentally threaten us in the years
> ahead.
>
> Now considering how we’re going to face the dual challenge of
> continued economic progress, which we dearly hope for in this country
> and in other parts of the developing world, and continued economic
> well-being of course and progress, in today’s high income world, with
> the profound and growing environmental dangers that we face, is the
> subject of our Reith Lecture today.
>
> Let me set the stage. Our era is unique. We’ve never before
> experienced anything like the human pressures on the environment as
> well as the human successes in sustained and broad-based improvements
> of well-being. Ensuring that we can continue those successes without
> going right over the cliff will prove to be our generation’s greatest
> challenge. Since the start of the Industrial Revolution, which we
> could date roughly to the beginning of the nineteenth century – 1800
> or so, perhaps a few decades earlier by some historians’ accounts, a
> couple of decades later in most places in the world – the human impact
> on the environment has increased approximately one hundredfold. Human
> population has risen from six or seven hundred million in the middle
> of the eighteenth century to our 6.6 billion today, roughly a tenfold
> increase. Per capita economic activity — that is how much each of us
> on the planet consumes, produces, draws upon natural resources for our
> sustenance and well-being — has also risen by typical statistical
> account, as hard as it is to compare over the course of two centuries,
> roughly tenfold as well. With ten times more people, each of whom is
> engaged in ten times more economic activity, we have two orders of
> magnitude, or one hundred times, the influence of human activity on
> the planet. And this is coming at unprecedented cost to physical earth
> systems. What’s absolutely striking, and the puzzle we need to solve,
> is this basic fact: What we are already doing on the planet in terms
> of effects on physical systems is unsustainable. We cannot go on doing
> what we’re doing. We have already reached a point of literal
> unsustainability, in the sense that if we continue on our current
> path, using resources the way we use them now at the scale we use them
> now, we will hit very harsh boundaries that will do great damage to
> human well-being, to the earth, and to vast numbers, literally
> millions, of other species on the planet. But we have an even harder
> problem to solve than that one, and that is that we do not want to
> stop here in terms of consumption or economic activity. The developing
> countries — and we’re in the most populous of them today — which
> together make up five sixths of humanity, rightly and understandably
> and from my point of view absolutely accountably and responsibly, say
> they would like their place in the sun as well. If the high income
> world has achieved certain levels of wealth, comfort, safety and life
> expectancy, what about the rest of humanity? From my point of view as
> a development economist, something absolutely wonderful is happening,
> something that I think we could even dub the Age of Convergence, and
> that is that the measure of economic development, the methods, the
> institutions, the processes, the adaptation of advanced technologies,
> are becoming a worldwide phenomenon. Now tragically not every part of
> the world is yet part of that phenomenon, and I will have the chance
> to discuss that in a later lecture, when we talk about the poorest of
> the poor who are still not part of this dynamism. But the wonderful
> news is that large parts of the planet are part of this dynamism –
> China of course is at the very forefront in an unprecedented manner —
> catching up in technology, economic activity, and human well-being.
> Let’s not doubt the improvements of living, not only of conventionally
> measured living standards but of human well-being and life expectancy,
> in nutrition, in opportunities, in chances to fulfill life’s hopes
> that come along with this economic improvement.
>
> The processes now are made powerful by the strong winds of
> globalization — the market forces and the ability of ideas and
> technology to flow across national boundaries at an unprecedented
> rate. The world economy is now growing at approximately five per cent
> per annum, and that is four per cent approximately of per capita
> income increases, and one per cent per year roughly of global
> population increase. That means we are on course for a massive
> increase of economic activity, just what we would like to see in the
> still poor countries of the world, those who aspire to have the
> chances that technology and science have brought us. It is fair to say
> that, given current trends, we have a powerful force of economic
> convergence in most parts of the world, and if the processes of
> convergence continue to operate as they have in recent decades, one
> could expect that perhaps the average per person income on the planet
> could rise as much as four times between now and mid-century. If the
> average income as measured by economists, statisticians, taking into
> account the purchasing power of income in different parts of the
> world, is roughly eight thousand dollars per person, one could expect
> perhaps that that would reach thirty thousand dollars by mid-century,
> given the powerful and positive forces of economic development.
