This post also appeared in the National Journal Energy & Environment Experts blog in response to a question about oil use and the future of electric vehicles.
Whether or not electric vehicles (EVs) take off will ultimately depend on consumer acceptance of new technology. But public policy and technological progress are just as important, as we highlight in our new report on the transportation sector.
Indeed, electric drive vehicles powered by batteries or hydrogen fuel cells could revolutionize transportation in the United States, saving considerable amounts of oil while also reducing the sector’s impact on our global climate. And the EVs on the market now are off to a great start, winning national and international awards.
Nearly all major automakers are planning to introduce these vehicles in the coming years, and I applaud automakers like Ford that have committed to building alternative drivetrains in significant number for the long haul. Companies like Ford understand climate change and the need to reduce our impact on our global environment while not sacrificing our mobility. For EVs to achieve that goal, we need policies like a clean energy standard that aim to decarbonize our electrical grid. I’m sure Ford is also investing in this space because they see a market opportunity.
The private sector has invested billions of dollars in developing, manufacturing, promoting, and distributing EVs in the last decade. From a map on our website, you can see that policymakers across the country are supporting EVs because they want their region to benefit from this burgeoning market.
Policymakers should rely on private capital as much as possible to build out the EV charging infrastructure so we can balance the desire to support alternative vehicles while also tackling our nation’s budget deficit. To that end, we should coordinate policy related to EV purchase and home charging nationwide so private players can enter new markets more easily. The most efficient way to “refuel” these vehicles is not yet clear, and we should use policy to help provide the foundation to let the market work.
Another element that is critical to the success of these vehicles is its most expensive component – the battery. Not only do we need aggressive R&D to develop batteries with much higher energy density, we also need to figure out what to do with these batteries at the vehicle’s end-of-life. About 80 percent of the battery’s capacity is still usable at this point, resulting in the largest untapped resource in this space today.
If we achieve the right mix of policy, technological progress, and consumer acceptance, there’s little reason to doubt that alternative vehicles will have a significant impact on the car market in this decade. It appears that it will be tough to kill the electric car this time.
Eileen Claussen is President
May 17, 2011
Pew Center Contact: Tom Steinfeldt, 703-516-4146
The Climate Registry Contact: Alex Carr, 778-340-8837
Association of Climate Change Officers Contact: Daniel Kreeger, 202-496-7390
The Climate Registry, Pew Center on Global Climate Change and the Association of Climate Change Officers Announce Partnership with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to Jointly Administer New National Climate Awards Program
Washington, DC – Today The Climate Registry (The Registry), the Pew Center on Global Climate Change (Pew Center) and the Association of Climate Change Officers (ACCO) announced that they will jointly sponsor a new national awards program with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to recognize exemplary corporate, organizational and individual leadership in response to climate change.
By showcasing voluntary action on climate and energy under a unified banner, EPA, The Registry, Pew Center and ACCO are sending a strong signal that innovative and sustained leadership in greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) management will be recognized in the United States.
"The co-sponsorship of this new recognition opportunity reflects EPA’s commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) and recognizing leadership on climate change," said EPA Assistant Administrator Gina McCarthy. "We are pleased to be partnering with three non-profit organizations that have demonstrated expertise in GHG emissions management."
An event to honor award recipients will be held in early 2012. Specific award categories will include:
- Sustained Excellence in Public Reporting –Recognizing companies that continually raise the bar in the area of public disclosure of GHG emissions data. This would include regular public reporting and verification of corporate GHG inventories, GHG goal setting and achievement of GHG emissions reductions.
- Supply Chain Leadership –Recognizing companies that have their own comprehensive GHG inventories and emissions reduction goals and can demonstrate that they are at the leading edge of managing carbon in their supply chain.
- Organizational Leadership –Recognizing companies that have “mainstreamed” climate change across their operations and can demonstrate that they factor climate change into their business decisions.
