Address by Eileen Claussen at Commonwealth Club

Address by Eileen Claussen President
Pew Center on Global Climate Change

Commonwealth Club
San Francisco, CA

February 23, 2000

Thank you very much. It is a pleasure to be here. While I know this is really a speech on global warming, you will find that I have drawn some of my inspiration from Alice in Wonderland. And so I would like to start with a quote that I believe really sets the stage for my remarks, where Alice asks the Cheshire Cat "Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?" "That depends a good deal on where you want to get to," said the Cat. "I don't much care where---" said Alice. "Then it doesn't matter which way you go," said the Cat. "---so long as I get somewhere," Alice added as an explanation. "Oh, you're sure to do that," said the Cat, "if only you walk long enough."

I bring up this quotation because I believe that, on the issue of global climate change, it is truly important to get somewhere, and walking long enough is clearly not the answer. What I want to do today is to reach through the looking glass and pull the issue of global climate change out of the wonderland where it too often resides. And I want to paint a picture for you of exactly where things stand in the global effort to meet what may be the most important challenge of the 21st century.

I want to talk to you first about the science of global climate change. I also want to talk about how the growing scientific consensus around this issue is forcing many countries around the world to pay attention and to do something—both unilaterally and by continuing their work on an international treaty designed to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, I want to talk about the United States and what we as a nation are—or, more precisely, are not—doing to move this issue forward. And I want to leave you with an understanding that the one sector of our society where people seem to taking concrete steps to address this issue is in the American business community.

The Science of Global Climate Change
So let me begin by talking briefly about the science of global climate change. And let me quote something else from Alice in Wonderland that I think wonderfully illustrates some of the discussion we've seen in recent years on the question of whether or not climate change is real. This from Alice's encounter with Tweedledum and Tweedledee.


"I know what you're thinking about," said Tweedledum, "but it isn't so, no-how."
"Contrariwise," continued Tweedledee, "if it was so, it might be; and if it were so, it would be; but as it isn't, it ain't. That's logic."

Although there are still some who argue like Tweedledum and Tweedledee that "it isn't so, no-how," the truth is it's becoming harder and harder to brush aside the possibility—indeed, the reality—of global climate change. Over the last two to three years, we have seen a remarkable shift in the discussion of this issue. Even many former skeptics now acknowledge that it is happening in some way—or, at the very least, that it is something we should be concerned about.

While this attitude shift may be in part a consequence of the strange weather we've been having around the world, the main reason people are paying more attention to this issue of late, without a doubt, is the science. And, more specifically, the growing scientific consensus that global warming is so.

So, at the risk of sounding like your ninth grade science teacher, I want to take a minute to talk through some of the scientific issues involved in climate change. The earth's atmosphere, as we all know, is made up mainly of oxygen and nitrogen, but it also contains other naturally occurring gases, including water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. It is these gases that are responsible for the natural greenhouse effect without which the earth would be about 34 degrees colder than it is now.

For years scientists have noted that atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases have been rising, particularly since the late 1800s. The primary reason: human activities such as the burning of oil, coal and natural gas. Since 1860, atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide alone have increased by 30 percent.

At the same time, the average surface temperature around the globe also has been rising—by anywhere from 0.72 to 1.44 degrees Fahrenheit over the last century. This finding was affirmed just last month by a panel of the National Academy of Sciences, which asserted that the warming trend has accelerated during the past 20 years.

In their analyses of these and other data, most of the world's best scientists agree on two things:


First, they agree that the earth will continue to warm. Last year, we at the Pew Center commissioned a report predicting that future changes in global-mean temperatures will be two to seven times more rapid than the changes we saw in the 20th century. We concluded that the earth will warm by 1.5 to 6 degrees Fahrenheit by the year 2100. That is in addition to the warming we have already seen.

The second thing that most of the world's best scientists agree on is that human-induced greenhouse gases will be at least partly responsible for the continuing warming trend.