>
> Population of course, though increasing more slowly in proportional
> terms than it did in the second half of the twentieth century, is
> still increasing in absolute terms by an astounding amount of 70 to 80
> million people per year. And on the medium forecast of the UN
> Population Division, that leads to a projection of roughly an increase
> of another two and a half billion people on the planet by the year
> 2050. That is a world population increase of roughly fifty per cent,
> with income on a path, barring various disasters, to increase
> approximately fourfold. Multiplying one and a half by four suggests
> that the current trajectory would lead to an increase of world
> economic activity of six times between now and 2050. That is the goal
> from the point of view of economic development, but think about the
> paradox, if we already are on an unsustainable trajectory and yet
> China, India, and large parts of Asia are successfully barrelling
> ahead with rapid economic development at an unprecedented rate. We are
> asking our planet to somehow absorb a manyfold increase of economic
> activity on top of an already existing degree of environmental stress
> that we’ve never before seen on the planet.
>
> It is possible that we will not be able to increase sixfold in
> economic activity with current technologies before the environmental
> catastrophes would choke off the economic growth. The hardships in
> water stress, deforestation, hunger, and species extinction, would
> cause this process to go awry, even before we are able to do more
> damage to the planet. But that does pose the fundamental question –
> what will give in the end? Many people think the only thing that can
> give are living standards in the high income world, whereas others
> believe that we are bound for a bitter struggle between the rich and
> the poor in the years ahead. I want to argue that the only viable,
> peaceful way forward is a change of the way we live that allows for
> continued improvement of living standards in all parts of the world
> and for catching up, but that also permits us to square the circle of
> environmental stress and economic development.
>
> The Anthropocene is felt in so many areas — habitat destruction,
> rising greenhouse gases that are changing the climate and threatening
> us profoundly, water stress, human dominance of the natural nitrogen
> cycle through heavy use of manmade fertilisers that allow us to feed a
> world population of 6.5 billion people on its way to 9 billion, new
> diseases that emerge when human populations and animal populations
> come into contact in new ways, and of course in the vast over-fishing,
> over-hunting, over-gathering, and over-exploitation of natural
> resources in large parts of the planet, leading to population
> collapses and species extinction.
>
> I want to touch on one of these many aspects, because it is not only
> of central importance, but helps to illuminate the challenge of
> squaring the circle of development and environmental sustainability.
> Climate change, a vast challenge that reflects at the core the fact
> that modern economic growth since the Industrial Revolution has been
> built on the use of fossil fuels , which leads to the emission of
> carbon dioxide and , through the greenhouse effect, the warming of the
> planet and fundamental changes to the earth’s climate. The effect was
> identified more than a century ago, in 1896, but it has only come to
> our attention in recent years, because it is only in the last couple
> of decades that we have come to understand just how big the human
> effect is on the growing concentrations of carbon dioxide and a number
> of other such greenhouse gases, and on our changing climate.
