Climate change is a global challenge and requires a global solution. Through analysis and dialogue, the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions is working with governments and stakeholders to identify practical and effective options for the post-2012 international climate framework. Read more
The International Spectator
By Namrata Patodia Rastogi
India’s approach to climate change has shifted dramatically in the span of a few years. Not only has India developed a comprehensive climate change program domestically, it has adopted a new stance in the international negotiations that has earned it the reputation of being a ‘deal maker’. This dramatic, and to many unexpected, shift in India’s climate change strategy can be understood if seen in the context of India’s economic and development aspirations and the changes occurring in the larger geopolitical landscape. Climate change, due to its multi-faceted nature, cuts across a spectrum of issues and India can benefit both domestically and internationally by addressing it. India’s desire to play a strategically important role in a new global order as well as deal with domestically critical issues like energy security and energy access, all coalesce with the climate issue. By engaging proactively on climate change, India may be able to advance all of these objectives at once. To succeed, it must demonstrate that action on climate change does not come at the expense of economic growth or development goals, and that these can, in reality, go hand in hand.
Pew Center on Global Climate Change presents:
MULTILATERAL CLIMATE EFFORTS BEYOND THE UNFCCC
UN Climate Change Conference
Monday, June 13, 6:15 – 7:45 pm
Ministry of Transportation, Room RAIL
This event features presentations and discussion of options for addressing climate mitigation through other multilateral regimes – including the Montreal Protocol, LRTAP, ICAO and IMO – and implications for the future direction of the UNFCCC.
- MARCO GONZALEZ
Executive Secretary, Ozone Secretariat
- EIVIND VAGSLID
Head, Air Pollution and Climate Change, International Maritime Organization (IMO)
- TETSUYA TANAKA
Environment Officer, International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)
- HARALD DOVLAND
Former Chair of the Executive Body of the CLRTAP
- ELLIOT DIRINGER
Vice President, International Strategies, Pew Center on Global Climate Change
Event Presentations and Related Report
Testimony of Elliot Diringer
Vice President for International Strategies
Pew Center on Global Climate Change
Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations
Committee on Foreign Affairs
U.S. House of Representatives
May 25, 2011
Hearing on “UN Climate Talks and Power Politics – It’s Not About the Temperature”
Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Carnahan, and members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to testify on the critical issues confronting the United States and other nations in the effort to address global climate change. My name is Elliot Diringer, and I am Vice President for International Strategies at the Pew Center on Global Climate Change.
The Pew Center is an independent non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to advancing practical and effective policies and actions to address global climate change. Our work is informed by our Business Environmental Leadership Council (BELC), a group of 46 major companies, most in the Fortune 500, that work with the Center on climate change risks, challenges, and solutions.
Mr. Chairman, climate change poses a serious long-term threat to our nation’s resources, our economic well-being, and our national security. While action to address climate change must begin at home, this is a quintessentially global challenge, which therefore requires a global solution. I would like to focus my testimony today on three topics: 1) the status of the international climate negotiations, and the objectives that should guide U.S. climate diplomacy; 2) the policies being implemented in other countries – including our major trading partners – to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; and 3) the environmental, economic and security rationales for stronger climate action.
My principal points are as follows:
- The past two years have seen the emergence of a more realistic and balanced approach in the international climate negotiations, thanks in large measure to the efforts of U.S. negotiators. The United States must remain fully engaged in the talks with the aim of strengthening multilateral support and transparency, thereby promoting action while laying the groundwork for a future binding agreement.
- A growing number of countries are pursuing policies that help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Many see the challenge as an important opportunity as well. Some of our major trading partners are moving aggressively to grow their clean energy technology industries, which create domestic jobs and high-value exports. Without stronger policies creating similar incentives here, the United States risks falling further behind in the rapidly expanding clean energy market.
- U.S. inaction on climate change exposes our nation to real and rising risks. The longer we delay action, the harder it will be to avert the worst consequences of warming, the higher the cost of coping with those that can not be avoided, and the further we fall behind in the clean energy race. Taking steps now to expand clean energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions is squarely in our strong national interest.
Moving the Negotiations Forward
Multilateral regimes do not generally spring forth fully formed – rather, they evolve over time. The international climate effort is no different. It began with the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which was signed by the President George H. W. Bush and unanimously ratified by the U.S. Senate. The UNFCCC, now ratified by 195 parties, established a long-term objective of preventing “dangerous anthropogenic intereference with the climate system” and a framework within which countries can work together to achieve it. To be certain, countries’ positions in the climate negotiations are heavily conditioned by their respective national interests. But underlying the Framework Convention is a clear recognition that countries share a common interest in averting dangerous climate change. And a fundamental principle of the Convention is that while our respective responsibilities are differentiated, depending on nations’ circumstances, we all share a common responsibility for meeting this common challenge.
Since the signing of the Framework Convention, the climate regime has evolved in fits and starts. While the Convention is largely voluntary in nature, countries resolved shortly after its entry into force that stronger action was needed, and initiated a new round of negotiations aimed at establishing binding emission targets for developed countries. This led in 1997 to the Kyoto Protocol. Although the United States chose not to participate, Kyoto entered into force in 2005, and most other industrialized countries are on track to meeting their obligations. For many countries, the principal aim since 2005 has been to extend this legally-binding regime through a second round of targets. But many of the countries with targets have made clear that they will not assume new binding obligations without commensurate commitments by the United States and the major developing economies. Through this prolonged stalemate, the negotiations were stuck in a mode of binding-or-nothing, and consequently produced virtually nothing.
