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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

 

Climate 2050: Technology and Policy Solutions Conference

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Climate 2050

Climate 2050: Technology and Policy Solutions

October 24 - 26, 2007
Montreal, Canada

The Pew Center is proud to partner with Institut Veolia Environnement and the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy to host a unique event designed to explore technologies and policies that can deliver effective climate action over the coming half century.  For all engaged in the climate policy debate, Climate 2050 offers a timely, substantive look at the choices facing governments, businesses, and citizens in tackling the long-term climate challenge.

Please join us and and others from around the world for an innovative forum of speakers, panel discussions and workshops.

Download the conference flyer (pdf).

Visit the conference website at: www.climate2050.org.
Please direct questions to: climate2050@unisfera.org.

InstitutVeolia Environment       Natl Round Table on the Env and Economy

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A Cap's in Hand

Full article (PDF)

by Truman Semans, Director for Markets and Business Strategy--Appeared in the World Energy Book which is available from http://www.petroleum-economist.com/
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7th IETA Forum on the State of the Greenhouse Gas Market

REMARKS BY EILEEN CLAUSSEN, PRESIDENT, PEW CENTER ON GLOBAL CLIMATE CHANGE 

7th IETA FORUM ON THE STATE OF THE GREENHOUSE GAS MARKET
WASHINGTON, DC 

September 27, 2007  

Thank you very much.  I am honored to be a part of IETA’s very impressive program.  I was looking over the schedule for your three days here in Washington, and it’s really quite remarkable.  The program here, and the success of this event, is just one more tribute to Andrei’s leadership of this great organization—he has steered IETA to a leadership role on the climate issue, and I wish him all the best in his new position.   

Not only is the program very substantive and strong, but IETA seems to have a superior sense of timing, too.  This forum is taking place at a truly amazing moment— a blizzard of climate activity and meetings, a flood of proposals for domestic and international action, the melting away of industry resistance. Scientists say to expect more extreme weather as a result of climate change, and it appears it’s already here.   

And even though the China Olympics don’t start until next summer, we already have an Olympics competition going on as countries lay out their climate plans.    

  • Most countries, it appears, plan to compete in the biathlon – growing their economies while limiting emissions growth.
     
  • Then there is the synchronized swimming event, where the countries of the EU will try to align their climate activities without the whole thing turning into a freestyle contest. 
     
  • And the United States, under the current Administration, is favored in the stationary target-shooting event.  This, of course, is an event where you don’t really have to move from where you are now, but you make an awful lot of noise.  And, of course, participation is entirely voluntary.  We’ve actually become quite good at this here in America.   

Seriously, this is a remarkable moment.  Consider all of the other climate change-related events going on.  Of course, we had the Secretary General’s sessions at the United Nations in New York at the start of the week, and right now, also here in Washington, there is President Bush’s meeting of major economies.  In addition to these, there are all kinds of conferences and meetings: the Pew Center did two, the U.N. Foundation is doing one; the Brookings Institution did one.  And there is also the annual meeting in New York on the Clinton Global Initiative, which includes a very substantive track on energy and climate change.   

And, of course, these events follow fast on the heels of the Vienna climate change talks in August, and it is not long before the very important U.N. Climate Change Conference in Bali, where I hope we will see real progress toward an effective, post-2012 framework for international action.   

I mention all of these other events because things are heating up on this issue in more ways than one.  And progress, I believe, will depend on finding a way to bring people together and forge practical and effective climate solutions that can draw broad support.  This is what I call the “sensible center.” 

Now, I am sure all of you are familiar with Google maps.  This is where you go online and you get detailed directions by typing in a starting and an ending address.  Well, today, I’d like to borrow the Google maps approach and see if it can help us find our way to the sensible center, if it can provide some insights on how to get to the place where all of us (or at least most of us) want to go.  

So first we need a starting address—and that’s easy enough.  Let’s look at where things stand right now on this issue.  And that means starting where every conversation about climate change must begin: with the science.  All of us are familiar with the latest findings from the IPCC.  “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal,” they tell us.  They also talk about a 90-percent-or-greater chance that we (humanity) are the cause of this—and a 90-percent-or-greater chance that the world will see more hot extremes, heat waves and heavy precipitation events. 

Just last week, we learned that Arctic sea ice is now at its smallest recorded extent.  There is simply no denying any more that our climate is changing, and that human activities are largely to blame. 

But, despite the science, despite knowing we have a very serious problem on our hands, we continue to burn coal at an alarming rate—China alone is building a new coal-fired power plant every week to 10 days.  The world continues to consume 83 million barrels of oil per day.  Here in the United States, we continue to debate back-and-forth about how to address this issue as a nation—Should we do cap-and-trade?  Carbon tax?  Voluntary approaches only?  And, at the global level, we continue to wander about in this no-man’s land we’ve created between Kyoto’s short-term targets and what comes next.   

All of this is part of our starting address—where we are now as we consider how to get to the place where we ultimately want to go.  However, there are also signs of hope, signs of progress.  Here in the United States, for example, we see an increasing number of states taking independent action to establish targets, experiment with trading, and otherwise reduce their contribution to the climate problem.

  • California, as you all know, has an ambitious set of enforceable emission targets, and the state also is a part of the Western Climate Initiative, together with five other western states and the provinces of British Columbia and Manitoba, all are committed to agreeing on the design of a cap-and-trade program by next August.
     
  • The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, including 10 Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states, aims to get going in 2009.  Right now, the states are working on adopting the model rule and setting up auctioning and allocation.
     
  • And think of Florida’s ambitious program and the 25 states with renewable portfolio mandates.

At the same time that we see these states taking the initiative, we see members of Congress putting forward very serious proposals (with bipartisan support) aimed at limiting emissions at the national level.  We have had more than 120 hearings on climate change since January, and we have numerous bipartisan bills on the table and emerging.   We are clearly on our way here in the United States—and our journey is aided, in large part, by corporate leaders embracing climate policies that in the past would have been universally condemned by U.S. industry.   