I don't want to oversimplify the consensus that exists here. There remain significant uncertainties (such as how the formation and dissipation of clouds affect the climate). And there are still some skeptical scientists, although their numbers appear to be dwindling. The biggest question today, however, is not whether there is, or will be, a change in the global climate, but rather what the effects of that change will be, where they will be felt, and when.
What do we know about the effects of global climate change? If the predictions are right about the amount of warming we will experience over the next century—and I have seen nothing to suggest they are not—it is quite clear we will see a rise in sea level of anywhere from 6 to 37 inches. This will be caused by two things: the first is the fact that water expands when it is heated, and the second is that global warming will result in the melting of some glacial ice.

California, of course, will not be able to escape the effects of the rising sea levels brought on by global climate change. You could see flooding of low-lying property, loss of coastal wetlands, erosion of beaches, saltwater contamination of drinking water, and decreased longevity of low-lying roads, causeways, and bridges. Rising sea levels also could increase the vulnerability of coastal areas to storms and associated flooding.

OK, so what about the weather? What sorts of changes are we likely to see there? Based on projections by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and results from the United Kingdom Hadley Centre's climate model, by the year 2100, temperatures in California could increase by about 5 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter and summer and slightly less in the spring and fall. Researchers project increases in precipitation of anywhere from 10 to 50 percent in the spring and fall here in California, with somewhat larger increases in winter.

Another weather issue that has been in the news of late is extreme weather—or, more precisely, the potential role of global climate change in increasing the incidence of extreme weather events. Measuring changes in daily precipitation extremes around the world can be highly uncertain, but there is some evidence suggesting an increase in the frequency of wet extremes—not a happy prospect in a state that in recent years has added the mudslide to the list of natural disasters that keep Americans up at night.

Now please don't get me wrong. My objective here is not to scare you about the future or to give you a laundry list of possible or probable environmental effects, but simply to suggest this: we know enough about the science and the environmental impacts of climate change to begin taking steps to address its consequences now. We all live in worlds where we analyze risks, make decisions, and take appropriate actions based on our risk assessments. This issue is clearly at a stage where we must move beyond denial and debate, and focus ourselves on rational action, based on what we know from the science.

The World Responds
It was the strengthening scientific consensus about global climate change—a consensus that is even stronger today—that brought 150 nations together in Kyoto, Japan in 1997 to negotiate a framework for reducing greenhouse gas emissions around the world.

The Kyoto Protocol essentially requires developed countries to reduce or limit their emissions of greenhouse gases in relation to their emission levels in 1990. It also permits the use of various "flexible mechanisms" that can assist these countries in reaching their legally binding targets in a cost-effective manner. These mechanisms include: international emissions trading; joint implementation, which allows countries to receive credit for emission-reduction projects undertaken in other developed countries; and the Clean Development Mechanism-which allows trading in certified emission reductions between industrialized and developing nations. Fifty-five countries representing 55 percent of all developed country greenhouse gas emissions must ratify the Kyoto Protocol for it to enter into force.

The international negotiations that produced the Kyoto Protocol are still under way. Many terms in the original Protocol were left undefined, just as many of its provisions were not adequately explained. Issues that remain up in the air, so to speak, are: the structure and definition of the flexible mechanisms I mentioned; how to handle the issue of carbon sequestration, or the application of land use and forestry practices to help reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide; and how to establish a compliance regime—in other words, how does the world go about policing this enormously complex international agreement?

But despite the continuing negotiations, much work is under way to move forward with the emission reductions that are required under the Kyoto Protocol. I will give you a few examples:


The United Kingdom is now in the process of planning a domestic emission-trading experiment.

The Danish government already has secured legislative authority to implement a trading program of its own, and similar programs are under development in Norway and Sweden.

Looking elsewhere, the Germans are implementing a modest tax program, and a parliament in the Netherlands has approved a more traditional program that draws on a variety of policies and measures in an effort to curb emissions.

Last but not least, Japan, as a major player in the development of the Kyoto framework, is viewing this issue from a competitiveness standpoint and is developing strategies for its own emission reduction programs.

Whether any of these countries' efforts will work, or how well they will work, remains uncertain. But they do reflect serious attempts to experiment and move forward, to take necessary risks, and to determine what approaches ultimately will be successful.