Over the past two years, however, we have seen the emergence of a more realistic, more balanced and more constructive approach, in large measure through the efforts of the United States. Many viewed the Copenhagen summit in 2009 as a major failure because they had hoped – unrealistically – that it would produce a binding agreement. In our view, the Copenhagen Accord, negotiated personally by President Obama and other world leaders, represented genuine progress. Among other things, the Accord set an aspirational goal of limiting global temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius; set goals for mobilizing financial support to help developing countries reduce emissions, preserve forests, and adapt to climate change; and established the broad parameters of a system to ensure transparency and accountability. What’s more, it provided for mitigation pledges from both developed and developing countries. As a result, for the first time ever, all of the world’s major economies – including China and India – have now made explicit pledges to reduce or limit their greenhouse gas emissions.
In the chaotic final hours in Copenhagen, the Accord was not formally adopted by the UNFCCC Conference of the Parties. However, at the 16th Conference of the Parties last year in Cancún, parties adopted a package of decisions incorporating the essential elements of the Copenhagen Accord into the UNFCCC framework, and taking initial steps to implement them. The Cancún Agreements represent the most tangible progress within the UNFCCC negotiations in nearly a decade. First, they memorialize the pledges taken under the Copenhagen Accord by more than 80 countries accounting for more than 80 percent of global emissions. Second, the Agreements establish the fundamentals of a stronger support system for developing countries, and a stronger transparency system enabling countries to verify whether others are fulfilling their pledges.
The Agreements also reflect a more flexible and realistic framework for enshrining countries’ actions. Unlike the Kyoto Protocol, which allows only one type of commitment (a binding emissions target with a prescribed, common base year), the Agreements allow for a diversity of approaches. In the case of developed countries, pledges take the form of economy-wide emission targets, but with flexibility on base year and accounting. Developing countries have even broader discretion in defining their “nationally appropriate mitigation actions.” China and India, for instance, have pledged reductions in emissions intensity (emissions per unit of GDP), while Brazil, South Africa, Mexico and the Republic of Korea have pledged to reduce emissions below “business as usual.” This more realistic and balanced approach reflected in the Cancún Agreements, as well as the movement toward greater transparency for all major economies, are direct consequences of U.S. engagement and leadership in the climate negotiations.
It is important to emphasize that the pledges countries have made at this stage are voluntary in nature. We continue to believe that the global response to climate change should ultimately be enshrined in fair, effective and binding commitments among all of the world’s major economies. Countries will deliver their strongest possible efforts only if they are confident that others are also contributing their fair share, and this confidence is best maintained through mutual and binding commitments. We also recognize, however, that it will be a number of years before the United States, China and other key countries are prepared to assume binding commitments. Under these circumstances, we believe the United States must remain fully engaged in the climate negotiations with the aim of strengthening the UNFCCC as a means of delivering support and transparency, thereby promoting near-term action while laying the groundwork for a future legal agreement.
At the 17th Conference of the Parties later this year in Durban, we believe the aim should be further progress on the operational issues addressed in the Cancún Agreements, including the launch of a new Green Climate Fund to support developing country efforts and significant progress in strengthening transparency through new “measurement, reporting and verification” practices; and a clear declaration by parties of their intent to work toward legally binding outcomes. This outcome would build on the achievements of the past two years and continue the incremental progress needed to strengthen confidence in the regime and among parties.
Efforts in Other Countries
While international agreements and commitments are critical to our success in addressing global climate change, a more important measure of efforts to date are the policies and actions countries are undertaking domestically. A growing number of countries are developing or implementing policies contributing in one way or another to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Many see the challenge as an important opportunity as well. A number of our major trading partners are moving aggressively to grow their clean energy technology industries, which create domestic jobs and high-value exports. Without stronger policies creating similar incentives here, the United States risks falling further behind our competitors in the rapidly expanding clean energy market.
The European Union is a clear leader in the development, manufacture, and deployment of clean technologies. The EU has set mandatory targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 20 percent below 1990 levels, and to increase renewables to 20 percent of its energy mix, by 2020. The centerpiece of EU climate policy is the Emissions Trading System (ETS) launched in 2005, which regulates carbon dioxide emissions (CO2) in the power and major industrial sectors generating about half of the EU’s CO2 emissions. Having overcome the early complications typical of a new compliance market, the system is set to expand in 2012 to cover other gases and the aviation sector. Europe’s clean energy investments, the world’s largest, doubled from 2009 to 2010, reaching nearly $81 billion. From 2004, the year before the ETS began, through 2008, the year before the global financial crisis, the European Union reduced its emissions 4.1 percent, while its GDP grew 9.8 percent.
China also has taken major steps towards increasing its manufacture and use of clean energy technologies. Under the Cancún Agreements, China pledged that by 2020 it will reduce the CO2 intensity of its economy 40 to 45 percent below 2005 levels; increase the share of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption to 15 percent by 2020; and increase forest coverage by 40 million hectares and forest stock volume by 1.3 billion cubic meters. These targets are reflected in domestic policy as well. Additional policies include: a national target for renewables to provide 15 percent of primary energy by 2020, with specific targets for wind, solar, biomass, and hydropower; feed-in tariffs for onshore wind power; and proposed fuel efficiency standards requiring urban cars and light trucks to achieve an average of 36.9 miles per gallon by 2015. The 12th Five-Year Plan adopted by the Chinese leadership in March devotes considerable attention to energy and climate, establishing a series of targets and policies for 2011-2015. These include a suite of policies to promote innovation in new strategic and emerging technologies, including nuclear, solar, wind, biomass, and hybrid and electric vehicles. The plan also includes a goal to "gradually establish a carbon trade market."