So this is our starting address.  And it is honestly a mixed-bag kind of a place.  A place where we are not doing nearly enough to address this looming crisis, but where there are these signs of hope.  Which brings us to the next question: Where do we want to go from here?  What is our ending address? And our ending address, I believe, is a destination we all can agree on.  That place may not have an exact zip code or street number, but we can describe it in enough detail, I believe, to get a solid set of directions.   

It is a place where the United States and other major emitting countries are--each and every one of them--doing their part to protect the climate.  It is a place where the world is united in pursuing the goal of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, which was signed by the United States and 190 other nations—nearly every nation on this earth.  And that goal is to “avoid dangerous anthropogenic (or human-cased) interference with the climate system.” 

As I said, the interesting thing about this place we want to get to is that there is no real dispute about it.  It’s how to get there that’s in dispute.  The only thing I can compare it to is going on a trip with your family and agreeing that you want to get to, say, Florida but disagreeing on the best route to take to get there.  And so you have to go to that all-purpose, neutral resource, Google, to find out.  At the Pew Center, we like to think of ourselves as providing the Google map toward practical climate solutions (and this will be my only sponsored link!). 

So what would this Google map tell us about how to get to this place where we want to go, now that we have plugged in our starting and ending addresses?  Well, finding the best route is not an easy task because there are a lot of people throwing out different directions to a climate solution.  And, if we were to follow many of these directions, we would either veer way off course or, more likely, never reach our destination at all. 

These directions tend to fall into opposite extremes.  For example, some call for a mandatory, worldwide cap on greenhouse gas emissions with trading, where every major economy accepts a binding emissions target.  Sounds great but it’s a political non-starter. At the other extreme, many people want the world to join hands and unite around an “aspirational goal” – such as an X percent reduction in global emissions by 2050.  Don’t get me wrong: having an aspirational goal is not a bad thing.  But if aspiration is all you’ve got, well, all you’ve got is aspiration.  Under these proposals, no one is required to do much of anything.  We might all feel good for having this goal but the lack of clear commitments would result in more of the same: a little movement that barely brings us closer to where we need to go.     

The same opposing directions appear when the talk turns to emissions trading.  Some say let’s give away all the allowances; others say auction all of them.  Some say allow offsets for all projects that could conceivably reduce emissions.  Others say don’t give credit for any offsets.  

We know, based on Europe’s experience this past year, that we need a price on carbon that is high enough to give firms a reason to invest in new climate-friendly technologies.  Yet we see proposals that talk about limiting that price to something that will motivate very little innovation.  

Well, there’s another direction we can go—there is a route we can take that avoids all of these detours, and that takes us to our destination.  It involves taking what is useful from all of these highways and by-ways, making the necessary compromises, and following a route that lets us go as fast as we can, and as directly as we can.  For example, we can embrace an aspirational goal but we must back it up with international commitments that are binding but flexible.  And, we can design a cap-and-trade program based on a hard-nosed look at what will be both economically viable and environmentally effective.    

It’s not about aiming low, but rather about abandoning the impossible.     

FOR EXAMPLE: It’s great to talk about the potential of voluntary approaches to reduce emissions, but history has shown that while they do deliver something, they don’t deliver the level of reductions we need.  In the same way, it is pure fancy right now to expect developing countries to agree to binding limits on their emissions.  It actually makes things harder when we lay out these expectations, because when developing countries refuse to join in the global effort because of a perception that they are being asked to do too much, then we lose the United States and others as well. 

And so we need to look for the best route—both domestically and at the global level.  Here in the United States, this means pushing ahead with plans for a cap-and-trade system.  I know there has been some commentary recently about the relative merits of cap-and-trade vs. a carbon tax.  But, once again, the thing we need to look at is what’s actually do-able, what gets us to the place we want to go, and what will actually pass?   

Anyone who thinks this Congress or the next will come close to passing a substantial new tax (even if it is offset by other tax reductions and even if it is designed to achieve the very important goal of reducing U.S. emissions) … well, I have some 20-year-old carbon offsets to sell you.  What’s more, the notion that designing a carbon tax is somehow simpler than designing a cap-and-trade program is simply not true.  It’s just as complex.  Plus, to top it all off, there is no environmental certainty in a tax – you enact it, and you have to wait and see what the effect will be, and you need to adjust it and keep adjusting it to get the effect you want. 

With cap-and-trade, there’s certainty in what the cap will be—and, as a result, you know how much of a reduction in emissions you can expect.   

What are the chances of cap-and-trade legislation passing the Congress?  Well, I will tell you one thing.  The chances improved in a big way when companies such as GE, Caterpillar, Chrysler, Duke, and DuPont all became part of the U.S. Climate Action Partnership.  The USCAP plan would reduce U.S. emissions by 10 to 30 percent within 15 years, and by 60 to 80 percent before 2050.  And, with a whole host of America’s leading companies behind it, I believe USCAP has been, and will continue to be, a significant game-changer.  In fact, I feel confident that I can predict here today that enactment of a cap-and-trade measure is still plausible in 2008, and almost inevitable by the end of 2010.  

Looking internationally, we see the same need for cool-headed, practical answers to the climate problem.  The same need to find the sensible center.   Looking at things in this way, we can see that the post-Kyoto framework must have two essential features.  First, it must be based on binding international commitments; and second, it must be flexible in the sense that countries should be able to take on different types of commitments. 

Why commitments?  Because it’s the best and maybe the only way to deliver the level of effort needed to significantly reduce global emissions.  Without commitments, countries can’t be confident that others are contributing their fair share to the global effort.  And without that confidence, it’s hard for any one country to sustain an ambitious climate effort.  

Why different kinds of commitments?  Because countries are different – very different.  Among the major economies, you have developed countries, developing countries, and economies in transition.  Their per capita emissions range by a factor of 14; their per capita incomes by a factor of 18.  The kinds of policies that work for some won’t work for others.  It’s not one-size-fits-all.   

