Testimony of Elliot Diringer - Canadian House of Commons - May 31, 2005



MAY 31, 2005

Mr. Chairman, members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to contribute to the Committee’s consideration of the vital issue of climate change.  My name is Elliot Diringer and I am director of international strategies at the Pew Center on Global Climate Change.

The Pew Center is a U.S.-based non-governmental organization dedicated to providing credible information, sound analysis and innovative solutions in the effort to address global climate change.  Since our founding in 1998 the Center has published more than 50 peer-reviewed reports on climate science, economics, policy and solutions.  In addition, through the Center’s Business Environmental Leadership Council (BELC), we work closely with 39 major corporations to develop and promote practical and effective climate change policies.  The BELC includes two Canadian firms, TransAlta and Ontario Power.  The BELC companies do not contribute financially to the Center.

My aim today is to provide you with our perspective on the options for advancing the international climate change effort beyond 2012.  Allow me to begin by noting that the Pew Center welcomes the Kyoto Protocol’s entry into force.  We commend the Canadian government for its commitment to the Protocol, and for its efforts toward a workable and effective implementation strategy.  We believe, however, that in looking beyond 2012 it is important to look beyond the Kyoto Protocol at the full array of options.

The challenge before us is to engage all the world’s major greenhouse gas-emitting countries in a long-term effort that fairly and effectively mobilizes the technology and resources needed to stabilize the global climate.  Over the past three years, the Pew Center has led an initiative to facilitate constructive thinking and dialogue on options for advancing the international climate effort.  As part of that effort, the Center has convened the Climate Dialogue at Pocantico, which brings together senior policymakers and stakeholders from around the world for a series of off-line discussions exploring options beyond 2012.  The 25 participants include policymakers from Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Germany, Japan, Mexico, Tuvalu, the United Kingdom, and the United States; executives of companies such as Alcoa, BP, DuPont, Rio Tinto, and Toyota; and NGO representatives from India, Switzerland, and the United States.  The group has met three times and will convene for a final session this September.  In a moment, I would like to describe the options presently under consideration.

First, however, I would like to introduce some of the broad insights that emerged from our initial work on these issues and served as an important foundation for our dialogue discussions.  Four brief points:

  • First, while the climate challenge is ultimately one of mobilizing technology, it is in the first instance one of mustering political will.   Some approaches to international action can better assist in that than others.
  • Second, scientific and economic uncertainty is not a justification for inaction, but rather an additional rationale for acting now.
  • Third, while climate change is a common challenge, countries will engage in collective action only if they perceive it to be in their national interest.   A multilateral approach must therefore recognize and accommodate domestic concerns such as development and competitiveness.
  • Fourth, bridging diverse national interests requires a flexible architecture that allows different types of commitments for different countries.

As further input to our dialogue process, we also examined a broad array of emissions, energy, economic, and socio-economic data, focusing primarily on the 25 largest emitting countries.   [See Climate Data: Insights and Observations.]  These 25 countries account for 83 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.  Seventeen of them are also among the world’s most populous countries, and twenty-two are among those with the highest GDPs.  The group of top emitters varies little whether considering only carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from fossil fuel combustion, or CO2 from land use change as well, or other greenhouse gases; or whether looking at present, cumulative, or projected emissions.  These data strongly support the view that to be effective in the long term the international climate effort should at a minimum include these larger emitters.  The data also show, however, the tremendous diversity within this group; it includes almost an equal number of developed and developing countries, as well as economies in transition.  Their per capita emissions and per capita incomes vary widely, with important implications in understanding both responsibility for climate change and capacity to address it. 

With that background, I would like to turn now to the options presently under consideration within our Pocantico dialogue.  As I noted a moment ago, we believe the aim in the next stage of the international climate effort must be a flexible architecture able to accommodate different strategies and commitments.  In assessing the options, we began by looking at a range of approaches, not as alternatives per se, but rather as potential elements in such a framework.  Through the course of discussion, the group has more or less settled on six such elements:

The first element is what we call an aspirational long-term goal.   Addressing climate change is a long-term effort, and in undertaking it, it is important to know what we are aiming for.  However, trying to negotiate a specific quantified long-term target would likely be futile, and possibly even counterproductive.  As an alternative, governments, businesses, or expert communities – acting individually or in groups – can put forward “aspirational” goals consistent with the ultimate objective of stabilizing greenhouse gas concentrations at a level that avoids dangerous anthropogenic interference.  Several governments and some businesses have already done so.  Such goals, expressed in terms of temperature and/or concentrations, can serve to spur and guide future climate efforts, without serving as a formal basis for negotiating commitments. 