To be certain, China continues to build coal-fired power plants as well, and its emissions continue to rise. A recent analysis by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory projects that on the present path China’s emissions will peak between 2030 and 2035. But the climate and energy provisions of the new Five-Year Plan show how China is moving forward with domestic policies in line with the pledge it offered in Copenhagen and formalized in the Cancún Agreements. Many of the policies also are clearly calculated to help ensure that China – which recently surpassed the United States and other countries to become the leading manufacturer of wind turbines and solar panels – retains a strong competitive edge going forward.
Other major developing countries are also stepping up their efforts to limit emissions growth and transition to cleaner energy. India, which pledged to reduce its emissions intensity (excluding the agricultural sector) 20 to 25 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, is pursuing a range of policies under its 2008 National Action Plan on Climate Change, including: a renewable energy target; a feed-in tariff for renewable energy; a market-based system of tradable energy savings certificates in industrial sectors; and a coal levy generating finance for clean energy research and innovation. Brazil and Indonesia have set goals to reduce deforestation. South Africa has set national renewable energy and energy efficiency targets and established a renewable energy feed-in tariff. Meanwhile, the governments of Mexico and South Korea have proposed establishing emissions trading systems.
While the global picture is uneven, these examples demonstrate a growing will among countries to undertake a wide variety of measures to promote clean energy and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Addressing Climate Change is in Our National Interest
Earlier I emphasized that all nations share a common interest in averting dangerous climate change. It is important to understand why stronger efforts to address climate change and pursue clean energy are in our direct national interest as well. There are many reasons, whether from an environmental, national security or economic perspective.
The scientific and environmental rationale for lowering our greenhouse gas emissions is clear and compelling. As again underscored two weeks ago in America’s Climate Choices, a report produced by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences at the request of Congress, “Climate change is occurring, is very likely caused by human activities, and poses significant risks for a broad range of human and natural systems.” On these fundamental points, there is very strong consensus within the scientific community.
Due largely to the combustion of fossil fuels, atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide are at their highest level in at least 800,000 years. Over the last century, average global temperatures rose more than 1 degree Fahrenheit and in some places, including parts of the United States, temperatures rose more than 4 degrees. If greenhouse gas emissions continue to grow, average global temperatures are projected to reach 2.0°F to 11.5°F (1.1°C to 6.4°C) above pre-industrial levels by 2100, with warming in the U.S. expected to be even higher.
We are already witnessing the impacts of climate change here in the United States; the widespread flooding now inflicting communities along the Mississippi River vividly illustrates how vulnerable we are to the rising risks associated with climate change. Most of North America is experiencing increasing numbers of unusually warm days and nights and a decreasing number of unusually cool ones. At the same time, droughts are occurring more frequently while snowpacks are melting earlier in the year. Sea-level rise of 8 inches or more has been recorded in some coastal areas of the country. Continued warming will mean further sea-level rise, elevating storm surges and gradually inundating low-lying coastal areas along all U.S. coastlines; increased frequency and severity of extreme weather events; increased risk of droughts and floods; significant threats to ecosystems and biodiversity; and increased public health risks. Beyond such readily foreseeable impacts, the longer warming persists and the greater its magnitude, the greater the risk of abrupt or catastrophic changes in the global climate.
Actions to reduce the risks of climate change by lowering greenhouse gas emissions have other environmental co-benefits as well. Lower-carbon technologies such as natural gas and renewable energy also emit less of other pollutants including nitrogen dioxide, particulates, sulfur dioxide, lead, carbon monoxide, mercury, and other hazardous pollutants that have a wide range of harmful health effects, from asthma to cancer and premature death. Past regulatory efforts to reduce these pollutants have proven highly successful and cost-effective. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) found that from 1992 to 2002 “major rules” enacted under the Clean Air Act produced benefits of between $145 billion and $218 billion a year, far exceeding the annual costs $22 billion to $25 billion. A study by researchers at MIT found total annual benefits rising from $50 billion in 1975 to $400 billion in 2000. We can expand these benefits by moving towards cleaner energy sources.
America’s military leaders recognize that climate change also poses increasing risks to our national security and new demands on our military resources. According to the Pentagon’s latest Quadrennial Defense Review, climate change may act as “an accelerant of instability or conflict, placing a burden to respond on civilian institutions and militaries around the world.”
Indeed, climate change will be a threat multiplier, further destabilizing regions of the world already burdened with countless other problems. Chronic drought, rising seas, extreme weather and other climate impacts could undermine weak governments, induce mass migrations, and trigger or heighten resource competition, contributing to social instability and, potentially, armed conflict. Rising seas could displace as many as 30 million people in Bangladesh, creating additional tensions on the Indian subcontinent. Receding glaciers could leave millions across Asia facing chronic water shortages. A distinguished group of retired three- and four-star U.S. military officers warns that drought, thirst, and hunger are already exacerbating the conflicts and humanitarian disasters in Darfur and Somalia, and climate change portends more situations like these.
Within the past year, devastating floods in Pakistan have strained the resources and stability of a key U.S. ally in the battle against international terrorism, and an intense drought and heat wave has diminished food production in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, causing a spike in global wheat prices. Yemen, where the CIA says Al Qaeda is of greatest concern today, is running out of groundwater for its under-employed population. While these events cannot be directly attributed to climate change, scientists are very clear that these types of events will occur more frequently in a warming world.
Other security issues are arising closer to home. The Arctic has long been a place where defense issues were minimized because the waterways were largely frozen over year-round. With warming now occurring there at twice the average global rate, the Arctic Ocean is opening to military and civilian transportation, and the potential security implications are already apparent. Receding sea ice is creating increased competition over territory and resources in a region where the United States is currently unprepared to address potential military situations.