So the post-2012 framework has to integrate different approaches.  Binding emissions targets make sense for developed countries.  But, as I said, it’s naïve to think that China, India, and the other emerging economies are going to agree to them anytime soon.  Still, we need some form of commitment from those countries, so we have to be open to other possibilities.  One possibility is policy-based commitments.  A country like China, for instance, already has some ambitious national policies: an energy intensity goal, renewable energy targets, and fuel economy standards for cars that are stronger than those here in the U.S.  What if China were to commit to fully implementing those policies in a binding international treaty?  What’s key, I think, is that the commitment be credible, quantifiable, and verifiable.   

This, again, is the sensible center … we need a new set of multilateral commitments.  New kinds of commitments.  Which brings us to the other major climate meeting here in Washington this week – the major economies meeting.  What are we to make of it?   

Well, one thing to be said for it is that it brings together the right group of countries.  But what’s the real objective here?  The administration has said its goal is to get a consensus among the major economies by the end of 2008 – just as the president’s about to leave office – contributing to a global deal under the U.N. convention in 2009.  What kind of deal are they hoping to set up? 

From all appearances, a very weak one.  Just about the only thing the Administration thinks countries need to agree on is an aspirational long-term goal.  And, as I have said, that’s not enough.   

The best way to judge the value of the major economies meeting this week is whether it moves us toward or away from a new set of multilateral commitments.  In other words, does it move us toward the sensible center, or not?  That should, in fact, be the test of everything we do on the climate issue in the months ahead.  

I know that some of us are better at following directions than others, but this is one time when we cannot afford to get lost.  By staying on course to the sensible center, we can begin the long-overdue work of figuring out how to reduce domestic and international emissions as cost-effectively as possible — and in ways that deliver real results for the climate.   

We’re just pulling out of the driveway right now, so fasten your seatbelts.  It’s going to be a long and interesting ride.  Thank you very much.    

Forum on International Climate Action

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During a week when the United Nations and the Bush Administration held major meetings on climate change, the Pew Center convened an international climate action forum on Capitol Hill. Representatives of China, the European Union, Germany, India, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, Portugal, and South Africa participated in the event.

A Forum on International Climate Action

Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing Room
Washington, D.C.

On September 26, 2007, the Pew Center on Global Climate Change convened a forum on international climate action on Capitol Hill. Representatives of China, the European Union, Germany, India, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, Portugal, and South Africa participated in the event.

Corresponding presentation materials are accessible from the forum's agenda below.

The forum can be viewed via two webcasts:

Presentations: National/Regional Climate Programs

  • Dr. Ryutaro Yatsu, Councilor for Global Environment, Ministry of the Environment
    Japan
  • Artur Runge-Metzger, Head of Climate Change and Energy Unit, DG-Environment
    European Commission
  • Gao Guangsheng, Director General, Office of National Climate Change Coordination Committee, National Development and Reform Commission
    China

 Roundtable Discussion: Post-2012 Issues and Options

  • Rachmat Witoelar, Minister for the Environment
    Indonesia
  • Humberto Rosa, Secretary of State for Environment
    Portugal (on behalf of the Presidency of the European Union)
  • Fernando Tudela, Under Secretary for Planning and Environment Policy
    Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources
    Mexico
  • Dr. Urban Rid, Director General for Climate Protection and International Cooperation, Federal Ministry for Environment
    Germany
  • Su Wei, Deputy Director General, Department of Treaty and Law, Ministry of Foreign Affairs
    China
  • Alfred Wills, Deputy Director-General, International Cooperation, Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism
    South Africa
  • Dr. Prodipto Ghosh, Member of the Prime Minister's Council on Climate Change
    India

Climate Policy Should Focus on Reducing Emissions

Climate Policy Should Focus on Reducing Emissions

By Vicki Arroyo

Originally published in the September/October 2007 issue of The Environmental Forum

I wish there were an easy solution to climate change — one that didn’t require fundamental and difficult changes in our energy system, law, or behavior. I also wish I could lose weight without diet or exercise. But depending on “geoengineering” to solve global warming is a dangerous delusion. Like a fad diet or liposuction, it may not provide sustainable benefits and will undoubtedly be accompanied by unforeseen adverse consequences (think fen-phen).

Granted, tackling climate change requires a Herculean effort: emissions are on the rise, while the newest science reveals impacts occurring faster than we envisioned. We are running out of time. To avoid the most serious consequences of warming — loss of species, irreversible breakdown of ice sheets, and the human toll from more intense heat waves and hurricanes — scientists say we need to stabilize atmospheric greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide at less than a doubling of preindustrial levels (in the range of 450–550 ppm of CO2). If we’re very lucky, that might hold us to a 3.6ºF (2ºC) global average temperature rise.

It’s tempting to dismiss projected impacts as hyperbole or to believe that we can engineer a “fix,” the way the Apollo 13 crew saved themselves by using duct tape to fashion a make-shift filter in their struggle against rising CO2 levels on board their malfunctioning space capsule. I applaud those working on grand fixes and wish them every success. But I place more stock in solutions that exist now. A Princeton University study shows that choosing just seven current technologies from a number of options, including renewables, energy efficiency, and nuclear power, can curb emissions growth sufficiently now, while buying time for technological breakthroughs. Each of these so-called “wedges” can cut emissions by 1 gigaton per year within 50 years.

But these technologies won’t be deployed on the necessary scale without the right policies. One key policy is emissions trading, which has worked for traditional air pollutants such as sulfur dioxide and is even better suited to curbing greenhouse gases. The European Union has already developed the world’s largest carbon market. Some U.S. states are following suit, and a number of cap-and-trade proposals are pending in Congress. By combining cap-and-trade with efficiency standards for cars and appliances, advanced technology research, and development of geological storage, we can reach our emissions reductions goals.

So the essential first step is simple: stimulate existing technologies through demonstrated, cost-effective policies. This takes political will, and there is no time to lose. Greenhouse gases differ from traditional air pollutants, which can be eliminated with more than 99 percent efficiency at the stack. Greenhouse gases remain in the atmosphere — and our oceans — for hundreds of years. Even if geoengineering manages to cool a warming planet, it won’t solve other problems, such as ocean acidification from conversion of CO2 to carbonic acid. And the risks of such “fixes” as seeding the oceans with iron and adding cooling particles to the atmosphere are too big to ignore.