The U.S. Government: AWOL on Warming
So what about the United States? What is our government doing to ensure that the necessary emission reductions are made? Before I answer this question, let me remind you that we are responsible for 25 percent of global emissions of these pollutants. This in a country that is home to less than 5 percent of the global population. If international leadership on this issue should come from anywhere, it should come from us.

But leadership is not coming from us. It is rare both in Washington and on the presidential campaign trail for the discussion of this issue to get past the question of whether to support the Kyoto Protocol or whether to declare it dead. What the discussion has not touched on—and should—is the further development and implementation of programs that would change the expected trajectory of our nation's greenhouse gas emissions. The U.S. Congress, in particular, appears determined to let absolutely nothing happen that would even remotely suggest that the United States is concerned about this issue. And while there have been several climate change bills introduced in the Congress, the prevailing wisdom is to view any effort to move forward on this issue as a quote-unquote "backdoor" attempt to implement the Kyoto Protocol and therefore to block it.

And what about the White House? President Clinton, in the budget he submitted in February, proposed spending $2.4 billion on various clean energy and energy conservation projects designed to -quote--"combat global climate change." This is important and politically safe, but it is clearly not enough. And how it will fare in the Congress remains to be seen.

The reality is that this White House has done very little since signing the Kyoto Protocol to make the treaty's goals and its mechanisms for reducing emissions a fundamental part of U.S. policy. Instead, the Administration regularly cites the leadership of U.S. businesses and local governments as evidence of our nation's commitment on this issue. As a former member of the Administration, it pains me to say this, but the White House is simply not doing what's needed to make this issue the national priority it should be. As Gertrude Stein put it, "There's no 'there' there."

U.S. Stumbling Blocks: Economics and Fairness
What, you may ask, is driving our elected leaders' reluctance to meet the challenge of global climate change in a serious way? I would like to suggest that there are two issues at the heart of the debate. And, while these issues are significant, my belief is that they have not been framed in ways that are honest or open to solution.

The first issue relates to the economic costs of action to reduce emissions. We all have heard the joke that economists have predicted nine of the last five U.S. recessions. And it is hard to argue with the premise of the joke when one looks at the varying predictions that have been made about the potential impacts of achieving the Kyoto targets on the U.S. economy. Interest groups across the ideological spectrum have produced markedly different results from economic models that are not that different in their structure but that use very different assumptions to achieve the results these groups want to achieve. And the only result that is truly achieved is confusion.

How do we get beyond this confusion? We get beyond it by admitting that the models we are using-even when stripped of assumptions that bear no resemblance to reality-are not infallible. For example, our ability to quantify the risks of not taking action to address global climate change is still in its infancy. In addition, we have yet to meet the challenge of modeling technological innovation--as far as I know, no economic model would have predicted the information technology or communications revolutions we are now witnessing.

I am not mentioning these things to suggest there will be no costs to the United States should we act decisively to reduce emissions. There is almost always a cost associated with major changes to the economy. What I would like to suggest is that a fixation with 10-year-out predictions of increases or decreases in the U.S. GDP really misses the mark. To argue, as some have done, that the costs will be catastrophic and that entire industrial sectors will immediately be wiped out is less than honest, as is the argument that major reductions can be achieved at no cost. What the United States should be concerned about are the impacts that are likely to occur in certain industries, certain labor categories, and certain regions of the country. The questions we should be asking have to do with: 1) how we can minimize these impacts; and 2) what we can do to deal with those impacts that we are not able to minimize—in other words, the impacts that remain.

The second issue that has become a roadblock to progress in the United States is the issue of developing country commitments. Is it fair, people ask, for the United States to have to abide by the Kyoto targets while competitors such as China, India and Mexico get a quote-unquote "free ride?" One fear is that American jobs will be lost to these and other countries because their production costs will be lower. But lost in the debate is the reality that fairness demands a decisive U.S. response for two reasons. First, because the United States is responsible, both historically and currently, for more emissions than anyone else. And second, because the United States, unlike many other countries, plainly has the ability to pay to reduce its emissions.