Protecting our nation’s security necessarily involves being prepared to deal with an uncertain future. Indeed, planning under uncertainty is business as usual for the defense community. The fact that military and security experts are increasingly concerned about the risks associated with climate change should serve as an important wake-up call to us all.
Finally, addressing climate change is very much in our economic interest. The United States is the world’s leading manufacturer, producing 21 percent of global output while supporting 18.6 million domestic jobs. Yet in the growing clean energy sector, we risk falling further behind our competitors because the demand for these goods is not as strong at home as it is overseas.
China and other countries are investing heavily in clean energy technologies, positioning themselves to compete in a growing global market projected to reach $106 billion to $230 billion a year in 2020, and as much as $424 billion a year in 2030. In order for the United States to develop a successful, profitable, and competitive clean energy sector, companies need clear regulatory frameworks ensuring a strong domestic market for these goods.
The recent experience of the U.S. auto industry provides an instructive case study. While the technology in our cars has advanced significantly in the last two decades, the typical new vehicle today consumes gasoline at about the same rate as one produced in the late 1980s. But with gas prices again rising, consumers are increasingly turning to more fuel-efficient vehicles. Spurred by fuel economy standards enacted in 2007, American automakers have been ready to meet their customers’ needs. U.S. automakers reported strong sales and combined profits of nearly $5.9 billion in the first quarter of 2011, and all three cited higher sales of fuel-efficient vehicles as a contributing factor. Last year, the Smart car was the only conventional car available in the United States with a fuel economy rating of 40 miles per gallon or better. Today there are nine, and three of them – the Cruze, Elantra, and Focus – were among the 10 top-selling vehicles last month. All three are made in the United States.
Unfortunately , similar examples in the clean energy field must be found outside the United States. In Germany, for instance, renewable energy policies helped boost jobs in the renewable energy sector from 160,000 in 2004 to 370,000 in 2010.The German government credits this dramatic growth in clean energy jobs as a major factor in its relatively fast recovery from the 2008 recession. Germany’s renewable energy sector is projected to employ about 450,000 to 580,000 workers by 2020, and between 500,000 and 600,000 in 2030.
By contrast, U.S. clean energy manufacturers are increasingly finding their biggest growth opportunities overseas. First Solar, Inc., of Arizona, the world’s second largest solar manufacturer, plans to build a 2,000-megawatt solar photovoltaic power plant in China – the largest planned project of its kind in the world. While First Solar will also add new manufacturing jobs at its U.S. facilities, at least 71 percent of its planned growth is outside the United States. U.S. firms remain among the world’s top innovators. But if our clean energy firms are to invest and create jobs at home, and compete effectively overseas, we must provide the regulatory certainty that creates strong, sustained demand for their goods here in the United States. Doing so will strengthen our economy while protecting the United States against the risks of climate change.
Mr. Chairman, U.S. inaction on climate change exposes our nation to real and rising risks. The longer we delay action, the harder it will be to avert the worst consequences of warming, the higher the cost of coping with those that can not be avoided, and the further we fall behind other countries in the clean energy race. Taking steps now to expand clean energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions is quite clearly in our strong national interest.
As the world’s largest economy, leading innovator, and largest cumulative emitter, the United States also has a responsibility to the international community. Thanks to U.S. efforts, the global climate effort now appears headed on a more reasonable course. Our ability to continue to shape that effort in the years ahead depends heavily on a demonstrated commitment to address climate change here at home.
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Energy and Climate Goals of China's 12th Five-Year Plan
By Joanna Lewis
The 12th Five-Year Plan (FYP) adopted by the Chinese government in March 2011 devotes considerable attention to energy and climate change and establishes a new set of targets and policies for 2011-2015. While some of the targets are largely in line with the status quo, other aspects of the plan represent more dramatic moves to reduce fossil energy consumption, promote low-carbon energy sources, and restructure China’s economy. Among the goals is to "gradually establish a carbon trade market." Key targets include:
- A 16 percent reduction in energy intensity (energy consumption per unit of GDP);
- Increasing non-fossil energy to 11.4 percent of total energy use; and
- A 17 percent reduction in carbon intensity (carbon emissions per unit of GDP).
The relationship between energy and economic growth matters greatly in China; without a reduction in energy intensity since the late 1970s, the country would need to consume three times the energy it does today to sustain its economic growth. At the center of China’s 11th Five-Year Plan (2006-2010) was a target to decrease the overall energy intensity of the economy by 20 percent. This target was implemented in response to increases in energy intensity experienced between 2002 and 2005, the first increase experienced after several decades of rapidly decreasing energy intensity. To reverse the unexpected increases in energy intensity, the government mobilized a national campaign to promote energy efficiency, targeting in particular the largest and least efficient energy consuming enterprises. The Top 1,000 Program targeted approximately 1,000 companies (consuming about one-third of the country’s energy) for efficiency improvements.
The 12th FYP builds directly on the 11th FYP energy intensity target and its associated programs, setting a new target to reduce energy intensity by an additional 16 percent by 2015. While this may seem less ambitious than the 20 percent reduction targeted in the 11th FYP, it likely represents a much more substantial challenge. It is likely the largest and least efficient enterprises have already undertaken efficiency improvements, leaving smaller, more efficient plants to be targeted in this second round. Under preparation is a new “Top 10,000” program, which is modeled after the Top 1,000 Program but adds an order of magnitude of companies to the mix. But as the number of plants grows, so do the challenges of collecting accurate data and enforcing targets.
The closure of inefficient power and industrial facilities also helped contribute to the decline in energy intensity during the 11th FYP period, with a reported 72.1 GW of thermal capacity closed. Total plant closures are equivalent to 16 percent of the size of the capacity added over the period. An additional 8 GW of coal plants are reportedly to be shut down in 2011 alone with further closures no doubt on tap over the next five years.