Yes, we should research all options. But right now our focus should be on putting policies in place to reduce our emissions and on preparing to cope with a changing world.

(Ms. Arroyo offers a view on the direction for climate policy that differs from one advocated by Alan Carlin, a senior economist at the EPA. Carlin advocates a “geoengineering” approach called solar radiation management as an effective and economical climate policy. While such long-shot approaches may be necessary to consider in the future, Arroyo argues that the current focus should be on greenhouse gas mitigation.)
by Vicki Arroyo, Director of Policy Analysis--Appeared in The Environmental Forum, September/October 2007
Vicki Arroyo
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Press Briefing: International Climate Change Summits

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In preparation for major climate change meetings in Washington and New York later this month, the Pew Center held a briefing on international climate issues at the National Press Club on September 19, 2007. The briefing provided in-depth information about key international climate negotiations over the past 15 years, the upcoming meetings, and the UN climate negotiations later this year in Bali.  Main topics of discussion included emission trends among the major greenhouse gas-emitting countries, history and status of the international climate change effort, agendas and expectations for the summits in Washington and New York, and options for a future global climate agreement.  Pew Center experts Eileen Claussen, Elliot Diringer, and Joanna Lewis spoke at the briefing, and their presentation materials can be accessed from the link below: Background Briefing: International Climate Issues (September 19, 2007)

Additional Resources:

World Economic Forum: New Champions Meeting in Dalian, China

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WEF Inaugural Annual Meeting of the New Champions
September 6-8, 2007

The Pew Center participated in this inaugural event that brought together international leaders in business and government to discuss climate change. View the webcast of Pew Center President Eileen Claussen at the meeting. The World Economic Forum provides more information about the meeting.

U.S. Exceptionalism and Climate Change (Part II)

July 20, 2007

By Eileen Claussen, President and Elliot Diringer

This article originally appeared in The Globalist

 



American exceptionalism is becoming an increasingly potent force in U.S. environmental policymaking. As Eileen Claussen and Elliot Diringer argue, the United States must encourage and tap those elements of U.S. exceptionalism favoring — and overcome those impeding — stronger action and engagement in the environmental arena.

By many measures, the United States has long been at the forefront of environmental protection, both domestically and internationally.

 

 

U.S. consumerism

One particularly touchy dimension of U.S. exceptionalism on climate change is America’s unabashed devotion to consumerism.

What is regarded by many Americans as virtually a sacred right is often seen elsewhere, in poor and wealthy countries alike, as a selfish sense of entitlement.

It is not necessary to delve into the roots of American consumerism to see its powerful sway, most obviously in the case of cars and oil. Existing technology could significantly improve auto-fuel economy with little or no sacrifice in safety, performance or cost.

But the auto industry, having exploited the “light truck” loophole in federal fuel economy standards to introduce an ever-expanding line of sport utility vehicles (SUVs), has successfully fended off tighter standards in part with an argument that they would impinge on consumer choice.

 

Saving energy

Since the late 1980s, the average fuel economy of the American fleet has been essentially flat. Meanwhile, other countries, including China, have established fuel economy standards, either by law or voluntary agreement, substantially stronger than the United States'.

Since U.S. President Jimmy Carter exposed himself to ridicule by encouraging Americans to don sweaters and lower their thermostats, politicians have been loathe to suggest that saving energy (whether to reduce emissions or reliance on foreign oil) will entail sacrifice of any sort.

 

Gas taxes

Gas taxes are many times higher in Europe, yet in the United States, as the Clinton Administration discovered when it proposed a modest BTU tax, the notion of raising gas taxes is a political non-starter.

Indeed, in the spring of 2006, as gas prices reached record highs, there were bipartisan calls in the U.S. Congress to suspend the federal gas tax. “One of the unwritten stanzas of the American creed,” noted one commentator, “is that a tank of gas, whenever an American needs one, is a birthright.”

For many in other countries, confronting climate change necessarily entails an examination of lifestyle. In the United States, leaders typically invoke the notion of lifestyle only in its celebration or defense.

 

"The American way of life"

Asked whether President George Bush believed that changing lifestyles was an answer to America’s energy woes, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer was unequivocal in his response.

“That’s a big no,” he said. “The president believes…it should be the goal of policymakers to protect the American way of life. The American way of life is a blessed one.”

 

 

Policy innovator

In a very real sense, the prospects for an effective global response to climate change hinge on the willingness of the United States to engage and lead internationally.

The exceptional mix of strengths, interests and predilections we bring to this issue has made us a fickle partner in the global effort. We need to become a full partner, now and for the long term, if we are to protect our national interests and fulfill our global responsibilities.

To assume that role, we must find ways to encourage and tap those elements of U.S. exceptionalism favoring — and overcome those impeding — stronger action and engagement.

 

New technology

New technology is, in practical terms, the solution — and technological prowess is perhaps our greatest untapped strength.

But developing the climate-friendly technologies we need and then ensuring they are actually deployed requires more than subsidies and R&D partnerships.

 

New investments

The necessary investments will be made and technologies mobilized only if markets are given clear, consistent signals. These must come from government through enforceable goals and the types of market-based policies we have pioneered.

Unleashing technology will also help overcome some of the sources of resistance.

While many Americans might adopt modest changes in lifestyle to help fight global warming, our consumerism is deeply rooted. The real hope must be that alternative technologies can make the American lifestyle more compatible with climate protection.

 

Economic advantages

New technology also creates economic advantage. Smarter companies are positioning themselves now for an edge in the global clean-energy market.

Once the United States commits to the path, there is every reason to believe American firms will find significant opportunities. Understanding this can help turn the competitiveness argument around.

 

U.S. global responsibilities

Yes, some industries and workers may be disadvantaged and their needs must be met, but odds are that many more will benefit from the conversion to a clean-energy economy.

And once we can see beyond the competitiveness question, we can hopefully have a more thorough and honest debate about the broader question of fairness and America’s global responsibilities.