>
> This is a case where what we are doing today is not sustainable,
> because each year we are raising the carbon concentration in the
> atmosphere by two or more parts per million of molecules in the
> atmosphere. When projected over the course of this century, that rate
> of emission would lead to such a high level of carbon dioxide in the
> atmosphere that the climate would be changed, we now understand, to
> the point of dire risk for us and for vast parts of the global
> eco-system. Species extinction, extreme weather events, massive
> changes of precipitation, grave risks to food production, disease
> transmission and the like, would all reach harrowing levels later in
> this century if we merely continue to do what we’re doing now. But
> here comes the puzzle. With the world economy barrelling ahead, the
> amount of energy use is also rising dramatically, and so too the use
> of fossil fuels, which will be in sufficient abundance long enough for
> us to wreck the climate before we run out. And so if the concentration
> of carbon dioxide is increasing by roughly two parts per million each
> year, it could easily be four parts per million in a few decades, with
> the rate increasing over time. The projections are that by mid-century
> we might have doubled the pre-industrial concentration of carbon
> dioxide. By the end of this century, if we continue on a business as
> usual course with the economic development we so hope for in this
> country and in the rest of the developing world, perhaps the
> concentration will have tripled or quadrupled. We know, as we learned
> once again by the recent scientific consensus of the
> inter-governmental panel on climate change, which reported in its
> fourth assessment round beginning in February of this year, that the
> effects of that kind of increase pose risks to this planet that we
> simply cannot afford to take.
>
> What can we do? Do we have to end economic growth? Do we have to end
> the hopes of the developing world? Do we need dire cutbacks in living
> conditions, inevitable in today’s rich world? I believe that there is
> another course, and it’s the course we must take. There are at least
> three ways out of this conundrum. First of course is fuel and energy
> efficiency, so that we can get more economic output with less direct
> use of fossil fuels. Second of course is the substitution of
> non-fossil fuels for fossil fuels, so that per unit of energy the
> emissions of carbon dioxide can be reduced, whether it’s with safely
> deployed nuclear power, or more economical solar power, or wind, or
> bio-mass, there’s definitely a role, though perhaps not as dramatic as
> we might hope, for non-fossil fuels.
>
> There’s a third alternative as well, and that is to learn to use our
> existing fossil fuels safely. And for China and India this is perhaps
> the single most important hope for these countries and for the planet.
> One idea on the drawing board which needs to get into demonstration
> and production in this country as soon as possible – and that means
> nearly immediately – is the idea of power plants that burn coal to
> generate electricity, capturing the carbon dioxide that they would
> otherwise emit, pumping it into pipelines and safely storing it in
> safe geologic reservoirs in the earth.
>
> The big question for the planet is the unprecedented challenge to move
> to a sustainable energy system, requiring a great degree of
> co-operation, foresight, and planning, over a time span of decades.
> Can we do it? Can we find that level of public understanding,
> political consensus, direction and determination? We may fake it with
> nice speeches, but the climate will change whether we fake it or not.
> There is no spinning this one. This one is dependent on what we
> actually do, not what we say we do.
>
> I want to mention one hopeful analogy, and that is how we have
> successfully as a world avoided what was another desperate risk, and
> that was the depletion of the ozone layer. That was also discovered by
> Paul Crutzen, the scientist who brought us the Anthropocene. He and
> two colleagues, Sherwood Rowland and Mario Molina, discovered,
> accidentally as it were, that the chemicals that we use for
> refrigeration and for our aerosols, the chloro-fluorocarbons, or CFCs,
> posed a grave risk to survival on the planet because of their
> accidental interactions in the stratosphere that could have destroyed
> the ozone layer. It was an accidental, brilliant discovery. It took
> some years for the public to become aware of it. When the scientists
> said it, the makers of the CFCs said that it was junk science, that
> they’d heard it before. They went into denial. But then NASA in the
> United States snapped a picture from one of its remarkable satellites,
> showing the hole in the ozone layer. In a way it may be the picture
> that saved the world, because as soon as people saw that hole with
> their own eyes, they weren’t listening to the Chairman of DuPont
> anymore, they were thinking about their survival and the survival of
> their children. The public awareness soared, the pressure for action
> increased. At that point DuPont and other companies’ scientists went
> to work. They determined there was an alternative to the CFCs, there
> were other safer chemicals that could be refrigerants and aerosols.
> Then a fourth step took place. The companies whispered in the ears of
> the politicians, “it’s okay, you can reach an international agreement,
> we can handle this.” And quickly, — from the basic science to the
> international agreements took about fifteen years — by 1990 a global
> framework was in place that called for the phasing out of the
> chloro-fluorocarbons and has put us on a path of at least relative
> safety with regard to that risk.
