Climate Change: From Awareness To Action

Climate Change: From Awareness To Action

Keynote Address By Eileen Claussen, President
Pew Center On Global Climate Change

Environmental Horizons 2002 Conference
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

April 1, 2002

Thank you very much. It is a pleasure to be here for Environmental Horizons 2002. I'd like to commend everyone involved with the University's Environmental Council for putting together such an inspiring and informative program.

There's just one thing missing from the program - an awards ceremony. So I thought I'd begin my remarks today by handing out a few honors. Actually, I was inspired by last week's Academy Awards. I got to thinking about some of the recent developments in Washington on the issue of climate change, and wondered what kind of Oscars I would award to some of the key players. And here's what I decided.

First, I would have to say that the award for best performance in a non-supporting role goes to the U.S. Senate for refusing once again to deal head-on with the question of fuel efficiency standards for American cars and trucks. There's always a lot of tough competition in this category, but this year, the Senate won it hands down.

Next, the award for the best misdirection, and the clear winner this year is the Bush White House for its new climate policy. The Administration did its best to make the policy look meaningful and serious, but anyone who's seen the uncut version knows, unfortunately, that it is not.

Finally, I'd like to offer a special posthumous award to the Clinton administration. For talking big about climate change on the international stage but doing next to nothing about it at home, I present the Clinton White House with the award for best costumes.

In all seriousness, I'm here today to talk about the challenge of global climate change. I believe this is one of the most profound challenges of our time, and I believe it is a challenge that can be met. But it will not be met easily. Because the causes and consequences of global warming cut across every nation, every sector, and every community around the world. And an effective response to global warming requires action in every nation, every sector, and every community around the world. What is needed, in short, is a fundamental transformation in the way we power our global economy. We must, over the next several decades, make the leap from a fossil fuel-based economy to one that runs on clean energy. I'd like to talk today about how to make that happen. And I'd like to talk about the powerful forces that must be brought to bear - the force of technology, the force of the marketplace, the force of government, and finally, the force of individuals and communities around the globe.

Let me begin, though, with the force of science. With this issue, science is always the best place to start because our efforts must rely on the best science possible. So what does the science tell us? First, it tells us that the earth is indeed getting warmer. The 1990s were the hottest decade of the entire millennium, and 1997, '98, and '99 were three of the hottest years on record. Second, this warming trend is almost certain to accelerate. Scientists project an average global increase of two to ten degrees Fahrenheit over the next century - the largest swing in global temperature since the end of the last ice age 12,000 years ago. Third, and perhaps most importantly, the evidence strongly suggests that human activities, in particular the burning of fossil fuels, are largely to blame.

You can find scientists who will dispute these findings. But these three broad conclusions - the earth is warming, this warming trend will worsen, and human activity is largely responsible - represent the overwhelming consensus of the scientific community. They are among the key findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a U.N. body that draws on the expertise of hundreds of climate scientists around the world. And they were confirmed by a special panel of the National Academy of Sciences asked by President Bush to review the state of climate science.

What, then, does the science tell us about the potential impact of this warming? Put another way, what kind of future are we creating for our children and grandchildren? Some people like to see the bright side of global warming. Lower heating bills in winter, for instance, and longer growing seasons here in the Midwest. But there's good reason to believe that any potential benefits will be far outweighed by the costs.

Rising sea levels will flood coastal areas - a very real worry along portions of the U.S. coastline but a much greater worry for low-lying countries like the Netherlands and Bangladesh. In summer, higher temperatures will mean a greater risk of deadly heat waves. By 2100, for instance, the people of Chicago may be 25 times more likely to endure three straight days of 100-degree heat. Higher temperatures will also mean an increase in extreme weather-more flooding, more drought, and more severe storms. Rain and snowfall patterns will be disrupted, putting water supplies at risk. The Great Lakes are projected to drop 4 to 5 feet over the next 100 years, threatening irrigation supplies for farmers. And the lakes could be 5 degrees warmer, threatening the survival of native species like rainbow trout. Indeed, in the long run, the greatest risk may be the steady unraveling of ecosystems, the support systems for all life on earth.