While final data are not yet available, the country likely fell short of meeting its 11th FYP energy intensity target of 20 percent, instead achieving in the range of 19.1 percent. There is no doubt, however, that much was learned though efforts to improve efficiency nationwide. Many changes were made to how such national targets are enforced at the local level, including the incorporation of compliance with energy intensity targets into the evaluation for local officials.
The 12th FYP includes a target to increase non-fossil energy sources (including hydro, nuclear and renewable energy) to 11.4 percent of total energy use (up from 8.3 percent in 2010). While not formally enshrined in the 12th FYP, another recent notable announcement is a cap on total energy consumption of 4 billion tons of coal equivalent (tce) in 2015. To meet the cap on energy consumption, annual energy growth would need to slow to an average of 4.24 percent per year, from 5.9 percent between 2009 and 2010. The government is also trying to slow GDP growth rates, targeting 7 percent per year – far below recent growth rates. Lower GDP growth rates make it even more challenging for China to meet energy and carbon intensity targets, since energy and carbon need to grow more slowly than GDP for the country to achieve declining energy and carbon intensity.
In the lead-up to the Copenhagen climate negotiations in the fall of 2009, the Chinese government pledged a 40-45 percent reduction in national carbon intensity from 2005 levels by 2020. To achieve this 2020 target, the 12th FYP sets an interim target of reducing carbon intensity 17 percent from 2010 levels by 2015. Whether this target will result in a deviation from China’s expected carbon emissions over this time period depends on the corresponding GDP growth, but many studies have found that this target will be challenging for China to achieve without additional, aggressive policies to promote low carbon energy development.
Also promised in the 12th FYP is an improved system for monitoring greenhouse gas emissions, which will be needed to assess compliance with the carbon intensity target, and to prepare the national GHG inventories that, under the Cancún Agreements, are to be reported more frequently to the UNFCCC and undergo international assessment.
The 12th FYP establishes the goal of "gradually establish[ing] a carbon trade market," but does not elaborate. A handful of provinces have announced interest in piloting carbon trading schemes. The Tianjin Climate Exchange, partially owned by the founders of the Chicago Climate Exchange, is positioning itself to be the clearinghouse for any future carbon trading program. While some have suggested that Guangdong province may be targeted for a pilot program at the provincial level, other reports speculate that the program would begin within a single sector, such as the power sector, or begin by including only state-owned enterprises, which are often the target of early government policy experiments (as was the case with mandatory market shares for renewable energy placed on the large state-owned power companies). Other likely locations for pilots might include China’s low-carbon cities and provinces.
Implementing a carbon trading scheme in China, even on a small-scale or pilot basis, will not be without significant challenges. Concerns have already been raised from both domestic and foreign-owned enterprises operating in China about how the regulation could affect their bottom lines. But the key challenge is likely technical, resulting from the minimal capacity currently in place to measure and monitor carbon emissions in China.
The 12th FYP also includes many new industrial policies to support clean energy industries and related technologies. Industries targeted include the nuclear, solar, wind and biomass energy technology industries, as well as hybrid and electric vehicles, and energy savings and environmental protection technology industries. These “strategic and emerging” industries are being promoted to replace the “old” strategic industries such as coal and telecom, (often referred to as China’s pillar industries), which are heavily state-owned and have long benefited from government support. This move to rebrand China’s strategic industries likely signals the start of a new wave of industrial policy support for the new strategic industries which may include access to dedicated state industrial funds, increased access to private capital, or industrial policy support through access to preferential loans or R&D funds.
Other targets encourage increased innovative activity, including a target for R&D expenditure to account for 2.2 percent of GDP, and for 3.3 patents per 10,000 people. During the 11th FYP period, an estimated 15.3 percent of government stimulus funding was directed towards innovation, energy conservation, ecological improvements and industrial restructuring.
The old pillar industries
The new strategic and emerging industries
Energy saving and environmental protection
Next generation information technology
High-end manufacturing (e.g. aeronautics, high speed rail)
New energy (nuclear, solar, wind, biomass)
New materials (special and high performance composites)
Clean energy vehicles (PHEVs and electric cars)
Sources: “Decision on speeding up the cultivation and development of emerging strategic industries,” www.gov.cn, September 8, 2010, http://www.gov.cn/ldhd/2010-09/08/content_1698604.htm; HSBC, China’s next 5-year plan: What it means for equity markets, October 2010.
The 12th FYP also includes targets to increase the rate of forest coverage by just over 21 percent and the total forest stock by 12.5 million hectares by 2015. Also mentioned are targets for the construction of 35,000 km of high-speed rail and improvements in subway and light rail coverage, as well as a goal to connect every city with a population greater than 500,000.
The 12th FYP provides a glimpse into the minds of China’s leadership as it lays out a methodological plan for moving the country forward. It includes a strong emphasis on new energy and climate programs and clearly illustrates China’s commitment to increased environmental protection. The Plan itself provides a framework for progress, but leaves the details of implementation to policy makers, with many new policies and programs likely to follow in the coming weeks.
Some of the targets will no doubt prove challenging to implement. The national energy and carbon intensity targets will prove particularly difficult if economic growth rates slow in line with targets put forth in the plan. Implementation of energy conservation and efficiency programs at the facility level will prove increasingly demanding as more and more facilities are incorporated into current programs. The non-fossil energy target relies on extensive increases in nuclear energy capacity, but growth in nuclear plants may slow as efforts to improve safety and regulation will be implemented in the aftermath of the recent Japanese nuclear disaster. If nuclear targets are reduced, the share of renewable energy will need to increase even more than current targets propose.
