Jernej Stritih, director of the government office for climate change
Published 31st October 2009 - 1 comments - 1714 views -
You current title, the director of government office for climate change, sounds very activistic. Can you begin with describing the main focuses of your office in the fight against climate change?
The office was founded this summer and we are just getting started. The office is directly reponsible to the cabinet of the prime minister and our main goal is to horizontally link up different sectors within the government and guide them in the climate change fight – on the field of emission reduction and at the same time on the field of climate change adaptation. We already gathered a small team which will work on coordination as well as execution of policies and goals between different sectors of our government. An important focus will be given to working with the public – companies, municipalities, local communities, NGOs and such... I am hoping we will succeed in building a great coalition of people, dedicated to the fight against climate change.
Your area of operation sounds very wide. Do you have a list of priorities?
We do – first we must take over the preparations for the COP15 summit from the ministry of environment and see what will the Copenhagen summit mean for Slovenia. This agreement will also define our future activies. We will begin with the preparations for the climate change law, which will again be a reflection of the Copenhagen negotiations and based on the current experiences we will make a step forward – setting long-term goals and strategy as well as acting on current issues. We will also prepare a eco-strategy which I expect will be one of the key points of the Copenhagen agreement and will we incorporate this strategy in the common development strategy of Slovenia for the years from 2014 to 2020.
Where do we stand right now? Is this the right time to make changes, improvements?
Slovenia is one of the countries that are falling behind on their Kyoto agreement, eventhough at the time of the signing we thought that meeting the required goal won`t be a problem. It later turned out that we went over the line with carbon emission limits that were set in the Kyoto agreement – the main blame being the traffic and carbon emissions in this sector. In other sectors the emissions are stagnant or even in decline, but we are still dealing with the fulfillement of the Kyoto agrement. Copenhagen will, in my opinion, require an upgrade in emissions cuts – twenty percent by the year 2020 – which means that we will have to make more drastic moves than we did so far.
Fortunately, we have ample measures on our disposals which have a negative cost effect – meaning that you can make money and save the environment at the same time. I am thinking of course of better buildings insulation, increasing the energa efficency in the industry, installation of the energy-efficient light bulbs and so on. Also in the field of traffic and transport, there are many untapped sinergies – reducing the carbon emissions would lead for example in reduced pollution from that sector. If we will be able to limit the transit transport, we could prolong the lifetime of the roads and so forth. These are just the measures that will not cost us any money and then we have some measures that will be more costly.
How do other ministries respond to your ideas? Did you manage to talk to all of the ministers in the slovene government?
I haven`t had the chance yet but there are many fields where we can work together in achieving the common goals. It`s important to connect your climate change strategy and general economy strategy. Countries that will pass useful measures in the field of emission reduction as well as measures in the field of climate change, will in the long term achieve great economic strenght. Those countries, that will not do that, will in a few year`s time realise that their costs have greatly increased and their competitivness has greatly reduced. I`ve discussed these matters with the prime minister and one of the main goals will be linking up climate change with the jobs creation and other conjecture measurements that will lead us out of this crisis.
Do you think that now is an appropriate moment to perform such measures?
I`ll be able to answer that in a few years, but I believe that the current economic crysis poses no problem for mesures that are economically effective. There are some problems and prejudices, there are some areas that will suffer because of these measures, but that will not stop us from acting on climate change issues. Politics on one side and the people on the other.
Are there some measure that people can do by themselves and help the government?
One of our priorities is also building up the public support for this process. Citizens can do a lot by themselves, especially when it comes to lowering their personal carbon footprint. They can also help with reducing their own enery consumption and energy efficiency. However, there are some areas where citizens are powerless at. For some areas government initiative is crucial – for example environment planning, upgrades of the current state services and so forth. If the government is building roads, it is very important to combine building with public transportation planning which is more eco-friendly and a lot more efficient than personal transport.
It is also very important that the people are giving a clear message to their government about activities in this field. Slovenia is a small country and some people think we are save when it comes to climate change since they have not manifested yet in Slovenia. In my opinion, sooner or later we will realise that we are not as exluded as we think and we will have to do our part at securing the future of our kind.
Is the economic crisis the right time to reeducate the public?
I think now is the best time. People are coming out of their love with cars and other goods and they are starting to realise that happiness is not directly linked to stuff you can buy – there are other, more important things in life. Basic standard is important, but once you go over it, you realise that material goods do not equal happiness. The economic crisis caused many people to reevaluate the important things in life – do I really have to spend most of my money for planet destruction or is it maybe better to think about quality of life with a lower carbon footprint, lower energy consumption and so forth...
A few more questions about the COP15 meeting – is the prime minister going?
We haven`t made the final decision yet, but we are thinking about going in with our full team. I think one of the basic questions is what will we accomplish by going. A gesture is one thing but on the other hand we have to think about the real contribution Slovenia can give to the world, which is what I am working on right now. We are still struggling to fulfill our Kyoto agreement and that is a sure sign we still have a long way to go.
What do you expect from the COP15 summit? Is this just another show for the masses, what is its importance...?
Copenhagen is one for the milestones and it is important – especially because of the changes in the politics of the USA and other international actors (china...). I think it is too soon to say whether or not will it bring solid agreements, but we are facing increasing pressure from the public. Compared to the situation a couple of years back, the situation has evolved and is moving into the right direction.
That goes for Slovenia as well – I think the sole creation of this office is a proof that the slovene government is taking this matter serioulsy and no matter the outcome of the COP15 summit, we will take our job seriously and at the same time actively participate in the future negotiations.
Will you set measurable goals for yourself?
Of course, one of the goals is monitoring emissions and monitoring of the changes in the climate – our job will be to track those changes and at the same time develope a better analytical process, since most of the current Slovenian policies is based on wider studies from EU and other world agencies. As far as operations go, the costs of required investments are already calculated, on the other hand we have no benefits calculations.
One of the measurable indicators would be the number of newly created job posts as a direct or indirect result of the fight against climate change. Another key indicator is the level of carbon emissions, the number of renewable sources of energy and so forth.
What do you think of the Slovene media covering the climate change?
I think the biggest problem with the climate change theme is the complexity of the issue. It`s very hard to put the whole thing into perspective, but I think the Slovene media is doing an excellent job. I think one of the main reasons are the journalists, who are covering the topic and the public is getting more and more useful information. Interesting problem is the climate scepticism and the media should be able to distinc the facts from theories and take care that the reporting is credible and it reflects the reality.
You mentioned climate change scepticism – do we have sceptics in the field of Slovenian politics?
There`s quite a few of them and they are being supported by the interests of certain sectors in Slovenia. Some sectors (enegry, transprort...) want the current trends to continue, the politicians are creating their opinions based on the media reports. At the same time they are being influenced by certain lobbies and there`s still quite a lot of work for us to do.
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