The reality, whether we like it or not, is that most developing countries are unlikely to agree to binding emission reduction targets that would take effect in this decade. The primary reason for the reluctance of these countries to "join in" is concern about their economic growth and its relationship to energy use, at least in the early stages of development. There is also a view in these countries that those who bear the historic responsibility for the problem of mounting atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases should act first.

But the developing world's opposition to targets cannot be allowed to hide the fact there is movement on this issue among these countries—movement that many of the opponents of the Kyoto Protocol prefer to ignore:


China, for example, which has dramatically lowered its energy consumption per unit of output over the last decade, is on a path to continue making significant energy-saving improvements over the decade to come.
Privatization of the electricity sector is moving forward in India, where competition is expected to increase the use of natural gas and lower greenhouse gas emissions.
And Korea is beginning to plan for opening up its power sector to competition, again with a projected increase in the use of natural gas.

In these and other developing nations, investment decisions made in the power and transportation sectors in the coming years will have a significant impact on global greenhouse emissions for decades to come. And the reality is that many opportunities exist for lowering these countries' emissions. In other words, binding commitments for these countries may not be possible, but significant action to lower emissions from their expected path may very well be. And that, in turn, would lay the groundwork for environmentally sustainable economic growth, something that is in everybody's interest.
To those in the U.S. Congress and elsewhere who continue to insist that China and other developing nations should have to live by the same requirements as the industrialized world as we work to reduce global greenhouse emissions, I say fairness demands we think differently. I believe that the 1992 Framework Convention on Climate Change, the agreement that led to the development of the Kyoto Protocol and was ratified by the U.S. Congress, took the right tack in asserting that industrialized countries should—quote—"take the lead" in reducing emissions. The Convention went on to state that developing countries have a right to development, even though their development will surely increase these countries' greenhouse gas emissions.

Does this mean we should expect nothing of the developing world as we work to reduce emissions in the years ahead? Of course not. I believe strongly that the world should take advantage of emission reduction opportunities where they exist—and whether they exist in industrialized or developing countries. The real issue, therefore, is not how to pressure developing countries into accepting binding emission reduction targets in this decade. Rather, the issue should be how to influence the character of the investments made in these countries so that they become more climate-friendly.

Moving Forward: American Businesses Take the Lead
If we want ideas for how to move forward on this issue in a proactive way, we should look to many of the American businesses that have accepted the need for strong action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and are working to do so.

In late 1999, as many of you may know, the Ford Motor Company announced it was resigning from a coalition of oil companies, auto makers, electric utilities and others who stubbornly argue that we still don't have enough evidence to know whether or not global warming is real—and that we shouldn't do anything serious about it until more is known. Word of Ford's decision was followed closely by the news that Daimler Chrysler also would be leaving the group known as the Global Climate Coalition. The companies' moves were seen as an indication of the growing acceptance of the reality and the urgency of this issue—even in the nation's corporate boardrooms—and as yet another sign of a growing consensus for rational action to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

But the fact is that many American businesses have long been way ahead of our government in their willingness to acknowledge and work on this issue. This progressive stance became obvious when a large group of mostly Fortune 500 companies became affiliated with my organization, the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, to help forge a consensus response to the problem. The Pew Center's Business Environmental Leadership Council now includes 21 companies with combined annual revenues of more than $550 billion. Working together, these companies developed a joint statement asserting that in the new millennium—quote—"one of our most important challenges at home and abroad will be addressing global climate change as we work to sustain a growing global economy."

"One of our most important challenges." That is an enormously powerful statement coming from these companies, which include such household names as American Electric Power, Boeing, BP Amoco, Lockheed Martin, Shell International, Sunoco, Toyota, United Technologies and Whirlpool. And, in making this statement, these companies announced publicly that they:

Accepted the science of global climate change;
Would establish their own emission reduction targets--and meet them;
Viewed the Kyoto Protocol as a first although incomplete step to addressing the issue internationally; and
Believed that addressing climate change can be compatible with sustained economic growth in the United States.

