Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg has been back in New York this week on UN business, charged with finding a means of financing climate measures in poor countries. It’s no easy task, especially given American aversion to anything resembling new taxes.
Stoltenberg and Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi were asked to take over for former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown as head of the UN group charged with funding emissions cuts and other climate measures. The world’s wealthy countries are supposed to cough up USD 100 billion a year from 2020 to cover the costs of the climate measures, and Stoltenberg has several proposals for doing so.
He thinks carbon quotas should be auctioned off, for example, and that polluters should foot a bigger share of the bill than they do now. Among his proposals are new fees imposed on the shipping and airline industries, now responsible for nearly 3 percent and 2 percent of the world’s carbon emissions respectively.
Such fees are viewed as taxes in places like the US, though, and the US’ “big problems in understanding that it will cost to pollute are a serious hindrance to getting a climate agreement in place,” Stoltenberg told newspaper Aftenposten.
In the social welfare state that Stoltenberg leads back home in Norway, it’s not uncommon for Norwegians to say that they “pay their taxes with joy.” They tend to get a lot in return for the taxes they pay, from free hospitalization to tuition-free university educations and a vast array of other social services. Several top Norwegian officials thus were hailing Stoltenberg’s proposals for carbon fees on ships and aircraft. Some think Norway should impose its own such fees immediately, “to set a good example” for the rest of the world.
In the US, however, “taxes” is almost a dirty word, so Stoltenberg faces a major challenge trying to get the US to go along with his ideas for financing measures aimed at reversing climate change. He admitted to Norwegian media that he doesn’t think it will be possible to achieve a binding climate agreement at the next UN climate conference in Mexico in December. No deal can be effective unless the US and China are on board.
“But I hope to get some important building blocks in place,” Stoltenberg told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN). He also told newspaper Aftenposten that it’s “important to build a new agreement brick by brick” despite the danger that the UN climate talks can end up as an eternal negotiating process without result.
He cautioned against having high expectations for the upcoming talks in Mexico. He has more faith in winning an agreement at the next UN climate conference in South Africa in 2011.