>
> With climate I believe we have the same prospects now. It is a much
> more difficult issue, a problem that gets to the core of the
> functioning of the world economy, so it cannot be solved from one day
> to the next, requiring a basic change of our infrastructure and our
> energy systems which will take decades to complete, but a process
> nonetheless that I think is underway in the same way. First came the
> science, back in 1896, and then the modern science in the last
> twenty-five years. And as soon as the science came, came the companies
> with the vested interests claiming junk science, because their
> instinct is to start lobbying. But you don’t lobby against nature.
> Nature has its principles: it doesn’t matter what the boards of these
> companies say. What matters is the actual physical mechanisms. The
> science was right, it becomes more and more known.
>
> Now like the ozone crisis, public awareness has been the second step.
> For a long time climate change was discussed as something for the far
> future. Now it’s understood as something that imperils us today as
> well. The heatwave in Europe in 2003, claiming more than twenty
> thousand lives; Hurricane Katrina, a storm of devastating proportions,
> shocking the American people and the world about what climate can do;
> the mega-drought in Australia that took place this year, and destroyed
> a substantial part of Australia’s export crop; the massive typhoons
> being experienced by this country, as well as the warming taking place
> in large parts of this country, and severe droughts in the interior of
> China – have all made climate change an immediate issue, an
> understandable issue, and one that of course will get worse, no matter
> what we do right now, for a while, because we are on a trajectory of
> worsening climate change stresses that is locked in place for the near
> term.
>
> The good news is that the scientists and the engineers are now
> scurrying. Technological alternatives are being developed. Carbon
> capture and sequestration is beginning to be put into place in
> demonstration projects. So too are alternative non-fossil fuel energy
> sources, and so too remarkable breakthroughs in energy efficiency,
> such as hybrid and plug-in hybrid automobiles, which promise us vast
> efficiency gains, more distance per unit of fuel.
>
> The good news is that those technological breakthroughs are similarly
> leading the companies to whisper in the ears of the politicians –
> “it’s okay, we can handle this.” And that’s the best news of all.
> Companies around the world are now in the lead of their politicians.
> In fact they’re telling the politicians we have to act, we want a
> framework, we need an incentive mechanism, we need a price structure
> so that we can move ahead with sustainable energy. I believe we’re
> going to get there. Global negotiations on a truly global framework
> open in December of this year, in Bali, Indonesia. We’ve agreed in
> principle on a Framework Convention on Climate Change, that we must
> stabilise greenhouse gases. We took an early small step in the
> so-called Kyoto Protocol, but this only involved a very small set of
> commitments for a limited part of the world – mainly Europe, because
> the United States did not even join. Now in December we must have the
> US and China, and India, and the European Union, and other parts of
> the world, all coming together and saying we must do this for
> ourselves and for the future. Nature has spoken more loudly than
> vested interests. This is not a matter of vested interests, it is a
> matter of common interest. These steps, from the science to the public
> awareness, to the technological alternatives, to the international
> agreements, are the very steps that we will need for all aspects of
> the Anthropocene. This will be the mark of our new era – science-based
> global policy-making based on worldwide public awareness. That’s going
> to be true for saving the rain forests, for saving our oceans from
> over-fishing, for managing water stress, and for choosing population
> alternatives that are sound for the planet and sound for individuals
> as well. We don’t have to accept the population trends, because people
> would choose fertility reduction voluntarily in large parts of the
> developing world, if the alternatives were made available to them. We
> can do this, and we will learn that the costs of action are tiny,
> compared with the risks of inaction. Climate change can be solved,
> according to the best current estimates, for less than one per cent of
> world income each year, and perhaps well under that, where the
> potential costs are a devastating multiple of several per cent of
> world income if we continue on the business as usual trajectory.