Depending on the issue and the time, the competing strains of U.S. exceptionalism can lead down alternate paths. On issues defined largely by competing national interests, it may be debatable whether the unilateral or multilateral course is the better option.

 

Multilateral solution

But with climate change, the challenge is to align multiple national interests with the global interest in a stable climate.

The only lasting solution is a multilateral one. As never before, we need the brand of exceptionalism that expresses itself in U.S. engagement and leadership.

 

Editor's Note: This excerpt is adapted from "Power and Superpower: Global Leadership and Exceptionalism in the 21st Century," copyright 2007 The Century Foundation Press. Reprinted with permission of the publisher.

 

Read Part I here.

by Eileen Claussen, President and Elliot Diringer, Director of International Strategies--Appeared in The Globalist, July 20, 2007
Eileen Claussen
Elliot Diringer
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U.S. Exceptionalism and Climate Change (Part I)

July 19, 2007

By Eileen Claussen, President and Elliot Diringer

This article originally appeared in The Globalist

 



U.S. policymaking has long been influenced by a sense of exceptionalism, or divinely blessed uniqueness. As Eileen Claussen and Elliot Diringer argue, the United States is indeed exceptional when it comes to climate change — as it is the nation with the greatest responsibility, and the greatest capacity, to lead the global response to the crisis.

 

By exceptionalism, we mean the unique attributes that shape and empower the U.S. international role, in this case, with respect to global climate change.

We do not mean to imply that this amalgam of interest, attitude and experience in any way confers an innate superiority. Rather, as with other international issues, there are competing strains of American exceptionalism — some tending toward multilateralism, others toward unilateralism.

 

Sources of U.S. exceptionalism

Some of the sources of U.S. exceptionalism on climate change are the same that condition American conduct across the full range of international relations.

First and foremost, perhaps, is a deep-seated ambivalence and at times antipathy toward international entanglements, compounded in this case by an innate distrust in some quarters of any manner of environmental cause.

A second, more structural source is a system of government that divides treaty-making powers between the executive and legislative branches, allowing divisions and disconnects — at times bordering on the dysfunctional.

 

A global powerhouse

Beyond such perennial influences are a number of other peculiarly American attributes shaping U.S. attitudes and action on climate change. We explore here some of the more prominent.

It is perhaps all too obvious, but the United States is exceptional in the climate arena simply by virtue of its sheer influence on the global stage. It is the world’s largest economy and not coincidentally, the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases — a position it has occupied for as long as records have been kept.

 

Environmental damage

On an annual basis, the United States accounts for roughly 25% of global emissions. Much is made of rising emissions from developing countries and the likelihood that in a decade or two China will surpass the United States as the largest emitter.

But most of the world tends to take the historical view — as most greenhouse gases reside in the atmosphere for a century or more — and from that perspective, the “largest emitter” label is not so easily shaken.

Cumulatively, the United States was responsible for nearly 30% of global emissions from 1850 to 2000, followed closely by the European Union. China and India contributed 7% and 2%, respectively.

 

The largest economic powerhouse

It stands to reason that, as the world’s leading economic powerhouse, the United States generates more emissions than any other country in absolute terms.

But it consistently ranks among the highest in relative terms as well. By 2025, even with the dramatic rise in developing country emissions, U.S. emissions per capita will still be four times those of China — and 14 times those of India.

 

Little scientific understanding

By the same token, the tremendous enterprise and prosperity that have contributed so much to the atmospheric burden also make the United States exceptionally qualified to lead the global response.

Certainly no nation has done more to advance scientific understanding of climate dynamics and the causes and potential consequences of global climate change.

By the U.S. government’s accounting, the United States spends approximately $1.7 billion a year on climate-change research — roughly half of total expenditures globally, three times more than the next largest contributor and more than the combined contributions of Japan and the European Union.

 

Spending lower than 20 years ago

With its vast technological research — both public and private — the United States could no doubt establish itself as the unrivaled leader on that front as well.

Yet despite the seeming proliferation of climate technology initiatives under successive administrations, federal energy research and development (R&D) spending is lower than it was 20 years ago, while private investment is down nearly 75%.

 

The nation with the greatest responsibility

Around the world, the United States is universally perceived as the nation with the greatest responsibility — and the greatest capacity — to address climate change.

While most other industrialized countries are taking a first step under Kyoto, it is highly improbable that other nations will commit to an ambitious, sustained effort without the United States, especially as it would put them at a competitive disadvantage.

Even apart from its position as the world’s only superpower, the United States is de facto the most influential player on this issue, whether — or in what manner — it chooses to engage.

 

Editor's Note: This excerpt is adapted from "Power and Superpower: Global Leadership and Exceptionalism in the 21st Century," copyright 2007 The Century Foundation Press. Reprinted with permission of the publisher.

 

Read Part II here.

by Eileen Claussen, President and Elliot Diringer, Director of International Strategies--Appeared in The Globalist, July 19, 2007
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Congressional Testimony of Elliot Diringer - Regarding the Kyoto Protocol and U.S. Climate Action

 

ELLIOT DIRINGER, DIRECTOR OF INTERNATIONAL STRATEGIES

PEW CENTER ON GLOBAL CLIMATE CHANGE

At the House of Representatives,
Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific and the Global Environment
Committee on Foreign Affairs

July 11, 2007

Regarding the Kyoto Protocol and U.S. Climate Action: An Update
View Webcast

Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to testify on the Kyoto Protocol and U.S. Climate Action. My name is Elliot Diringer, and I am the Director of International Strategies for the Pew Center on Global Climate Change.

The Pew Center on Global Climate Change is a non-profit, non-partisan and independent organization dedicated to advancing practical and effective policies to address global climate change.[1] Forty-three major companies in the Pew Center’s Business Environmental Leadership Council (BELC), most included in the Fortune 500, work with the Center to educate opinion leaders on climate change risks, challenges and solutions.