There are, of course, uncertainties in the science, particularly when it comes to projecting the magnitude and timing of the kinds of impacts I've just described. But these uncertainties cut both ways. Yes, it's possible that the impacts of global warming won't be as bad as we now project. But it's just as likely they will be worse. For instance, most of our computer modeling assumes a linear relationship between rising temperatures and impacts: as the planet warms, the impacts grow worse, proportionately. But many scientists worry about the potential for a non-linear, or catastrophic, event. Last week, scientists reported the sudden breakup of an Antarctic ice shelf the size of Rhode Island. That same kind of event on a much larger scale - for instance, the collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet - could trigger a catastrophic rise in sea level well beyond what is ordinarily predicted. So, for me, uncertainty in the science is hardly a reason to delay action. Quite the contrary - it's a reason to act now.

What kind of action must we take? For the moment, let's stick with the science. The earth is warming because we are adding carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. Right now, there is about 40 percent more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere than there was at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. If we continue with business as usual, CO2 levels will be twice the pre-industrial level by the middle of this century. This doubling of CO2 concentrations is the scenario most scientists have relied on in projecting the likely impacts of global warming. But what is now becoming clear is that it will be extraordinarily difficult, if not impossible, to stabilize concentrations at this level anytime within this century. Indeed, it now seems likely that by 2100 greenhouse gas concentrations will be approaching three times the pre-industrial levels. And that suggests that we may well face consequences more severe than those already projected.

Our goal, ultimately, must be to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at levels that are reasonably safe. There is no consensus at the moment on what those levels might be. And this is not a question science can answer for us. The level of risk we as a society are willing to accept is, in the end, more a matter of values. But scientists generally agree that to stabilize concentrations at any reasonably safe level we must over time reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases 50 to 80 percent from current levels. Let me repeat that: we must reduce emissions of greenhouse gases 50 to 80 percent from current levels. Since emissions worldwide are now rising, and are certain to continue rising for some time to come, we clearly have a very long way to go.

How do we get there? What it is going to take, I believe, is nothing short of a new industrial revolution. As I said earlier, meeting the challenge of climate change requires a fundamental transformation in the way we power our economy. We must steadily reduce our reliance on coal and oil - the principal sources of the greenhouse gases we are putting into the atmosphere. And we must make the transition to clean sources of energy that can keep the global economy healthy, and keep it growing, without endangering the global environment. Industrial societies have been through major energy transitions before - we've gone from wood to coal, and from coal to oil. But unlike past transitions, we can't afford to wait for this one to happen on its own. We must make it happen. We must bring to bear the forces necessary to mount this new industrial revolution.

First is the force of technology - or, more accurately, the force of many new technologies. There is no silver bullet. Our ultimate success against climate change hinges on the development and deployment of a vast array of technologies that dramatically reduce the carbon intensity of our economy. Technologies that change how we produce electricity, how we move from place to place, how we farm and manage our forests, how we manufacture products - even how we build and manage our buildings. And the technologies that will enable industrialized countries to make the transition to clean energy must also be adapted and shared with developing countries, so they can leapfrog past carbon dependence and choose a more sustainable path from the start.

Looking at the major energy-using sectors of our economy, you can see on a broad scale the kinds of changes that are needed here in the United States. In the electricity sector, for instance, we need to gradually shift the supply mix away from coal, the dirtiest of the fossil fuels, toward natural gas, which is much lower in carbon, and towards solar, wind and other renewables. In transportation, we have to reverse the decline in the fuel efficiency of our cars and SUVs, because the internal combustion engine will be with us for a while longer and we do have the technology to make it more efficient. But we must also hasten the arrival of its successor, whether it be the hydrogen fuel cell or another technology. In buildings, where we use a third of our energy, smart technologies and smart design can deliver enormous energy savings without sacrificing comfort or quality of life. And finally, in manufacturing, we need to find ways to reduce emissions at every step - from changing inputs to redesigning production processes to reworking the entire product mix.