>
> I want to end where I started the first lecture, with my favourite
> speech by President John F. Kennedy. He talked about the challenge of
> peace. That is our biggest challenge on the planet. And peace is also
> threatened by environmental risk. But he also told us in that speech
> that we have chances. He said, and I repeat because I think it is our
> common thread: “Our problems are man-made, therefore they can be
> solved by man. And man can be as big as he wants. No problem of human
> destiny is beyond human beings. Man’s reason and spirit have often
> solved the seemingly unsolvable, and we believe they can do it
> again.”4 That is the spirit of the Anthropocene.
>
> Thank you very much.
>
> (APPLAUSE)
>
> SUE LAWLEY: Jeffrey Sachs, thank you very much indeed. I’m now going
> to take questions from people here in the Hall of the Ten Thousand
> Masses of Peking University, and I’d like to invite, to put her
> question first of all, Yu Yang Jie, who’s a third year economics
> student here at Peking University. Let’s have your question if we may?
>
> YU YANG JIE: Thank you Professor Sachs. My question is about, to what
> extent should we protect the environment, because when there is a
> conflict between environmental protection and economic development,
> it’s unwise and also impossible to totally stop the economic
> development for the sake of environmental protection. So my question
> is, how should we find the optimal balance between the two?
>
> JEFFREY SACHS: The choice that sometimes puts economics versus the
> environment is largely mistaken in that the environment is part of the
> economic wellbeing, it’s not in contrast to the economic wellbeing.
> Now let me say that choices that we actually face on how to use land,
> how to fish, how to use our energy resources, are less dire and less
> painful than we think, if we look closely at our real opportunities,
> especially with technology. I talked about the new kinds of
> sustainable energy systems that we can adopt at relatively low cost,
> but let me talk about another issue – massive over-fishing of the
> oceans, leading to a destruction of the fisheries. China is the
> pioneer now at a global scale of an alternative agriculture, so
> massive fish farming – and China farms perhaps eighty to ninety per
> cent of all of the world’s fish now – that’s a technology, farming the
> fish rather than depleting the oceans, that gives us hope.
>
> SUE LAWLEY: Right there let’s� Yes?
>
> MAN: My question is that how can you make Chinese to understand this
> issue, … millions and millions of people they are just see their
> hope to become rich or have the opportunity to change their material
> life.
>
> JEFFREY SACHS: The point is that the costs of this are not to say to
> the Chinese people “you will not achieve economic development,” or to
> the American people for that matter, “your income levels will be
> deeply undermined.” The point is if we mobilise our science and
> technology well, if we prove and demonstrate and diffuse carbon
> capture and sequestration or other technologies, we’ll find that we
> can wisely choose a course out of this. If we simply are too afraid,
> too neglectful, radically greedy, or simple-mindedly shortsighted,
> then the dangers will mount well, well beyond the cost that we would
> pay with clear action. That’s what needs to be explained.
>
> SUE LAWLEY: Let me bring in James Kynge, who’s a British writer who’s
> lived and worked in the Far East for the past twenty-five years. He’s
> published a book about the rise of China and currently heads the
> business operations here of Pearson, the international media company.
> James Kynge, your question please?
>
> JAMES KYNGE: Jeffrey, in your speech you’ve painted a picture, a
> really horrific picture of a global environmental meltdown, and you’ve
> said that one of the keys in arresting this is public advocacy – in
> other words giving people their voice, so that those people can keep
> government and the big companies honest. But as you well know, China
> is not big in giving people their voice. This is a topdown government.
> At the central level there’s a very keen understanding of the
> environmental issues, but often at local level governments are corrupt
> and they’re in bed with the big polluting companies. So what would you
> say? Is it possible, is it remotely possible that China will ever
> allow enough pluralism, enough public advocacy, and enough democracy,
> to solve the environmental problems that you outline?