 

Mr. Chairman, I would like to commend you and the members of this subcommittee for convening this hearing today on U.S. re-engagement in the global effort to fight climate change. The U.S. Congress is at long last engaged in a genuine debate on how – not if, but how – the United States should address global warming. So far, this debate has focused primarily on questions of domestic climate policy. This is a critical first step. But truly meeting the challenge of climate change will require global solutions as well. These will be possible, I believe, only with strong leadership from the United States. By broadening the scope of debate here in Washington, and by focusing attention on the international dimension of climate change, this hearing will help set the stage for constructive U.S. engagement and for an effective multilateral response.

In responding to Chairman Lantos’ questions, I would like to focus in particular on the post-2012 international climate framework – what it should look like, and the steps the United States must take at home and internationally to ensure its success. I will focus as well on how the United States can best address the questions of competitiveness and developing country participation.

1) Aside from the Asia Pacific Partnership for Clean Development and Climate, and given that the United States has neither ratified nor withdrawn from the Kyoto Protocol, what is the Administration doing to advance international cooperation on climate change?

An effective global response to climate change will be possible only with U.S. engagement and leadership. Lack of action by the United States stands today as the major impediment to stronger efforts by other countries. Of the steps the United States can take to encourage global action, the single most critical is to establish unilaterally a mandatory program to limit and reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Demonstrating the will – and establishing the means – to reduce U.S. emissions will greatly alter the international political dynamic and improve prospects for international cooperation.


Unfortunately, the Administration has strongly opposed efforts by Congress to establish mandatory policy to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.


In parallel with stronger domestic action, the United States also must help lead the way to an effective multilateral climate effort. In our view, this must be accomplished through a new treaty establishing binding commitments for all major emitting countries. The appropriate venue for negotiating this treaty is the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, which was signed in 1992 by the first President Bush and unanimously ratified by the Senate. Unfortunately, while remaining a party to the Convention, the United States under the present Administration has consistently resisted any consideration of new commitments.

Last month, the G-8 endorsed President Bush’s proposal for a new set of discussions among the major emitting countries to be hosted by the United States. The stated goal is to achieve a consensus contributing to a new global agreement in 2009 under the Framework Convention. As proposed by the President, the primary focus of this major emitters process was to be the question of a long-term climate goal. While consensus on a long-term goal would be beneficial, it is not essential to advancing the climate effort, and should not be a precondition for moving forward with near- and medium-term commitments. In accepting the President’s offer, the other G-8 leaders rightly insisted on a broader agenda for the major emitters process, including “national, regional and international policies, targets and plans…(and) an ambitious work program within the UNFCCC.”

To be truly effective, any consensus achieved through the major emitters dialogue must ultimately be translated into binding commitments. Accordingly, as this dialogue is getting underway, parties to the Framework Convention should at the same time begin the process of negotiating a post-2012 climate agreement. The next opportunity to launch these negotiations will be at the Conference of the Parties later this year in Bali. A critical test of the Administration’s support for an effective multilateral response to climate challenge will be its willingness to support a decision in Bali initiating negotiations toward post-2012 commitments.


2) Given that the Protocol lapses in 2012, what measures should the United States as the largest emitter of carbon dioxide, take to slow growth in greenhouse emissions?

The Pew Center is a founding member of the U.S. Climate Action Partnership (USCAP),[2] a partnership of 29 major companies and nonprofit organizations. USCAP urges Congress to promptly enact an economy-wide, market-driven approach that includes, among other things, a cap-and-trade program that places specified limits on U.S. greenhouse gas emissions; sector-specific policies and measures to complement the cap-and-trade program; and a fully funded federal technology research, development, demonstration and deployment program for climate-friendly technologies.

 

3) What is preventing our U.S. industries from setting up markets for buying and selling emission credits?

The largest obstacle to the buying and selling of emission credits by U.S. industries is the absence of a mandatory cap on emissions and an economy-wide emissions trading system. Under a number of voluntary programs, there is a small amount of emissions trading occurring now among companies that want to demonstrate their environmental commitment and prepare for the eventuality of carbon constraints. However, a robust market requires both supply and demand, and in the case of a commodity like greenhouse gas credits, a cap or limit is the only way to create this demand. Without a mandatory cap on emissions, companies have no financial incentive to buy emission credits, since they can emit greenhouse gases for free.

It is important to remember, however, that creating a market is not the goal. Reducing emissions is the goal, and the establishment of a emissions market is a means of achieving that goal as cost-effectively as possible. Once a mandatory cap on GHG emissions is established in the United States, there will very likely be a robust market for emission credits and, more importantly, for climate-friendly technologies.
 

4) Given that more than 400 U.S. cities support and adhere to the Kyoto Protocol, what is being done at the federal level to accelerate the development of technology that can be used to reduce emissions?

Over the forty year history of federal environmental law, nearly all major federal environmental laws have been based on state and local precedents. As envisioned by the Founding Fathers, the states have served as laboratories of democracy when it comes to environmental policy, and have been joined in this role by many major municipalities. History appears to be repeating itself with climate policy, with climate friendly measures being embraced by most states and a large number of U.S. cities.

Unlike many previous environmental problems, however, climate change is a global problem. Minimizing the greenhouse gas emissions of any one city, state or country alone will not solve the problem even for that city, state or country.


Regarding federal efforts to deploy the use of climate-friendly technologies, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has developed a strategic plan for its climate change technology programs, and has spent a large amount of money ostensibly to advance the technologies.

While DOE’s plan provides a fine overview of GHG-reducing technologies and the opportunities each could present over the long term, and the technology R&D has provided some useful advances, they do not constitute a program for deploying these technologies, nor for providing a path to stabilizing concentrations of GHGs. Merely developing and compiling information about climate-friendly technologies is not sufficient to ensure their widespread penetration into the marketplace.

A combination of technology “pushing” activities (such as those discussed in DOE’s plan) with technology “pulling” legislation that mandates reductions of U.S. GHG emissions would be the most effective and efficient way to deploy climate-friendly technology throughout the economy. Studies indicate that combining R&D incentives with carbon caps will cost the economy an order of magnitude less than relying on either R&D incentives or emissions reduction policies alone.[3]
 

5) Given that 70 percent of greenhouse gas emissions come from the production and consumption of energy, what should the United States be doing to encourage its energy sector to provide people with clean energy while reducing greenhouse emissions?
 