Some of the member companies of our Business Environmental Leadership Council have already announced their emission reduction targets, all of which are at least as stringent as those in the Kyoto Protocol. One large company affiliated with the Pew Center, DuPont, has established a goal of reducing emissions to 65-percent below 1990 levels by 2010, with an additional commitment of obtaining 10 percent of their energy needs from renewable sources. This is a stunning target, far in excess of the 7-percent reduction required for the United States as a whole in the Kyoto Protocol.
The commitment of DuPont and these other companies is an important reminder that there are many steps industry can and should be taking now to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But it is important to realize that industry alone cannot solve this problem. The public, too, has an important role to play. And, while there is remarkable consensus among the public that global climate change is an important issue and an issue we should be doing something about as a nation, Americans have yet to translate this general concern into their behavior in the marketplace.

Here are a few polling numbers to illustrate my point. A 1998 survey conducted for the World Wildlife Fund revealed that nearly 60 percent of Americans believe global warming is happening now, and another 26 percent believe it will happen in the future. According to the survey, fully three-quarters of the public want the United States to take action to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide as a way to address the problem.

But when confronted with product choices, the climate-friendly road is often not the road taken. Why else would more than 50 percent of all new car choices be four-wheel drive SUVs?

I believe these numbers illustrate that there is a difference between caring about this issue and actually doing something about it. And in the same way that the American public expresses concern about our changing climate but stops short of taking actions that might help turn the situation around, many of our elected leaders—no doubt tapping into the public mood—get away with talking a good game about climate change but avoid taking serious action to address it. And the result is that the private sector is the only place right now where we see the combination of caring and commitment that is needed to move this issue forward.

Moving Forward: A U.S. Agenda
How can the United States government get back on track and assume its rightful leadership role in meeting the challenge of climate change? The answer is by forging a national policy designed to deal seriously and responsibly with this issue. Let me suggest four items to place at the top of the U.S. agenda.

The first item should be to depoliticize and depolarize this issue in Washington. American businesses need to know what will be expected of them in the future. If we can move beyond political agendas and focus on economically sound, stable, and serious actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, we will provide a platform for business planners to look ahead. And that will allow them to develop cost-effective investment strategies that will permit the needed replacement of capital equipment with greenhouse-friendly technologies.

Our second agenda item should be to design a straightforward system that will legally recognize the contributions of corporations that take early action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Put very simply, these companies need to know that reducing their emissions now won't put them at a competitive disadvantage down the line.

Our agenda for the next decade also should include some serious planning for how we as a nation will reduce our greenhouse gas emissions over the long haul. We know there are policies and programs that can lower the costs, and we should analyze and discuss all the alternatives. We know there are likely to be sectors of the economy that will be more affected than others. And we know we need to balance our environmental and economic goals in ways that minimize the costs and impacts, and that treat those who will be adversely affected in ways that are fair and equitable. But despite knowing all this, we haven't even begun to discuss a national plan of action. What we need is not a debate about Kyoto—a prospect that delights the opponents of serious U.S. action on this issue because they believe they will win it. Rather, we need to start discussing what has to happen to address the challenge of global climate change in ways that are smart and fair and that give us a competitive edge.

And finally, we need to continue to work abroad to make the Kyoto Protocol into an instrument that is worthy of U.S. ratification, and that is a step along the path toward a genuinely global solution to what is clearly a global problem.

At the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland last month, the business and government leaders in attendance were polled about the greatest challenge facing the world at the dawn of this new century. The winning answer was climate change—a clear indication that there is a real understanding among the world's movers and shakers that we need to do something. So what needs to happen now is for all of those movers and shakers to move from understanding to action and to shake up their governments so they meet this challenge head-on.

I began these remarks with a couple of quotes from Alice in Wonderland, so let me close with one, too. When Alice is playing on the Queen's croquet ground, she becomes very uneasy about the game and her fellow players. The story continues:

"I don't think they play at all fairly," Alice began, in a rather complaining tone, "and they all quarrel so dreadfully one can't hear oneself speak—and they don't seem to have any rules in particular; at least, if there are nobody attends to them."
Unfortunately, I think the current discussion of global climate change and what to do about it too often resembles the chaos and unruliness of the queen's croquet game. And I believe our priority in the months and years ahead—both in the United States and internationally—should be to provide some rules and direction to guide the players as we all work together to meet this global challenge.