- Individual Leadership –Recognizing individuals exemplifying extraordinary leadership in leading their organizations’ response to climate change and/or affecting the responses of other organizations.
These award categories provide a legacy for EPA’s Climate Leaders program, which provided support to private sector corporations who voluntarily set and achieved greenhouse gas reduction targets, and ACCO’s Climate Leadership Awards, which recognized exemplary leadership by organizations in industry, government, academia and the non-profit community.
“Corporate leadership is essential to advancing climate and energy solutions,” said Eileen Claussen, President of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. “In growing numbers, companies and their employees are working tirelessly in pursuit of cost-effective solutions that reduce carbon and benefit consumers. Recognizing these great accomplishments serves to motivate and accelerate efforts throughout the business community toward a cleaner, more efficient energy future."
“The Climate Registry is delighted to partner with EPA, the Pew Center and ACCO on this important program, which will build on the work of Climate Leaders as well as our own carbon management program,” said Denise Sheehan, Executive Director of The Climate Registry. “Together we look forward to continuing to provide the tools, resources and recognition that organizations need to take their climate and carbon leadership to the next level.”
"Amongst ACCO’s primary missions is bringing together climate executives from across sectors to collaborate and establish best practices," said Daniel Kreeger, ACCO's Executive Director. "We look forward to undertaking such a timely and important effort with our partners - The Climate Registry and the Pew Center - who have been on the cutting edge of climate response, and of course EPA, whose Climate Protection Awards inspired ACCO’s 2010 Climate Leadership Awards program and whose Climate Leaders program has been so instrumental in driving climate response."
More information is available online at www.epa.gov/climateleaders. Additional information on the award categories and nomination process will be made publicly available in the next few weeks.
About The Climate Registry
The Climate Registry provides organizations with the tools and resources to help them calculate, verify, report and manage their GHG emissions in a publicly transparent and credible way. The Registry was established in 2007 as a 501 (c)(3) by US states and Canadian provinces and today is governed by a Board of Directors comprised of senior officials from 41 US states, the District of Columbia, 13 Canadian provinces and territories, six Mexican states and four Native Sovereign Nations. The Registry is a membership organization with more than 430 members who use The Registry’s services measure and manage their emissions and share best practices with a community of members. For more information see www.theclimateregistry.org.
About the Pew Center on Global Climate Change
The Pew Center on Global Climate Change (“Pew Center”; www.c2es.org) is a 501(c)(3) organization that operates under the legal umbrella Strategies for the Global Environment. Formed in 1998, the Pew Center is an internationally recognized pragmatic voice offering credible information and analysis, straight answers, and innovative solutions in the effort to address global climate change. In a highly polarized, controversial and politicized arena, the Pew Center provides a non-partisan forum for constructive engagement between business leaders, policy makers, scientists, and other experts.
About the Association of Climate Change Officers
The Association of Climate Change Officers is a 501(c)(6) non-profit membership organization for executives and officials worldwide in industry, government, academia and the non-profit community. ACCO’s mission is to advance the knowledge and skills of those dedicated to developing and directing climate change strategies in the public and private sectors, and to establish a flexible and robust forum for collaboration between climate change officers. For more information about ACCO, please visit www.ACCOonline.org.
Changing Planet is a three-part series of town hall events intended to encourage student learning and dialogue about climate change by gathering scientists, thought leaders, business people, and university students to discuss the facts of climate science, the dynamics of its impact and to brainstorm solutions. The series is prodiced in partnership between NBC Learn (the educational arm of NBC News), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and Discover magazine.
The first town hall event, Changing Planet: The Impact on Lives and Values, was hosted at Yale University and moderated by NBC News Special Correspondent Tom Brokaw. The discussion explored themes of human health, national security, economic opportunity and competitiveness, moral or religious values, environmental justice, and what climate change means for youth. The panelists were Linda Fisher, Dupont’s chief sustainability officer; Rajendra Pachauri, director of the Yale Climate and Energy Institute and a Nobel Prize laureate; Billy Parish, founder and coordinator of the youth-oriented Energy Action Coalition; and Katherine Hayhoe, associate professor in the Department of Geosciences at Texas Tech University and an expert on the intersection between Christian fundamentalism and climate change.
