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Jeffrey Sachs: China's Role in the Global Climate Game

Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, at the Asia Society.

Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, at the Asia Society.

NEW YORK, June 1, 2009 - Professor Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, says we need to fundamentally change the way we produce energy if we want to make progress on climate change.

"The evidence is growing ... that climate change caused by humanactivity is not only real [but] is extremely dangerous," said Sachs.

Sachs spoke in conversation with Orville Schell, Arthur Ross Director of the Center on US-China Relations at the Asia Society's New York Headquarters.

Sachs emphasized that one of the main problem is coal: "Any realistic quantitative path for a fast-growing China will mean atremendous reliance on coal," Sachs said.

Coal remains the source of 80 percent of China's electricity and 50 percent of the United States'. "Either we figure out how to live withcoal, or we're going to have to figure out how to live with climate change."

Since coal is clearly here to stay, Sachs argued, the US should workwith China to make a massive investment in developing and testing a newcoal processing technology designed to reduce emissions.

While this technology, known as carbon capture and sequestration(CCS), is still expensive and unproven, Sachs believes it's the bestway to address climate change quickly. "I've thought for the last eightyears that is the number one strategic thing to do, period," he toldthe audience.

However, Sachs was skeptical of current attempts to establish broader international agreements that target reducing emissions. "We will reach an agreement. But whether it's an agreement that changes theplanet, or whether it's an agreement that makes us feel good on the wayto the cliff is what's the real issue."

Reported by Dan Chinoy