The second element is targets and trading.   The principal virtue of this approach is cost-effectiveness.  In addition, it builds on the existing Kyoto architecture, the European Union’s emissions trading systems, and the other trading systems now emerging.  The Kyoto approach, however, relies on a particular type of target – it is binding and focused on absolute emission levels.  A future approach could incorporate different types of targets.  Two possibilities are emissions intensity targets, or no-lose targets, which would provide incentive for developing countries to undertake reductions by allowing them to market any reductions below their targets without imposing penalties if their targets are exceeded.  Different groups of countries could take on different types of targets, with further differentiation within groups in order to reflect particular national circumstances. 

Our third element is sectoral.  Rather than economy-wide targets, the idea here is to structure commitments around some of the key emissions-generating sectors, such as power, transport, land use, or energy-intensive manufacturing.  Such an approach can help ease competitiveness concerns by ensuring a level playing field across a given sector.  Commitments could take the form of emission targets; performance-based standards (for instance, regulating carbon emissions from autos); or technology-based standards (for instance, in the power sector, requiring the phase-in of advanced combustion and carbon capture-and-storage technology for new coal-burning power plants).

A fourth element is sustainable development policies.  The objective here is to capitalize on natural synergies between climate and development objectives by promoting measures that simultaneously advance both.  These could include energy policies such as cost-based pricing, transportation measures to promote mass transit and cleaner fuels, or agricultural policies supporting sequestration-promoting practices.  One approach would be for countries to commit to broad policy objectives, then pledge specific national measures to achieve them, with periodic reporting subject to international review.  Verified emission reductions achieved through these measures could be marketed through a mechanism similar to the Clean Development Mechanism, which would certify credits on a “programmatic” or sectoral basis, rather than project by project.  These approaches may better engage developing countries by speaking directly to core development concerns, and by not imposing a quantified emissions limit.

A fifth element is technology approaches.  All of the earlier elements seek in some way to drive technology into the marketplace.  But there is also a role for approaches that seek to directly drive technology – in particular, the breakthrough technologies we will need to achieve reductions on a much larger scale over the long term.  One possibility is that countries set a long-term goal of zero-net emissions in the power or auto sectors.  Another possibility is stronger international cooperation and funding for the research and development of potential breakthrough technologies such as hydrogen, biomass fuels, or carbon capture-and-storage.

The sixth and final element is adaptation.  All the approaches I’ve described thus far focus on mitigation – reducing emissions.  But if we are to achieve agreement on a new framework, particularly if it is to include some form of commitment for developing countries, it must deliver more on adaptation.  One possibility is to establish climate disaster funds to provide relief to poor countries suffering climate-related losses, whether the result of climate change or climate variability, and to offer subsidized climate disaster “insurance” to middle-income developing countries.  Proactive adaptation might be better promoted by mainstreaming adaptation across the full range of development assistance, rather than through climate regime.  For instance, multilateral development banks could adopt new lending guidelines to routinely incorporate climate risk assessments and adaptation measures in project design, review, and approval.

As I noted, we view these elements not as alternatives but as potential building blocks for a broader international framework.  In our dialogue discussions, we have only begun to consider ways the elements might be linked, so I cannot offer specific ideas at this time.  However, we look forward to sharing the final outcomes of the dialogue following our concluding session in September.

Our aim in the dialogue is to offer some vision of where the international climate effort might go in the future.  An immediate question, however, is whether and how to launch a more formal process among governments to begin considering post-2012 options.  In offering to host the upcoming climate talks in Montreal, the Canadian government has taken on a very significant challenge.  The conference will take the final steps to put the Kyoto Protocol fully into motion.  It will be more successful still if parties also are able to take the first steps toward further broadening and strengthening the international effort.  Many governments have signaled their willingness to start, and we wish the Canadian government every success in this endeavor.

Thank you for the opportunity to provide this input.  We would be pleased to contribute further to the Committee’s consideration of these issues and to the Government’s efforts to strengthen the international climate effort.