Overall, China’s Plan represents many ambitious climate and energy goals, and lays out a strategic roadmap for the county to endeavor to pursue over the next five years.
Notes and References
A full version of the plan (in Chinese) is available at http://news.xinhuanet.com/politics/2011-03/16/c_121193916.htm or at http://www.chinacleanenergydb.com/general-strategic-plans/Five-Year-Plans/3-2011China12thFive-YearPlanonNationalEconomicandSocialDevelopment-Chinese.pdf?attredirects=0&d=1.
“Key targets of China's 12th five-year plan,” Xinhua, March 5, 2011. http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/xinhua/2011-03-05/content_1938144.html
 Wen Jiabao. Report on the work of the Government. Delivered at the Fourth Session of the Eleventh China National People’s Congress, March 5, 2011. http://blogs.wsj.com/chinarealtime/2011/03/05/china-npc-2011-reports-full-text/
“China announces 16 pct cut in energy consumption per unit of GDP by 2015,” Gov.cn, March 5, 2011. http://www.gov.cn/english/2011-03/05/content_1816947.htm; “Zhang: ‘Twelfth Five’ push to non-fossil energy to account for 11.4 percent share of primary energy,” people.com.cn, January 6, 2011. http://energy.people.com.cn/GB/13670716.html
Fellman, Joshua. “China to Hold Primary Energy Use to 4.2 Billion Tons in 2015, Xinhua Says.” Bloomberg, October, 20, 2010. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2010-10-30/china-to-hold-primary-energy-use-to-4-2-billion-tons-in-2015-xinhua-says.html
The Tianjin Climate Exchange (TCX) is a joint venture of China National Petroleum Corporation Assets Management Co. Ltd. (CNPCAM), the Chicago Climate Exchange (CCX) and the City of Tianjin.
In July 2010, NDRC announced the selection of official low carbon pilot provinces and cities, including the provinces of Guangdong, Liaoning, Hubei, Shaanxi and Yunnan, and the cities of Tianjin, Chongqing, Shenzhen, Xiamen, Hangzhou, Nanchang, Guiyang, and Baoding.
“Decision on speeding up the cultivation and development of emerging strategic industries," www.gov.cn, September 8, 2010, http://www.gov.cn/ldhd/2010-09/08/content_1698604.htm
Over 70 percent of SOE assets and profits are concentrated in the “old” magic 7 strategic industries. HSBC, China’s next 5-year plan: What it means for equity markets, October 2010.
HSBC, China’s next 5-year plan: What it means for equity markets, October 2010.
Seligsohn, Deborah and Angel Hsu. “How does China’s 12th Five-Year Plan address energy and the environment?” China FAQs, march 7, 2011. http://www.chinafaqs.org/blog-posts/how-does-chinas-12th-five-year-plan-address-energy-and-environment
Yue, Yang. “China may revise nuclear power target.” Marketwatch.com from Caixin Online, March 29, 2011.
By: Michael Gillenwater and Stephen Seres
Download this paper (pdf)
Featuring Daniel Bodansky, Lincoln Professor of Law, Ethics and Sustainability, Arizona State University and Elliot Diringer, Vice President for International Strategies, Pew Center on Global Climate Change
When: Friday, March 25, 2011, 1:30 to 3:00PM
Where: Johns Hopkins University SAIS - Kenney Auditorium, 1740 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington D.C., 20036
Daniel Bodansky and Elliot Diringer will present the Pew Center's report The Evolution of Multilateral Regimes: Implications for Climate Change. The report examines why and how most international regimes evolve gradually, rather than through dramatic step-changes. It outlines evolutionary pathways within and outside the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) that can promote stronger near-term action while building a sturdier foundation for a future binding agreement.
About the speakers:
Daniel Bodansky is the Lincoln Professor of Law, Ethics and Sustainability at Arizona State University's Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law. Mr. Bodansky served at the US State Department as the Climate Change Coordinator from 1999-2001 and as an attorney-advisor from 1985-1989. Prior to joining the ASU faculty in 2010, he held the Woodruff Chair of International Law at the University of Georgia and was a professor of law at the University of Washington. His recent book, The Art and Craft of International Environmental Law (Harvard Univ. Press 2010) was awarded the 2011 Harold & Margaret Sprout prize from the International Studies Association as the best book this year on international environmental politics.
Elliot Diringer is Vice President for International Strategies at the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. He previously served at the White House as Deputy Press Secretary to President Clinton, and as Senior Policy Advisor and Director of Communications at the Council on Environmental Quality. Before coming to Washington, Mr. Diringer was an environmental journalist at the San Francisco Chronicle and a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University.
Elliot Diringer, Vice President for International Strategies, discusses what actions the United States, China, Europe, and Australia are taking in regard to climate change and clean energy in an Australian Broadcasting Corporation Radio National interview.
"I worry that countries like the United States and Australia risk cutting their long-term economic throats by not positioning their economies to compete in the 21st century economy. And this is exactly what we see China doing," says Diringer. "China is moving on this issue I think in part because it recognises that it like everyone else faces some serious consequences as the planet warms. I mean they have a fairly large population, and things like drought and flooding and sea level rise are very real threats. But what I see in China is that there is also an ability at the leadership level to take the long view here. The over-riding priority for them is strong, sustained economic growth. But they recognise that they can't achieve that, relying over the long term, on exhaustible resources, so they are beginning to make the transition towards sustainable resources, and they're investing very heavily with clean energy and renewable energy, far more heavily than anyone else at this point."