>
> JEFFREY SACHS: It is not only remotely possible, I think it’s very
> likely in fact. These environmental challenges are not hidden from
> view, they’re felt in the daily lives of people living on the Yangtze,
> and the massive pollution that has been seen, the heavy air pollution
> in the cities of China, and now a whole world that is going to be
> saying to China, very soon, perhaps within the next three or four
> years, you, the People’s Republic, are the number one emitter of
> carbon dioxide in the whole world, so whatever you think, you’re
> affecting the whole world’s climate. What’s going to be interesting is
> that as China overtakes the United States as the largest emitter, the
> US is going to start complaining bitterly – what are you doing to our
> climate? And so what’s going to happen is that the whole world more
> and more will understand that this is dire. We’re seeing a change
> within just the last three or four years of public awareness, not
> because of theory, not because of lectures, but because of what is
> being felt in daily lives. I’ve had excellent discussions with the
> Chinese leadership over the last year on these issues. They are fully
> aware of this. And I believe that this is going to be the realisation
> in this country, in India, even in the United States. We’re finding in
> US politics a change in the last year that is remarkable – Katrina,
> and the other forces of nature – Vice President Al Gore has brought that�
>
> SUE LAWLEY: And disaster, and disaster.
>
> JEFFREY SACHS: �brought that about.
>
> SUE LAWLEY: And … James Kynge�
>
> JEFFREY SACHS: Once you get Oscars for climate change, you’ve got to
> know that we’re on our way!
>
> (LAUGHTER)
>
> SUE LAWLEY: James Kynge, what chance do you think there is of China
> volunteering in beating the US to solving its carbon emissions?
>
> JAMES KYNGE: I agree that the central government certainly has a big
> handle on this, they realise the big problems. But what I’ve seen time
> and time again is that local governments do not obey the central
> government, and they are corrupt, and they’re not thinking about the
> planet, they’re thinking about their own short-term profits. And I
> don’t see any, really any progress in that regard.
>
> SUE LAWLEY: Any other, really on this subject if I could – I mean I’d
> really like some people who live here and who would like to speak on
> this subject. Yes, here we are.
>
> WOMAN: Okay. I’d just like, regarding James, what he just mentioned a
> moment ago – I have a friend, he’s a reporter from CCTV. One day they
> went to a county in … because the miner … You know the mining
> thing, the coals – they want to shut down those small mining illegal
> mine, mines�
>
> SUE LAWLEY: Pits? Mines?
>
> WOMAN: Mines. But this is the first day the central government sent to
> close it, but the second month they opened it because the whole
> county’s income is depending on the mines. If they close there is no
> economy for that county, that’s the problem.
>
> SUE LAWLEY: I see that. Well look, let me just bring in now a
> questioner here on the front row, because it’s on this subject, Jeff,
> if I may. He’s Ma Jun, who’s head of a research organisation here in
> China called the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs. Ma
> Jun, your question?
>
> Ma Jun: Hi. I’m glad that you mentioned in today’s world of
> globalisation we need more co-operation on the global environmental
> governance. We are running a national water pollution database, and
> recently when we prepared our list of, you know when we collect a list
> of water polluters and we came across a file, I mean sixty, seventy
> multinational companies, from Japan, from US, from Europe. And they
> were caught by the local agencies who are violating the basic
> discharge standards. And this raised question, raised concern over a
> global transfer of pollution in today’s you know more kind of
> globalised manufacturing. But some in the Western countries argue that
> if the local companies are polluting, then the multinationals should
> not be blamed for doing the same in this country, and I want to hear
> your comments on that.
>
> JEFFREY SACHS: I think all of these points are correct, and also need
> to be understood in a dynamic process. This is a, no doubt a fight for
> a new way of doing things in this country and in the world. Many of
> the examples that have been given could have been examples in any of
> our countries. Market forces by themselves are often quite powerful
> and quite shortsighted, because markets don’t include the social
> damages that go along with these polluting or resource-depleting
> activities adequately, and therefore we need a collective action that
> countervails the market. I am not arguing that from one day to the
> next we’re going to have a change that is going to solve these
> problems, indeed I said many times just on the climate change issue,
> this will actually take decades.