A second Changing Planet: Clean Energy, Green Jobs and Global Competition town hall was hosted at George Washington University on April 12, and focused on the economic advantages of climate change solutions, including clean energy policies and technologies and creation of market green jobs. Tim Juliani, Director of Corporate Engagement, was a panelist and provided our perspective on the clean energy debate. Other panelists included: Ken Zweibel, a professor at GWU, Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins (head of Green for All), and Chris Busch (director of Policy and Programs at the Apollo Alliance). NBC News reporter Anne Thompson moderated this event.
Read Discover Magazine's story on Building a Green-Collar Economy with a full transcript of the Changing Planet: Clean Energy, Green Jobs and Global Competition town hall.
The third town hall will be held at Arizona State University in the fall of 2011, and its suggested focus will be “Keeping It Fresh: Our Water Future,” impacts of how communities are adapting, or preparing to adapt to, changing availability of fresh water..
In addition to the Changing Planet town halls, NBC Learn and NSF worked together to produce a series of 12 online video reports looking at the impact of climate change in various locations around the world. From Bermuda’s tropical seas to the Arctic Ocean, each story follows scientists in the field who are studying the dramatic impacts of rising temperatures in the air, in the water, and on land. The series is narrated by Anne Thompson, Chief Environmental Affairs Correspondent for NBC News. Watch the full video series here.
First there was the warning about a construction moratorium – all new major stationary sources would come to an immediate halt because of EPA’s new source review requirements for greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). Soon after the alarm went out about the approaching regulatory “train wreck” that would result from a series of EPA rules impacting electric utilities. A large number of power plants would shut down, the reliability of our energy supply would be sacrificed, and consumers would face skyrocketing costs.
There was only one problem with these warnings – they were made before anybody knew what the actual regulations would require. Now that EPA has issued several of these rules, it is useful to revisit these doomsday scenarios and see if the reality of the proposals matches the rhetoric before the fact.
At the moment, our attention is riveted by the events unfolding at a nuclear power plant in Japan. Over the past year or so, major accidents have befallen just about all of our major sources of energy: from the Gulf oil spill, to the natural gas explosion in California, to the accidents in coal mines in Chile and West Virginia, and now to the partial meltdown of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear reactor. We have been reminded that harnessing energy to meet human needs is essential, but that it entails risks. The risks of different energy sources differ in size and kind, but none of them are risk-free.
For many Americans, U.S. oil dependence has become a concern for reasons ranging from climate change and environmental protection to national security and the economic impact of higher gas prices. But there are other important impacts of our oil dependence, including how foreign oil contributes to the U.S. trade deficit and how rising oil prices decrease American jobs – both particularly salient issues on the current U.S. political agenda.
A recent article from Daily Finance shines light on the 2010 trade deficit, more than half of which is from petroleum-related products. In 2010, the U.S. petroleum-related trade deficit was $256.9B, which represents a 29.6 percent jump from the 2009 petroleum trade deficit. This rise is largely due to increased prices, as the consumption of petroleum-related products in the United States grew by only 1.9 percent from 2009 to 2010 while the price per barrel of oil grew 31.1 percent to $74.66. An issue currently receiving a lot of attention in Washington, the $61B worth of cuts to the national budget sought by the U.S. House of Representatives, is equal to only one fourth of the country’s 2010 petroleum-related trade deficit.
Numbers that large can be hard to put into perspective, so let’s look at how this affects the average American. The graph below shows the U.S. petroleum-related trade deficit per capita (left axis), which is closely related to oil prices (right axis). In 2010 the petroleum-related trade deficit per capita was $832 and has ranged from $600 to $1200 in the past several years. This translates into each American household sending roughly $2,155 out of the U.S. economy in 2010 to pay for oil.