Remarks by Elliot Diringer
International Dialogue: “Implementing Cancún Agreements”
Government of Mexico, Mexico City – March 22, 2011
Thank you, Minister Espinsoa, for the kind introduction, for the invitation to participate in today’s dialogue, and for the opportunity to share some thoughts this afternoon on behalf of the Pew Center.
I’d like to begin by taking a few moments to pay tribute to our host, the Mexican government, and to the extraordinary leadership Mexico has provided, and continues to provide, on the issue of climate change. Please believe me – I am not simply being polite. I am quite sincere in offering these words of thanks.
It has been my pleasure and privilege to work for many years with dedicated public servants like Fernando Tudela, who has labored tirelessly to advance this cause here at home and abroad; and, more recently, with relative newcomers like Ambassador de Alba, whose multilateral spirit and skill contributed in no small measure to the recent success in Cancún.
Of course these soldiers on the front lines would not have such success without the support and leadership of those at the top. Minister Espinsosa, I can’t tell you what a pleasure it was to witness the clarity, composure and confidence with which you presided over the Cancún conference. And I must of course recognize the leadership of President Calderon, who has devoted the kind of personal and sustained attention to this issue that one hopes all world leaders will in time.
But what is especially gratifying to me is that Mexico’s leadership did not end in Cancún. The fact that we are here today, and the fact that Ministers are gathering here tomorrow, is testament to an enduring commitment to see that the promise and the possibilities of Cancún are indeed fulfilled.
The promise and the possibilities of Cancún – that is what I would like to speak about this afternoon. Over the years, as a journalist, as an official, and for 10 years now with the Pew Center, I’ve had the opportunity to follow and participate in the climate negotiations.
I’ve been there for the lows, and for the highs. And in my estimation, Cancún very definitely ranks among the high points in this long collective struggle.
By many measures – not least the needs of our planet – the outcome in Cancún was a modest one. It by no means guarantees that we will meet our long-term goal of limiting warming to 2 degrees. Nor does it provide the degree of certainty the business community is looking for to help drive investment in the near term.
But measured against the years of stalemate that preceded it, Cancún was a major step forward. In fact, the Cancún Agreements represent the most tangible progress we’ve been able to achieve within the UN climate talks in nearly a decade. The challenge before us now is to build on Cancún – to keep moving forward – andto avoid the temptation to slip back into the squabbles that had kept us at an impasse for so many years.
This will not be easy. It requires a new way of thinking about the multilateral climate effort – a new mindset, a new paradigm. Cancún may have launched us in this new direction. But it’s still too early to know. Depending on how we handle the decisions now before us, it may in the end prove just a momentary lapse of sanity in an otherwise dysfunctional process.
Let me explain what I mean by drawing on an analysis we undertook after Copenhagen. Most viewed Copenhagen as a failure because it did not produce a legally binding agreement. At the Pew Center, we wanted to understand this so-called failure in a broader context; and we wanted to better understand the options for moving forward. We thought that, to do that, it would be instructive to look at the experiences of other multilateral regimes. How did these regimes come into existence, and more to the point, how did they progress? We looked at other environmental agreements, the trade regime, human rights agreements, and others.
What we saw was that international regimes don’t generally emerge fully formed. No, most grow incrementally over time. They evolve. They expand in scope and in membership. They develop stronger institutions. They move from general, voluntary obligations to specific binding commitments. And all of this takes time.
In the case of climate change, the Framework Convention adopted in Rio in 1992 anticipated this type of incremental, evolutionary process. But soon after its entry into force, parties decided to accelerate the regime’s evolution. They launched a new round in 1995 that led just two years later to the Kyoto Protocol. This represented not an evolution, but a radical step-change, moving in one big leap from a largely voluntary framework to a legally binding system of targets and timetables. For 15 years now, since the start of the Kyoto negotiations, the primary aim of the international negotiations has been to establish, and then to extend, this legally binding regime.
Parties did succeed in establishing a binding regime, despite the withdrawal of the United States. And the Kyoto Protocol is without doubt a major achievement, on many levels. But as we all know, its impact has been limited. And the effort to extend or to expand this legally binding structure has been locked in a perennial stalemate for years. The political conditions simply are not there.
Looking first to the north, to my own country, the United States – I’m happy to get into particulars later if you would like, but for now let me just say this: Without stronger consensus for action at home, the United States cannot commit abroad – and that will take time.
But even apart from the situation in the U.S., the reality is that few if any of the developed countries will take new binding commitments unless China and the other major emerging economies do as well, which they insist they will not.
This is the circular conundrum we’ve been stuck in, literally, for years. And unfortunately, in our preoccupation with binding outcomes, we have largely overlooked other ways to strengthen the multilateral effort short of binding commitments. In effect, the mentality has been binding or nothing.
Given the political conditions – or lack thereof – it was of course entirely predictable that Copenhagen would fail to deliver a binding agreement. But that does not mean Copenhagen was a failure. The Copenhagen Accord, while only a political agreement, and while not formally adopted by parties, reflected consensus among world leaders on most of the key issues before them. And it produced specific, quantified mitigation pledges from more than 80 countries – the first time, in fact, that such pledges were made by all of the world’s major economies, both developed and developing.
What’s more, Copenhagen helped set the stage for success in Cancún. I saw the issues in Cancun falling into two baskets. The first contained the legal issues – basically, anything at all relating to the question of binding commitments: whether countries would take binding commitments; which countries; when; in what form. Included here, by implication, was the fate of the Kyoto Protocol. On all of these issues, countries were very far apart, as they have been for years, and there was very little chance of meaningful compromise. Japan was perhaps the most open in its refusal to take a new Kyoto target, but many if not most developed countries were in exactly the same place.
