Calderon: End Fossil Fuel Subsidies, Create Carbon Tax

Sep 22, 2014
Originally published on September 23, 2014 1:38 pm

Former Mexican President Felipe Calderon leads a group to encourage heads of state to propel climate change. He discusses the obstacles that block aggressive efforts to curb climate change.

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Christopher Joyce just mentioned the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, whose current campaign is an effort to convince companies and governments that reducing carbon emissions can be consistent with business and economic growth. The chairman of the Commission is Felipe Calderon, the former president of Mexico. He joins us now from New York. Welcome to the program.

FELIPE CALDERON: Thank you, Robert.

SIEGEL: One of the key recommendations of your group's report is, and I quote, "a strong lasting and equitable international climate agreement."

Isn't that exactly what everyone's figured out cannot emerge from the United Nations this year?

CALDERON: Well, the point is that we recommend that because that is true. It is important to have an international agreement. But this time could be different, Robert, in the sense that we created in Cancun a model in which every single country - either developed or developing countries - will offer unilateral commitments to reduce carbon emission. I think it's difficult but feasible.

SIEGEL: In your Commission's report, the "New Climate Economy," give us a sense - give us two key things that would have to happen for us to reduce carbon emissions.

CALDERON: Well, one is to phase out the fossil fuel subsidies. It is incredible that we are expending 600 billion a year on fossil fuels. Subsidies earn less than a hundred in renewable energy. That is one quite important.

The other is to establish for instance, carbon tax mechanisms. Why do we say that? Because if you provide these clear signals, you can end the uncertainty for business sector and that will provide a lot of jobs and economic growth and reduce the cost of capital as long as you are reducing the uncertainty. Let me tell you, Robert - the lack of real and clear signals in public policy is killing that new investment that we are needing.

SIEGEL: But let me make sure that I understand what you're saying. You're saying first end the subsidies to fossil fuel production; tax preferences, government support, whatever. But then, you're saying also put in place subsidies for alternative energy sources? Or level the playing field and have no role for government at all in that? Which is it?

CALDERON: Actually with the money that the governments will take and save phasing out the fossil fuels, we are talking about 600 billion a year. Those governments could do a lot of things, either to apply that money to educations, or law enforcement, or providing health services to the people, or to promote renewable energy. We are not making a specific recommendation to subsidize renewable energy - it would be desirable, in my opinion - but what we are saying, clearly, is at least you need to invest in research and development regarding renewable energy.

SIEGEL: How do you answer the cynical observation that it's easier for former presidents to make these recommendations than it is for sitting presidents who are also trying to make their people more prosperous - or certainly not make them less prosperous than they already feel?

CALDERON: That it is true. But actually, I didn't act only as former president. I made a lot of things as current president of Mexico, some years ago. We reduced, unilaterally, the carbon emissions in Mexico - the first country in developing world that established unilateral commitment to do that. And we started renewable energy projects and wind energy and from scratch, from zero. So we moved the country, in that sense. It is possible to do things.

Now, as former president - yes it will be easier to do that. It's my personal conviction that it's necessary to do and that's why I'm working really hard on this.

SIEGEL: President Calderon, thank you very much for talking with us today.

CALDERON: It's a pleasure, Robert.

SIEGEL: That's Felipe Calderon, a former president of Mexico, who is now the chairman of the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.