It's one thing to envision the kinds of technologies we need. It's another thing to make them real. For that, I believe, we must bring to bear a second force - the force of the marketplace. This is true not only because the necessary changes - whether they be new products, new processes, or new sources of energy - must take place within the marketplace. It is also true because only the marketplace can mobilize the investment, the productive capacity, and the ingenuity that is needed. The inspiration behind a new technology may spring from the mind of a scientist, an engineer - or maybe an overachieving undergraduate. But only the marketplace can quickly adapt this new technology to society's needs and desires, can produce and deliver it on a mass scale, and can figure out how to do it at the least possible cost. Just think how efficiently the market has put a cell phone into the hands of so many men, women and children over the last a few years.

So the marketplace, while quite obviously a driving force behind the continued rise in greenhouse gas emissions, must also be a driving force behind the solution. We must put the market to work to protect the climate. And if we do it right, not only the environment will benefit - the market will benefit as well. Many people still think that environmental protection and economic growth are inherently antagonistic goals. I believe they are wrong, and I believe the experiences of the companies we work with at the Pew Center show they are wrong.

One of the things we did when we launched the Pew Center four years ago was to bring together a group of major corporations that support action to address climate change. We call it the Business Environmental Leadership Council. The Council now includes 37 companies - primarily Fortune 500 firms - including Weyerhaeuser, Intel, Boeing, Dupont, Shell and Alcoa. Together these companies employ more than 2 million people and generate revenues of nearly $900 billion a year.

In their efforts against climate change, many of these companies have adopted targets for reducing their greenhouse gas emissions. Dupont, for instance, is working to reduce its emissions 65 percent below 1990 levels by 2010. Alcoa is aiming for a 25 percent reduction. Last month, Lord John Browne, the chairman and CEO of BP, announced that his company had already met its goal of a 10 percent reduction - eight years ahead of schedule - and is now committed to capping emissions at that level through 2012 even though BP's revenues are projected to grow 5.5 percent a year.

We published a study recently that analyzed a number of companies that have taken on voluntary greenhouse gas targets. These targets take many different forms. Some companies are ramping up their use of clean energy or improving their energy efficiency. For instance, Baxter International, a healthcare firm based outside Chicago is boosting its energy efficiency by 30 percent. Other companies are going beyond the production process and pledging to reduce emissions from the products themselves. In Europe, for instance, the major automakers - including, I would note, the American automakers - have pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from their fleets 25 percent by 2008.

Our report took a close look at six of these companies - why they chose to adopt targets, and what their experiences have been. The companies cited several motivations: They believe the science of climate change is compelling, and in time the public will demand strong climate protections. They want to get ahead of the curve by reducing their own emissions, and by encouraging government policies that work well for business. But the companies all cited one other important motivation for taking on a target: to improve their competitive position in the marketplace. And that, in fact, has been the result. Each of these six companies is on track to meeting or exceeding its greenhouse gas goal. Together, they've delivered reductions equal to the annual emissions of 3 million cars. And at the same time, the companies are finding that these efforts are helping to improve operational efficiencies, reduce energy and production costs, and increase market share - all things that contribute to a healthier bottom line.

These voluntary efforts demonstrate that companies can internalize the costs of climate protection. They show how the very act of setting a goal spurs innovation and puts competitive instincts to work in a new direction. They demonstrate the ability of the marketplace to mobilize technology to address climate change. They are commendable, and they are instructive. But they are not enough. For the market will deliver only if it perceives a demand. And for that, we must bring to bear a third force - the force of government.

Government has several critical roles to play in sparking this new industrial revolution. We must look to government, first, to set the goal - to send a clear signal to the marketplace that this is the direction we must go. We must look to government, second, to prime the pump - to provide strategic assistance that will help spawn new technologies and then move them from the laboratory to the marketplace. And we must look to government, third, to keep everyone on track - to make sure we not only stay focused on the goal, but meet it - or face clear consequences. The marketplace can drive the technology; but only if government drives the marketplace.

Let me be clear: I am not advocating a draconian command-and-control system that says do it, and do it this way, or else. We've had enough experience with such approaches to know they won't work here. Rather, I am suggesting a thoughtful strategy that understands, respects and mobilizes the marketplace. I am suggesting a comprehensive but careful mix of measures that provides the marketplace with the necessary incentives - and the necessary flexibility - to get us to our goal, and do it cost-effectively.