The second basket contained the operational issues – finance; measurement, reporting and verification; adaptation; technology and forestry. These are all things that were addressed to one degree or another in the Copenhagen Accord. What’s important to understand is that progress on these issues does not require any new legal agreement. Each of them can be advanced in tangible ways under the Convention and the Protocol by decisions of the parties. Which is exactly what was achieved in Cancún. The Cancún Agreements are a package of decisions by the parties. And what that package does, in large measure, is to import the essential elements of the Copenhagen Accord into the UN climate system and take initial steps to implement them.
What this represents is incremental progress – evolutionary progress – the kind of progress that had eluded us for years because we were so preoccupied with binding outcomes. So we were able to move forward in Cancún on this second basket – the operational issues. But we were able to do so – and this is an important point – only because parties were willing to put aside their differences on the first basket, the legal issues. For the moment at least, they were willing to move beyond binding or nothing.
Why? To what do we owe this success? I can think of a number of factors. First, I must again cite the leadership of our Mexican hosts. I honestly can’t think of a presidency that has done a better job preparing and managing the negotiations – all through the year, right up until the final moments.
I think a second reason for Cancún’s success was that the two big elephants in the room – the United States and China – were getting along better than they were a year earlier in Copenhagen.
But perhaps the strongest reason for Cancún’s success was the palpable sense among parties that the process itself was at stake. Another major failure would have been crippling if not fatal to the whole enterprise. So parties that before might have insisted on binding or nothing were willing to declare a package of incremental steps a major achievement – if for no other reason than to keep intact the process they desperately hope will deliver much more down the road.
There was, in other words, a much greater sense of realism in Cancún. Unlike the false expectations ginned up for Copenhagen – false expectations that inevitably doomed it to “failure” – everyone was more realistic about what actually could be achieved.
Can we count on this greater sense of realism going forward? We still have both baskets of issues – the operational and the legal. Will parties be prepared to make further progress on the one even if they can’t make progress on the other? That, I believe, is the critical issue for Durban.
The Cancún Agreements present us with an important opportunity – an opportunity for a more evolutionary path forward. What could that mean? It could mean a new, equitably managed climate fund, one that provides direct access for developing countries, and provides the kind of accountability that will help encourage developed countries to actually contribute the sums that are need. It could mean a stronger, more balanced system of transparency, so that all of the major economies are regularly reporting on their efforts, just as they do in the IMF, the World Bank, the Montreal Protocol and many other regimes, and everyone can see how everyone else is doing in fulfilling their pledges.
It could mean at long last a mechanism to deliver effective adaptation assistance to developing countries that are being forced to cope already with new hardships resulting from a problem they did not create. It could mean new mechanisms to help equip tropical countries to protect their forests, and to promote the deployment of low-carbon technologies. On all of these, the Cancún Agreements provide a first step, but only a first step. Completing the work program laid out in the Cancún Agreements is an enormous task, one that could easily occupy all the available negotiating time between now and Durban, and beyond as well.
I see plenty of reasons to invest the effort in this more evolutionary path forward. Let’s imagine for a moment that we fully implement the new elements agreed in Cancún, and that at the same time countries move forward with actions at home to implement their pledges. Where will this path take us? By mobilizing resources and increasing transparency, it will help strengthen action in the near term. It will help build confidence among parties – confidence in themselves, confidence in one another, and confidence in the regime itself. And in so doing, it will help build a stronger foundation for binding commitments later on down the road.
But what about that second basket of issues – the legal Issues? I want to be clear on this point: I continue to believe that in the long run we will be best served by a fair, effective and binding agreement. That’s not because I believe a binding agreement is any guarantee of a country’s performance – Canada’s open flouting of the Kyoto Protocol is the obvious case in point.
At the end of the day, though, legal obligations do represent a higher level of commitment. On the whole, I believe, they provide countries with stronger confidence that others will do what they’ve promised. And with this greater sense of confidence and reciprocity, countries are more likely to put forward their strongest possible efforts. Which is truly what we need – our strongest possible efforts.
So for me, the question is not the desirability of binding outcomes. The question is what, if anything, countries are prepared to say about them at this stage. The way the issue was finessed in Cancún was essentially to sidestep it. The Cancun Agreements of course extend the perennial Kyoto negotiations, but otherwise they are without prejudice to the “prospects for, or the content of, a legally-binding outcome in the future.”
But sidestepping the issue will not be so easy in Durban. Any hope of avoiding a commitment gap under Kyoto requires agreement in Durban on a second commitment period. I, for one, believe that is no more likely in Durban than it was in Cancún. But some are not yet prepared to abandon that hope – or demand – however remote the odds of it being fulfilled.
So I believe that if we are to have any further progress in Durban on the operational side, the legal issues will again have to be finessed. This time, I think, the answer is to address them directly, even if only generally. Even if parties cannot agree on the form or the timing of a future legal agreement, they should be willing to declare unequivocally that it is in fact their intent to work toward legally binding outcomes. We should be clear that the phase begun in Cancún is not the endpoint. We are not locking ourselves into permanent pledge-and-review. Rather, it is an evolutionary step toward a fair, effective and binding international framework.
We’ll have a better sense next month in Bangkok whether the realism of Cancún is likely to carry over to Durban. Are parties prepared for a new, more productive phase focused on the nuts and bolts of regime-building? Or will we revert to binding-or-nothing? Are some so attached to Kyoto that they are willing to forego further concrete progress? Or will they be open to a new paradigm? Only when we know the answers to those questions will we know whether the possibilities and the promise of Cancún can be realized.
These, I believe, are the choices before us. Making the right choices will require creativity, compromise and, above all, realism. I’d like to conclude by again thanking our hosts for the opportunity to share these thoughts with you, and by thanking you all for listening.
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.