>
> SUE LAWLEY: This is a question about double standards, this is a
> question about multinationals doing their dirty work here, or devious
> Western entrepreneurs bringing their toxic waste here, whether it’s
> old computers or whatever�
>
> JEFFREY SACHS: No no no it’s what I say that�
>
> SUE LAWLEY: If, if the West, if the West is doing that here, what
> chance is there of getting the kind of co-operation from here, from
> China, with the West, to achieve what you’re, what you’re advocating?
>
> JEFFREY SACHS: I agree, it’s� I don’t call it double standards, it’s
> just we have poor environmental performance all over the world.
> There’s not any place in the world that is truly environmentally
> sustainable now because the whole�
>
> SUE LAWLEY: Sure it’s got to stop, but how is it going to stop?
>
> JEFFREY SACHS: �because the whole, because the whole world climate is
> being changed. But we are also in a process of tremendous global
> recognition and rise of understanding of this, just in a short period
> of time. I will predict that by 2010 we have a post-Kyoto agreement
> reached, one that does include all countries – China, the United
> States, the European Union and others – that agree to targets that are
> serious about heading off this kind of environmental catastrophe.
>
> SUE LAWLEY: In three years’ time China and the US will all agree to it?
>
> (LAUGHTER)
>
> JEFFREY SACHS: That’s what I said. I’ll say it again – I believe that
> by 2010 we will have a post-Kyoto global agreement.
>
> SUE LAWLEY: And what leads you to believe that? What evidence do you
> have? What have you heard? You know, how do you know that?
>
> JEFFREY SACHS: Yeah, I, I don’t know it, I’m predicting it, and I’m�
> (LAUGHTER) And I’m, and I’m predicting it on the basis of the
> argumentation that I made, which is that these issues go from the
> science to the public awareness, to the technological options, to the
> agreements, and I think we’re in that phase right now actually.
>
> SUE LAWLEY: What’s different about right now?
>
> JEFFREY SACHS: Not only am I saying things are changing, I’m actually
> putting a date on it as well. I believe that by 2010 we will have an
> agreement. I believe, to be more specific, that every major
> presidential candidate in the United States for example, in the 2008
> election, will have a strong climate change plan. So we’ll see that in
> real time, whether I’m right or merely dreaming.
>
> SUE LAWLEY: Okay.
>
> JEFFREY SACHS: The reason I believe that this is happening is that the
> scientific consensus is sound because the major oil companies are
> actually running advertisements every day in the global press about
> the dangers of climate change now. Something has changed for the
> better, and that’s the point I’m making.
>
> SUE LAWLEY: I’m going to bring in Charles Hutzler now, who’s the
> Bureau Chief here for Associated Press. Charles, your question please?
>
> CHARLES HUTZLER: I’d like to re-focus the question a little bit, and
> maybe go off target slightly. The Beijing Olympics are approaching,
> and as that time draws near there’s even greater attention going to be
> placed on China. Can a government that routinely suppresses dissent,
> and whose values seem to be so at odds with the other major powers,
> really gain the respect and find a way to work with other governments
> to achieve the solutions that you’re talking about?
>
> JEFFREY SACHS: I think so. China is changing, it inevitably will
> change, so we can’t look at this as a snapshot, we have to look at it
> as the drama of life that it is, for one fifth of the world. China’s
> politics will change, China’s governance will change, over time. But
> we are talking about a form of statecraft here which has lasted more
> than two thousand years, and has had its remarkable successes in many
> ways of keeping internal peace for very very long stretches, for
> hundreds of years, while Europe was destroying itself in unprecedented
> proportions. The success of Chinese statecraft is extraordinary. There
> will be a decentralisation of power, there will be a change in the way
> things have been done from a centralised state over two thousand
> years, but it’s a little bit like the climate change issue as well –
> this is not a year to year event, this is something that will come in
> the course of decades in this country.