Rising oil prices not only increase the trade deficit, they decrease the number of jobs in America. As energy prices rise, businesses and consumers must spend more on energy and thus have less to spend elsewhere. In his presentation at our recent conference on state and federal roles in climate policy, Mark Doms, Chief Economist at the Department of Commerce, explained that when the price of oil goes up by just $10 per barrel, it translates into a loss of tens of thousands of jobs per month, or up to a quarter of a million U.S. jobs per year. Instead of losing jobs in order to maintain our use of oil, we should focus on creating jobs by investing in domestically produced alternative fuels and vehicles.
In June 2008, oil prices spiked to $145 per barrel, and Americans paid for it at the pump as gas prices reached $4 per gallon. We could be headed into a similar situation, as oil prices rose above $105 per barrel earlier this month and are expected to continue to rise in 2011 and 2012. Because we rely on oil, a resource that is concentrated in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries or OPEC, we face oil prices that are much higher than a competitive market would yield. This makes U.S. gasoline susceptible to price shocks, and American consumers pay more at the pump than they would in a competitive market.
Here we have highlighted two other important reasons why Americans should care about rising oil prices: they increase the U.S. trade deficit and can decrease domestic jobs. As oil prices continue to rise, these negative economic trends will also worsen. In order to mitigate the impacts of rising oil prices, we need to work towards a clean energy economy and promote the use of domestic alternative fuels and energy efficiency. This would decrease our oil dependence, making the United States less susceptible to rising oil prices while also creating more jobs here at home.
Monica Ralston is is the Innovative Solutions intern
By: Michael Gillenwater and Stephen Seres
Download this paper (pdf)
The Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce hosted The 2011 Greening Your Business Conference on April 14, 2011. This conference provided the opportunity to reach business decision makers interested in learning more about sustainable and eco-friendly products and services that can be implemented in the workplace.
The Pew Center on Global Climate Change moderated the Keynote presentation.
Alcoa Foundation and the Pew Center on Global Climate Change Launch School-Based Carbon Footprint Challenge
March 14, 2011
Contact: Diana Burkett, 703-516-4146
Alcoa Foundation and the Pew Center on Global Climate Change Launch School-Based Carbon Footprint Challenge
More than 8,000 students to participate in the Make an Impact: Change Our 2morrow (CO2) challenge with chance to win $5,000 grant
Washington, D.C. – Alcoa Foundation and the Pew Center on Global Climate Change today announced an exciting new green education partnership to teach students how their daily actions can reduce harmful emissions and improve the environment.
Set to run from March 14 to April 11, Make an Impact: Change Our 2morrow (CO2) is an educational energy conservation challenge among 8,000 students at 15 schools near Alcoa locations in Cleveland, OH, Hampton, VA, Knoxville, TN, and LaPorte and Warrick, IN.
The challenge builds on the successful Make an Impact program that has engaged nearly 14,000 Alcoa employees at 18 Alcoa locations across the US, resulting in more than 4.6 million pounds of carbon savings and $3.7 million in energy savings. Alcoa isn’t the only corporation involved, both Bank of America and Entergy have realized an estimated 5 million pounds of carbon savings each from rolling out Make an Impact, proving the value of the program for a wide range of organizations.
“Even small changes in our daily lives can lead to significant improvements for the environment,” said Paula Davis, President, Alcoa Foundation. “Through Make an Impact: Change Our 2morrow, we want to educate young people about the potential they have to make a difference and inspire them to become green ambassadors in their communities - at school, at play and at home.”
The winning schools are determined based on the highest number of carbon calculator completions, and will receive a $5,000 grand prize grant or one of five $1,000 runner-up grants, earmarked for ‘green initiatives,’ from Alcoa Foundation. The winners will be announced on Earth Day, April 22.
