Climate Compass Blog

Copenhagen Talks Take (Week) Two

This post first appear in Opinio Juris.

COPENHAGEN -- The climate negotiations ground to a halt for much of Monday, as negotiators debated the organization of work for the second and final week of the meeting.  The ostensible cause of the breakdown was concern among some developing countries that the Kyoto Protocol (KP) track in the negotiations is moving more slowly, and getting less attention, than the Convention track (the so-called Long-Term Cooperation Action track, or LCA) Although since the LCA track is itself moving very slowly, it is a bit difficult to understand the concern.

For many members of the G-77, the differentiation enshrined in the Kyoto Protocol between developed countries (which have quantified emission reduction targets) and developing countries (which do not) is sacred. All last week, developing countries had been emphasizing the importance of continuing the Kyoto Protocol, rather than merging it into a single comprehensive agreement that addresses both developed and developing countries (as the EU, Japan and other industrialized countries would prefer).  At the procedural level, this developing country position is reflected in a desire to maintain the complete separation between the two tracks in the negotiations, rather than merging them into a single discussion, as the Danes apparently envisioned.

Embracing a Cleaner Coal Future

The role of coal in the future U.S. energy mix is a key issue in the Senate debate over climate legislation. Another senator has recently drawn attention to the importance of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology to coal. On December 3, Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) issued an opinion piece entitled “Coal Must Embrace the Future.”

West Virginia produces more coal than any state other than Wyoming and accounts for about 13.5 percent of total U.S. coal production. Coal-fueled power plants provide nearly 98 percent of West Virginia’s electricity. Coal mining accounts for about 6 percent of West Virginia’s state GDP and 3 percent of total state employment.

Senator Byrd’s opinion piece addresses issues related to mountaintop removal mining and climate change. Notably, on the question of climate change, Senator Byrd writes that:

To be part of any solution, one must first acknowledge a problem. To deny the mounting science of climate change is to stick our heads in the sand and say “deal me out.” West Virginia would be much smarter to stay at the table. The 20 coal-producing states together hold some powerful political cards.

Disinterested analyses (e.g, from MIT and EPRI) project coal with CCS to be a significant component of a least-cost portfolio of low-carbon energy technologies.  Coal currently provides nearly half of all U.S. electricity. Senator Byrd’s opinion piece reinforces the distinct importance of preserving a significant role for coal in a future U.S. energy supply in order to secure broad political support (i.e., at least 60 votes in the Senate) for action on climate change.

Senator Byrd earlier stated that he did not support the climate and energy bill passed by the House in June (H.R. 2454, the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009) “in its present form.” Our recent brief describes the significant investments the House energy and climate bill includes for demonstration and deployment of CCS with coal-fueled power plants. The senator does, however, highlight in his opinion piece that he has been working for the past six months with a group of coal state senators on provisions that could be included in a Senate climate and energy bill that would facilitate a transition to a low-carbon energy future for the coal industry.

In short, Senator Byrd’s opinion piece is a candid assessment of the situation as he sees it: the science supporting man-made climate change is clear; U.S. climate and energy legislation will pass eventually; cooperative, constructive engagement by coal state Senators in crafting such legislation is the best strategy for protecting the interests of their constituents.

Fittingly, one of the most advanced CCS projects in the world recently began operation in Senator Byrd’s home state—American Electric Power’s Mountaineer Plant Carbon Dioxide Capture & Storage Project.

Steve Caldwell is a Technology and Policy Fellow

Delivering More Than Promises

  
This post first appeared in  POLITICO: The Arena - Expert Insights, Live from Copenhagen

Amid the distracting dramas of purloined emails and secret texts, it’s easy to lose sight that Copenhagen has already proven a catalytic event.  Every major power arrives here with its own explicit pledge to curb emissions.  That these promises will be delivered in most cases by heads of state reflects an absolutely unprecedented level of political will.

It’s also easy to lose sight of precisely what more we need from this conference. 

