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UN Special Advisor Highlights Need to Focus on Achieving Climate Goals, Not Negotiation

© UN15 September 2009: Delivering the 14th Prebisch Lecture at the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), Jeffrey Sachs, Special Advisor to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on the Millennium Development Goals, said current international attempts to respond to climate change are off track.

Sachs called for a massive, coordinated public-private effort to determine what can be done to allow substantial economic growth to raise living standards for hundreds of millions of poor while coping with environmental problems that already are unsustainable, highlighted by, but not limited to, climate change.

He said the UNFCCC should have a large technical body that is filling out options, costing and asking what each country can do. Referring to the current state of climate negotiations, he charged that "The issue of whether a national goal is binding or not is one of the least interesting questions. What's binding if you can't achieve it? It's silly. We should be talking about what can we do, not what's binding – what can we do now, in five years, 10 years. Once we analyze those options we can talk about what to do."

Responses to climate change that will achieve the immense progress required, especially in terms of energy use, will not be achieved by free markets alone, Sachs warned. "None of this, by its nature, can be done by markets alone. We need research, development, demonstration, public knowledge, testing, monitoring." No private company "will profitably develop these technologies on their own," he said. "Large scale technical systems require clever policies and public-private partnerships. [UNCTAD Press Release]