“Knowing the impact of your energy choices is an important first step to change,” said Katie Mandes, Pew Center Vice President of Communications and Director of the Make an Impact program. “We hope this challenge will motivate young people and the entire community to learn how easy it can be to make a difference.”
The Make an Impact: CO2 challenge is part of a new $7 million Alcoa Foundation investment to address regional environmental challenges, improve energy efficiency and enhance global reforestation projects. The investment is aligned with Alcoa Foundation’s sustainability focus: ‘Reduce, Recycle, Replenish,’ and will engage employees and communities where Alcoa operates.
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ABOUT ALCOA FOUNDATION
Alcoa Foundation is one of the largest corporate foundations in the U.S., with assets of approximately US $420 million. In addition to addressing local needs in communities where Alcoa operates, Alcoa Foundation is focused on promoting environmental stewardship, enabling economic and social sustainability, and preparing tomorrow’s leaders through education and learning. Alcoa Foundation was founded more than 50 years ago and has invested more than US $515 million since 1952. More information can be found at www.alcoa.com/foundation.
ABOUT THE PEW CENTER ON GLOBAL CLIMATE CHANGE
The Pew Center on Global Climate Change was established in May 1998 as a non-profit, non-partisan, and independent organization dedicated to providing credible information, straight answers, and innovative solutions in the effort to address global climate change. The Pew Center is led by Eileen Claussen, the former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs. More information can be found at www.c2es.org.
ABOUT MAKE AN IMPACT
The Make an Impact program, developed by the Pew Center on Global Climate Change in partnership with Alcoa Foundation, helps Alcoa employees, their families and surrounding communities reduce energy use, manage their carbon footprint and become an active part of the solution to climate change. The program features:
- A custom-built carbon calculator with individual carbon footprint analysis.
- A dynamic website with tips, tools and resources on how to reduce energy bills and live more sustainably.
- A comprehensive outreach program of educational workshops and hands-on activities to support local action.
The Make an Impact: Change Our 2morrow (CO2) program promotes energy efficiency through a fun and engaging online competition, which features educational resources about energy conservation and an interactive carbon calculator. To find out more about Make an Impact, how your company or organization can sign on or to measure your own carbon footprint, visit www.alcoa.com/makeanimpact.
Q&A with Eileen Claussen
Originally published by Australian Centre for Leadership for Women as part of an expert panel on climate change, Empowering Women to Lead the Way in Climate Change Action
What are the main drivers for you in believing in climate change and taking action?
The issue of climate change is not about belief but science. The scientific community has reached a strong consensus regarding the science of global climate change. The overwhelming majority of climate scientists believe the warming of the earth is unequivocal. This warming is largely the result of emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from human activities, including industrial processes, fossil fuel combustion, and changes in land use, such as deforestation. Enough is known about the science and environmental impacts of climate change for us to take actions now to address its consequences. In the words of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences 2010 report to Congress: “It is unequivocal that the climate is changing, and it is very likely that this is predominantly caused by the increasing human interference with the atmosphere. These changes will transform the environmental conditions on Earth unless counter-measures are taken.”
Can you explain how the cap and trade emissions trading program operates and why do you advocate this program over the emissions tax option?
A cap-and-trade system is one of a variety of policy tools that exists to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions responsible for climate change. I believe it is the best tool because it offers environmental certainty (a cap) and economic flexibility (ability to reduce emissions in places where it’s most cost-effective). Once established, a well-designed cap-and-trade market is relatively easy to implement, can achieve emissions reductions goals in a cost-effective manner, and drives low-greenhouse gas innovation.
The key difference between a tax and the cap-and-trade approach comes down to the issue of certainty and environmental benefit. A tax provides cost certainty; the cost is fixed because of the tax. Cap and trade, on the other hand, provides environmental certainty because of the cap. With a carbon tax, many emitters will reduce their emissions rather than pay the tax.