>
> SUE LAWLEY: We’re coming towards the close now. I’m going to bring in
> here Jonathan Watts, who’s the Guardian correspondent here in
> South-East Asia. Jonathan, your question please?
>
> JONATHAN WATTS: Thank you. I came back today from Linfen, which has
> for the past five years been declared as the most polluted city on the
> whole planet. And it was particularly horrible, but the message was
> contradictory. There was, on one side the local government said that
> they were going to close down a hundred and sixty of a hundred and
> eighty-nine iron foundries, which says, as you’ve said, that there is
> more environmental awareness here. On the other side lots of local
> people said we don’t believe the government, we don’t trust the media.
> The people I spoke to said we could get in trouble if we speak to you,
> and others said we don’t want this environment but we can’t change it,
> we have no way of affecting government policy. So my question is this.
> Economically China’s transformation has been incredibly exciting, but
> politically, as has been said today, this is still a one party
> dictatorship. What do you think is the role of public accountability
> in improving the environment? And if I could just be a devil’s
> advocate – in some ways wouldn’t it be better if we had a green
> dictatorship to solve the world’s problems rather than a green democracy?
>
> JEFFREY SACHS: Well I think that public accountability is extremely
> important, but the problem that you cite of these foundries is not a
> problem of one political system, it’s a problem of local economy, that
> is true in the United States or China, or many other places, where you
> have a local economy depending on a, probably a defunct technology at
> this point, that has built up a set of jobs in an environmentally
> unsustainable manner. And that is a tough challenge anywhere. So one
> needs a set of instruments and institutions to provide either
> alternatives to help retrofit factories, to provide compensation for
> environmental adjustment, and so forth, and a lot of those
> institutions don’t exist in this country because the challenges are
> only being faced right now for the first time.
>
> SUE LAWLEY: But the implicit question was how important is democracy,
> or some advent of democracy here in China?
>
> JONATHAN WATTS: Absolutely. I think, I agree with most of what you’ve
> said but I think you kind of dodged that question, as so many
> foreigners, foreign leaders and foreign businessmen coming to China
> now do, is not want to talk about human rights and democracy because
> they’ve got other things on their plate. There are an awful lot of
> people doing work in environmental issues, and NGOs who, maybe they
> wouldn’t call it democracy but I think they would like more tools to
> be able to influence government policy, and the tools in the West were
> often a free media and votes, and those things they, we still don’t
> have in China.
>
> SUE LAWLEY: So Jeff, how important is greater democracy to China’s
> development, in your view?
>
> JEFFREY SACHS: I think that China will become more democratic over
> time, and I think that China will become, as I say, more decentralised
> over time as well. This is the nature of the developments taking
> place, and they’re already apparent in this country. If one has any
> sense of change that’s taking place, this is already happening, and
> it’s happening to the good. And I really don’t believe that outsiders
> coming and making simple claims really helps the process. I do believe
> that China’s politics are for the Chinese people, and I believe that
> these changes will come, they will be in China’s interest, they will
> be in the world’s interest, but the way that the world should best
> handle this is to help China to achieve its goals and define global
> common points of meeting on global challenges like climate, like
> global security, because these are the ways that we can build trust,
> build understanding and build a framework where change can take place
> in a peaceful and useful way.
>
> SUE LAWLEY: Thank you very much indeed. Thank you to our lecturer.
> (APPLAUSE) And thank you, too, to you, our audience, and our thanks of
> course to our hosts here at Peking University. Next week we go home
> with Jeffrey Sachs to Columbia University in New York, where he’s
> Director of the Earth Institute. There he’ll be continuing his
> analysis of how we manage a world which is bursting at the seams, as
> he discusses what he’s termed the dethronement of the North Atlantic.
> That’s next week. For now, from China, goodbye. (APPLAUSE)
>
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