With the vast majority of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions coming from the production and consumption of energy, climate policy and energy policy are inextricably linked. The combination of technology-pushing activities and technology-pulling policies mentioned above in Questions 2 and 4 would help to encourage the U.S. energy sector to be more climate-friendly. In addition, a wide range of targeted policies could drive the energy system towards greater efficiency, lower-carbon energy sources, and carbon capture technologies. Energy consumption can be reduced through policies that increase energy efficiency, such as stronger appliance and vehicle fuel economy standards, improved building codes, and consumer education. Wider use of low-carbon energy sources can be promoted by extending and expanding the production tax credit for renewable energy sources, and through incentives and standards ensuring that transportation biofuels achieve net GHG reductions. Finally, increased and sustained funding to develop and demonstrate carbon capture and sequestration technologies is absolutely essential so that we can continue to rely on coal-fired electricity while reducing U.S. emissions.

6) What policy suggestions could the United States make at the 2007 Summit to make the Kyoto Protocol more effective in slowing the pace of global warming, and to make it more equitable among the United States and other developed nations?


The Kyoto Protocol is a major milestone. It established the first binding international commitments to address climate change and in many industrialized countries is driving action to reduce emissions. However, Kyoto represents just one stage in the evolution of the multilateral climate effort. Achieving broader participation and stronger commitments requires going beyond the Kyoto Protocol. A post-2012 agreement could well incorporate the Protocol or some of its features, such as the use of emissions trading and other market-based mechanisms. It is worth noting that these market mechanisms were built into Kyoto largely at the insistence of U.S. negotiators and business, recognizing their importance in minimizing the cost of emissions reduction. However, a comprehensive post-2012 agreement must include new approaches and elements and it may be more practical to fashion these under Kyoto’s parent agreement, the Framework Convention. Consequently, the most important step the United States can take at the Bali summit is to support the launch of negotiations under the Convention, which, subsuming or in parallel with the negotiations already underway under the Kyoto Protocol, lead toward a comprehensive post-2012 agreement with binding commitments by all the major economies.



What should a post-2012 climate framework look like? The Pew Center’s perspective on this question reflects not only our own detailed analysis but also the collective views of an impressive group of policymakers and stakeholders from around the world. As part of our effort to help build consensus on these issues, we convened the Climate Dialogue at Pocantico, a group of 25 from government, business, and civil society in 15 key countries, all participating in their personal capacities. The group included senior policymakers from Britain, Germany, China, India, Japan, Australia, Canada, Mexico, Brazil and the United States. It also included senior executives from companies in several key sectors, including Alcoa, BP, DuPont, Exelon, Eskom (the largest electric utility in Africa), Rio Tinto, and Toyota. The group’s report was released in late 2005 at an event here in Congress hosted by Senators Biden and Lugar.[4]

Despite a very diverse range of interests and perspectives, the Pocantico group succeeded in reaching consensus on a broad vision of a post-2012 climate framework. This vision begins with a set of key objectives that a post-2012 framework must meet. I would like to emphasize the two most critical objectives.

First, the post-2012 framework must engage all of the world’s major economies. Twenty-five countries account for about 85 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. These same countries also account for about 70 percent of global population and 85 percent of global GDP. The participation of all the major economies is critical, first and foremost, from an environmental perspective, because all must take sustained action if we are to achieve the steep reductions in emissions needed in the coming decades to avert dangerous climate change. But the participation of all major economies is critical from a political perspective as well. For reasons of competitiveness, none of these countries will be willing to undertake a sustained and ambitious effort against climate change without confidence that the others are contributing their fair share. We must agree to proceed together.

At the same time, we must recognize the tremendous diversity among the major economies. This group includes industrialized countries, developing countries, and economies in transition. Their per capita emissions range by a factor of 14 and their per capita incomes by a factor of 18. This leads directly to the second objective identified in our Pocantico dialogue: The post-2012 framework must provide flexibility for different national strategies and circumstances. The kinds of policies that effectively address climate change in ways consistent with other national priorities will vary from country to country. We must allow different pathways for different countries. An economy-wide emissions target may work for some but it will not work for others. If it is to achieve broad participation, the future framework must allow for variation both in the nature of commitments taken by countries and in the timeframes within which these commitments must be fulfilled.

With these key objectives in mind, the Pocantico group then identified the potential building blocks of a post-2012 framework. The first of these is targets and trading. This is the approach employed in the Kyoto Protocol, as well as in the European Union’s Emissions Trading Scheme and the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative being undertaken by ten states in the northeastern United States. There are very sound reasons why U.S. negotiators insisted so strongly on a market-based architecture for the Kyoto Protocol – and why many of the major climate bills now before Congress adopt the same approach. Emission targets provide a reasonable degree of environmental certainty, while emissions trading harnesses market forces to deliver those reductions at the lowest possible cost.

While targets and trading should remain a core element of the international effort, we must recognize that China, India, and other developing countries are highly unlikely to accept binding economy-wide emission limits any time in the foreseeable future. In their view, binding targets, by holding them to specific emission levels regardless of the economic consequences, would be an undue constraint on their development. Economy-wide targets also may be technically impractical for them: to accept a binding target, a country must be able to reliably quantify its current emissions and project its future emissions, a capacity that at present few if any developing countries have.


A future framework, therefore, must allow for other approaches as well. A second potential element identified in the Pocantico dialogue is policy-based commitments. Under this approach, countries would commit to undertake national policies that will moderate or reduce their emissions without being bound to an economy-wide emissions limit. This is a more bottom-up approach, allowing countries to put forward commitments tailored to their specific circumstances and consistent with their core economic or development objectives. A country like China, for instance, could commit to strengthen its existing energy efficiency targets, renewable energy goals, and auto fuel economy standards. Tropical forest countries could commit to reduce deforestation. For this to work, the commitments would need to be credible and binding, with mechanisms to ensure close monitoring and compliance. Developed countries also may need to provide incentives for developing countries to adopt and implement stronger policies. One option is policy-based emissions crediting, similar to the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism, granting countries tradable emission credits for meeting or exceeding their policy commitments.