A year ago in Poznan (the site of last year’s climate summit), my colleagues and I got beat up pretty badly for suggesting out loud that Copenhagen was unlikely to produce a final deal, and the aim instead should be an interim political agreement.  Here we are in Copenhagen, working on an interim political agreement. 

What’s that mean?  There’s a lot of emphasis from the United States and others on this being an “operational” agreement delivering “immediate” results.  Let’s hope so.  But an equally important test for Copenhagen is whether it charts a clear path toward the next agreement – one that turns political pledges into binding legal commitments.

EPA Advances the Regulatory Option

The recent announcement by EPA, declaring that greenhouse gases are a danger to public health and welfare, should not come as a surprise to anyone.  EPA has made it clear that it would respond to what the science demanded and to what the Supreme Court (Mass v. EPA) mandated.

The endangerment finding, by itself, does not regulate any sources, but it lays the necessary foundation for future EPA regulations.  The likely first one will be the recently proposed light duty vehicle and engine rule which is scheduled to be finalized in March 2010. 

But EPA’s future actions are best viewed in the broader context of other activities also aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  State and regional partnerships have stepped up to the plate over the past several years and now 23 states either have or are developing programs to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.  In addition, several recent court decisions (see for example, Conn. v. AEP) have opened the door for common law nuisance claims against firms emitting greenhouse gas emissions. 

Both the judicial and executive branches of our government have answered the call and have begun to actively address concerns about climate change.  Now is the time for Congress to take control and pass comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation.  A broad consensus exists that comprehensive legislation would be far more cost effective than leaving the field to individual states, EPA or the judiciary. The path forward in the Senate won’t be easy, but it certainly is necessary.

Despite the recent hue and cry over hacked e-mails, the overwhelming scientific evidence supports the link between greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.  Yes, there are certainly aspects of some of the recently exposed e-mails that suggest scientists themselves can act peevishly toward one another and more substantively, that better guidelines for making data available and transparent might be useful.  But let there be no mistake, the compelling evidence from multiple data sets and from multiple lines of research hasn’t changed.  The words of a recent report by the US Global Change Research Program resound loud and clear, “global warming is unequivocal and primarily human induced.”

The case for Senate action is also unequivocal.

Steve Seidel is Vice President, Policy Analysis

Using Climate Revenues and Allowances for the Right Purpose

The series of hearings on climate change before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee continued on Wednesday, with a panel examining climate policy options.  Panelists spoke about cap-and-trade regimes, carbon taxes, performance standards, sectoral approaches, and research and development as potential ways to reduce emissions.  While Chairman Bingaman noted that emission-reduction policies are not necessarily mutually exclusive, a lot of attention was paid to the differences between carbon taxes and cap-and-trade programs during the hearing.

The panelists agreed that revenues are raised in both cap-and-trade and carbon tax regimes.  But not all uses of revenues are equal.  While Dr. Ted Gayer suggested that tax revenues raised be used to offset payroll taxes or for deficit reduction, such a plan ignores the real world consequences of implementing climate policy.  A comprehensive climate policy will need to transform our economy, support development and deployment of clean energy technologies, modernize infrastructure, assist consumers, help the nation adapt to the impacts of climate change, and support international climate efforts – and all of these things will require significant resources.  Using a carbon tax to send revenues to the Treasury for general use or to Congress for unrelated earmarking is not the way to ensure resources are dedicated to these purposes.

A responsible cap-and-trade program has the ability to direct a portion of allowance value (either directly by allocating allowances or indirectly by use of auction revenue) to a variety of economic, infrastructure, consumer, and adaptation needs.   The legislative process has the ability to tailor assistance sectorally or geographically in a way that would be far more difficult to accomplish in tax policy.  This redirection of revenues eases the transition to a clean energy economy and makes climate legislation more practically feasible and politically viable.

As Senator Byrd stated this week, the transition to a clean energy economy will not necessarily be easy, but it is one that is unavoidable.  Congress needs to pass cap-and-trade legislation that makes the transition as smooth as possible.