In more detail … In a cap-and-trade program, the government determines which facilities or emissions are covered by the program and sets an overall emission target, or “cap,” for covered entities (firms held responsible for emissions). This cap is the sum of all allowed emissions from all included facilities. Once the cap has been set and covered entities specified, tradable emissions allowances (rights to emit) are distributed (either auctioned or freely allocated, or some combination of these). Each allowance authorizes the release of a specified amount of greenhouse gas emissions, generally one ton of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e). The total number of allowances is equivalent to the overall emissions cap (e.g., if a cap of one million tons of emissions is set, one million one-ton allowances will be issued). Allowance trading occurs because firms face different costs for reducing emissions. For some emitters, implementing new, low-emitting technologies may be relatively inexpensive. Those firms will either buy fewer allowances or sell their surplus allowances to firms that face higher emission control costs.
I understand that the Pew Center has produced 85 peer-reviewed reports on climate change in an effort to demystify the subject for members of Congress and interested companies. Can you point out what has been the focus of this effort in relation to what exactly the Center has aimed to demystify and how do you regard the outcomes of this effort in leading the Pew Center on Climate Change?
As a non-profit, non-partisan and independent organization, the PewCenteron Global Change does its best to provide credible information, straight answers, and innovative solutions to addressing climate change. One of the Center’s goals is to demystify a wide range of topics that are critical to the issue of climate change, from the science and impacts, to the economics, to policies, and solutions. Our goal is to provide the best information - in an understandable way - so that policy makers and stakeholders can make informed decisions.
More than any other area, I believe our greatest impact has and continues to be engaging the business community on climate and clean energy policy and solutions. When the PewCenterbegan in 1998, only a handful of brave firms were willing to address the issue. Now our Business Environmental Leadership Council (BELC), which started with 13 companies in 1998, includes 46 mostly Fortune 500 corporations committed to advancing effective and mandatory climate action. In stark contrast to 13 years ago, all of these firms have a good understanding of the issue and have been active in the policy debate.
While a great deal of work remains to be done, I firmly believe the U.S. climate debate is much further along because of the vocal leadership of many progressive businesses. These business leaders understand the significant opportunity for economic growth in a clean energy future. But unleashing the investments necessary to capitalize on these opportunities requires the certainty that can only come with government policy. And that is an effort we continue to work toward with forward-thinking members of the business community.
What do you see as some of the best practice solutions which US businesses have put in place to tackle climate change problems?
Energy efficiency is one key area where businesses are taking action that delivers tangible environmental benefits and saves substantial amounts of money in the process. A comprehensive PewCenterstudy released in April 2010 found that leading companies that give greater attention to energy efficiency have realized billions of dollars in savings and millions of tons of avoided greenhouse gas emissions. The report, From Shop Floor to Top Floor: Best Business Practices in Energy Efficiency, documents leading-edge energy efficiency strategies, describes best practices, and provides guidance and resources for other businesses seeking to reduce energy use in their internal operations, supply chains, and products and services. We are now involved in an assessment of how companies do clean energy innovation, and hope that this analysis and the report we will issue will also be of great value to those in the business sector.
Through our employee-engagement program – Make An Impact– we also know there is a large appetite among employees to learn about constructive solutions to reduce energy use that saves money and helps the climate. By arming their employees with tools to address our climate-energy challenges, companies find great benefits in employee morale and performance.
With recent studies showing that the media in the U.S. continues to indicate that climate change science is contentious or does not have any consensus, how do you in your role deal with this environmental skepticism?
The attacks on climate science – mostly dishonest claims driven by ideology and profit – have proven highly effective at misleading the public and souring its support for climate action. Other factors like the down economy make advancing climate policy an uphill battle, but the well-orchestrated, well-funded campaign to discredit climate science is an influential barrier to progress.