A third potential element is sectoral agreements, in which governments commit to a set of targets, standards, or other measures to reduce emissions from a given sector, rather than economy-wide. In energy-intensive industries whose goods trade globally, which are the sectors most vulnerable to potential competitiveness impacts from carbon constraints, sectoral agreements can help resolve such concerns by ensuring a more level playing field. Such approaches are being explored by global industry groups in both the aluminum and cement sectors. We believe it is also worth exploring sectoral approaches in other sectors such as power and transportation where competitiveness is less of an issue but where large-scale emission reduction efforts are most urgent.


A fourth potential element is technology cooperation. This could include two types of agreements. The first would provide for joint research and development of “breakthrough” technologies with long investment horizons. Such agreements could build on the Asia Pacific Partnership and other technology initiatives but commit governments to the higher levels of funding needed to accelerate and better coordinate critical research and development. The second type of agreement could help to provide equitable access to both existing and new technologies by addressing finance, international property rights, and other issues that presently impede the flow of low-carbon technologies to developing countries.

The four elements I have outlined thus far fall under the heading of mitigation. A fifth critical element is adaptation. We need stronger adaptation efforts within the international climate framework but extending far beyond it as well. The top priority within the framework should be addressing the urgent needs of those countries most vulnerable to climate change. But the broader goal must be to spur comprehensive efforts to reduce climate vulnerability generally by integrating adaptation across the full range of development activities.

Having outlined the potential elements of a post-2012 climate effort, I now turn to the question of how these approaches can be integrated in a common framework. While different countries should be allowed different pathways, they cannot simply each go their own way. An ad hoc series of parallel initiatives will not produce an aggregate effort nearly adequate to the need. By linking actions, and negotiating them as a package, nations are likely to undertake a higher level of effort than they would acting on their own. Such a negotiation could take the form of sequential bargaining, with countries proposing what they are prepared to do under one or more of the different tracks I have described, and then adjusting their proposals until agreement is reached on an overall package. To help ensure a balanced and therefore stronger outcome, it may be necessary to agree at the outset that certain countries will negotiate toward particular types of commitments most appropriate to their circumstances. The objective would be an integrated agreement that is flexible enough to accommodate different types of commitments, and reciprocal enough to achieve a strong, sustained level of effort.

 

7) Given that the U.S. is not a signatory to the Kyoto Protocol, what influence does it have, if any, to promote global action?

Whether or not a party to the Kyoto Protocol, the United States has enormous power to shape – or to impede – global action against climate change. As the world’s largest economy and world’s largest emitter, the United States is arguably the single most influential force in determining the future of the international climate effort. As noted earlier, the two most critical steps the United States can take to strengthen global action are to unilaterally establish a mandatory program to limit and reduce U.S. emissions, and to lead in the development of an effective multilateral framework. Other countries eagerly await this leadership.

There are other steps the United States can take through domestic legislation to encourage developing country participation, and to address the issue of competitiveness. These issues are closely related. Ultimately, I believe, both are most effectively addressed through binding multilateral commitments. But it is important to distinguish these two issues because, in advance of a stronger global framework, each will require a different set of interim policy responses.

Competitiveness is a potential concern not for the U.S. economy as a whole, but rather for specific sectors – primarily energy-intensive industries, such as steel and aluminum, whose goods trade globally. In establishing a mandatory domestic climate program, steps can be taken to minimize or mitigate competitiveness impacts. For instance, in the design of a mandatory cap-and-trade program, potentially vulnerable sectors could be allowed special consideration in the emission allowance allocation process. Another option is to provide technology and transition assistance to affected industries and communities, possibly funded by auctioning a portion of allowances. As a longer-term option, legislation also could stipulate that if the major developing countries have not taken stronger action to reduce emissions within a specified timeframe, the United States, in concert with other industrialized countries, will consider tariffs on their energy-intensive exports or other mechanisms to correct the resulting competitive imbalances. I would note, however, that unless accompanied by positive incentives, these latter approaches are not likely to induce strong developing country action, and could lead to more confrontation than cooperation.


Engaging developing countries will require a firm but balanced approach. To begin with, we must be absolutely clear in our expectation that the major developing countries assume binding commitments in a post-2012 framework. It is true that the United States is by far the largest historic contributor to climate change. In establishing mandatory limits on domestic emissions, the United States will have begun to fulfill the commitment it made with other industrialized countries to lead the climate change effort. And having done so, it will then be reasonable to expect that countries like China fulfill their responsibilities as well. China’s emissions have grown 80 percent since 1990 and could rise another 80 percent by 2020. It is essential that these trends be reversed. Realistically, given the greater capacity and historic responsibility of industrialized countries, China, India and other developing countries will require incentives to undertake strong climate efforts. The United States should provide market-based incentives through a domestic cap-and-trade program by recognizing credits for emission reductions achieved in developing countries. In addition, targeted bilateral and multilateral assistance should be provided for the deployment of critical high-cost technologies such as carbon-capture-and storage. However, in return for these incentives, China and the other major developing countries must assume appropriate commitments that will slow and ultimately reverse the growth of their greenhouse gas emissions.
 

To summarize, I believe it is incumbent upon the United States to lead both by strong action at home and by actively and constructively reengaging in the international climate effort. Only with strong U.S. participation and leadership can we achieve a fair and effective global response to the critical challenge of climate change. I thank the subcommittee for the opportunity to present these views and would be happy to answer your questions.



[1] For more on the Pew Center, see www.c2es.org.
[2] For more on USCAP, see www.us-cap.org.
[3] See Induced Technological Change and Climate Policy, Lawrence H. Goulder, Pew Center on Global Climate Change, Arlington, Virginia, October 2004.
[4] International Climate Efforts Beyond 202 – the Report of the Climate Dialogue at Pocantico, is available at http://www.c2es.org/pocantico.cfm.
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