To help overcome this obstacle, the PewCentereducates diverse audiences, including business leaders, policy makers, and the public about the strong, clear science behind climate change. Scientists may disagree on some details, like individual weather events, but they have an astonishing level of consensus on the basics: The planet is warming and human activities are primarily responsible for the warming that has occurred since the mid-20th century.
While we believe the science is indisputable, we know that others do not. So it’s critical to frame the issue in different ways for different audiences while advancing the ultimate goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Talking in terms of energy security or economic opportunities in clean energy are two examples that resonate with people who are not swayed by the science. As President Obama has said: There’s more than one way to skin a cat.
Discussing climate action in terms managing risk is another way to reach audiences that question climate science. This approach is often used by national security experts, and it forces people to consider the level of risk they are willing to live with and steps they can take to minimize that risk. Risk management is a formal version of choices that families regularly make when buying insurance, deciding where to live, or investing in retirement accounts. It’s an approach that offers a way forward on the complicated and highly politicized issue of climate change. And our knowledge of climate impacts, while not perfect, is much stronger than evidence security experts rely on to make decisions regarding highly sensitive topics such as nuclear proliferation or the actions of rogue states.
How can communication about the risks and opportunities of climate change be improved to effect change and action?
To generate greater support for action, the public needs a clearer understanding of the impacts likely to become more common in a warming world. The reality is that talk of global average temperatures does not reach people; we need to make the impacts more tangible. I believe this starts with telling compelling stories about impacts occurring in people’s own backyards. From garden club members to city planners, people are being forced to address climate impacts. Their stories, and the connection to changes in our climate, need to be more clearly communicated to broader audiences.
The PewCenteralso uses extreme weather events as a teaching tool to educate the public about our vulnerabilities to climate change. The fact is that we need to take action now, or we are simply loading the dice for more extreme weather events in the future. We will see more events such as the unprecedented seasonal flooding in Australia, the 2010 Russian heat wave and flooding in Pakistan. We will see more extreme winter snow storms that blanketed the U.S. Midwest and Northeast this year. It is imperative that we start to take action now to reduce emissions and adapt to unavoidable climate change.
These impacts translate into the costs of inaction. While opponents of climate policy attack the costs of regulation as a reason for inaction – and surely there are costs – the overwhelming analysis shows that the benefits of action far outweigh the costs. This message needs to be more clearly communicated so the public better understands the benefits of climate action, or conversely, the costs we face by not reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
There have been many reasons put forward as to the failure of the Obama Administration's Climate Change legislation being passed in the Senate in 2010. To what do you attribute this failure?
Passing comprehensive climate and energy legislation through the U.S. Congress was a huge lift under the best of conditions. It required the White House to lay out a legislative roadmap and push its agenda through Congress. The President also needed to use the bully pulpit to help make the case for climate action to voters. Unfortunately, this did not happen.
The poor economy was a major reason that impacted the climate and energy debate in Congress last year. Unemployment was at an all-time high, and Americans were more concerned about creating jobs than anything else. Another issue was the health care debate. Passing that legislation used up a great deal of political capital, and it took time away from addressing other issues, including climate and energy. Climate change also became too politically contentious and there was not the bipartisan support necessary to pass the legislation.
What do you see as being significant about the Cancun climate change achievements?
The agreement reached in Cancún in December fills in many key missing elements of the 2009 Copenhagen Accord, including a stronger system of support for developing countries and a stronger transparency regime to better assess whether countries are keeping their promises. The Cancún Agreements also mark the first time that all of the world’s major economies have made explicit mitigation pledges under the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.
Of course, the ultimate goal of the continuing international talks must be a comprehensive binding climate treaty. That’s the goal of the journey we started on this issue way back in 1992 at the Earth Summit in Rio. But in Cancún we saw countries agreeing on incremental steps that will deliver stronger action in the near term and, we hope, will keep the world on course toward someday agreeing to binding commitments.