So, what kind of signal is government sending the marketplace now? Let's look first on the international side. Over the last year, we saw both the greatest success and the greatest setback since the international effort to address climate change was launched a decade ago. The success was that after years of wrangling, nations finally agreed on a set of rules for implementing the Kyoto Protocol. The Protocol, which was negotiated in 1997, establishes the first binding international limits on greenhouse gas emissions. It points industrialized countries, at least, in the direction of emissions reduction. And it establishes a set of mechanisms to help countries meet their targets by tapping the power of the marketplace. Through a system of greenhouse gas trading, for instance, countries can buy emissions credits from other countries that are able to cut their emissions more cheaply. By harnessing the law of supply and demand, you achieve the greatest environmental return for every unit of investment. This approach, I would note, was written into Kyoto largely at the insistence of the United States, which pioneered the practice of emissions trading.

With the rules for implementing Kyoto now settled, the next step is ratification. The European nations are well on track, while vigorous debates are underway in Japan, Canada and other industrialized countries that face some serious challenges in meeting their Kyoto targets. It's by no means a sure bet, but I would say the prognosis is good for the Protocol to enter into force either this year or next. And that would be a major achievement.

The setback, of course, was President Bush's outright rejection of Kyoto early last year. I don't intend to spend any time here debating the merits of Kyoto, but let me say this: I agree with the President that the Protocol is flawed, but do not believe, as he does, that it is fatally flawed. The reality, though, is that he is the president. And given that, there is virtually no prospect of the United States returning to Kyoto, at least in the short term. The emphasis now must be on building a credible climate program here in the United States - one that, hopefully, can in time converge with the international effort to form a truly global strategy.

The national climate plan announced by President Bush in February is, unfortunately, not an auspicious start. It was encouraging in one respect: The Administration says it will develop rules to ensure that companies voluntarily reducing their emissions receive appropriate credit toward any mandatory measures that might later be put in place. Insofar as this tacitly acknowledges that mandatory measures may in fact be necessary, it represents a measure of progress. But beyond that, the President's plan offers only a promise - a promise that over the next decade the United States will do really no better than it's doing right now.

The President set a goal - a voluntary goal - of reducing the greenhouse gas intensity of the U.S. economy 18 percent by 2012. That means 18 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions for every dollar of GDP. That sounds good. But when you do the math, you see that an 18-percent reduction in greenhouse gas intensity amounts to a 12-percent increase in actual emissions. The Administration says emissions are projected to grow even more, so the President's goal represents a real improvement. But if you look at data on what's actually happening, you see that greenhouse gas intensity is already improving in the United States, and the President's goal essentially continues the trends of the last two decades. In other words, it's more or less business as usual.

There are, however, signs that this issue is being taken more seriously at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue. Despite the Administration's lackluster efforts - or, perhaps, inspired by them - there is growing bipartisan interest in Congress in doing something about climate change. In fact, there were nearly twice as many climate change bills introduced over the past year as in the previous four years combined.

These bills cover everything from regulating carbon dioxide emissions from power plants to boosting research and development on alternative fuels. Several would establish a national system for tracking and reporting greenhouse gas emissions - an important first step. The farm bill passed recently by the Senate would provide strong incentives to farmers to adopt practices that suck carbon out of the atmosphere. And Senators Lieberman and McCain plan to introduce a bill later this year to establish a nationwide cap-and-trade system - in other words, to cap greenhouse gas emissions nationwide and let companies buy and sell emissions credits. It's a bold idea - one that frankly I can't see being enacted for some time, probably years. Still, for the first time, Congress is engaged in serious debate about how the United States should meet its responsibilities on climate change.

And beyond the Beltway, we see not just debate, but action. States and local communities, instead of waiting for leadership from Washington, are taking up this challenge on their own. Over the past year, the Pew Center worked with the National Association of State Energy Officials to gather information on state programs that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In February, we posted the initial results on our web site: a searchable database describing 21 state programs that have delivered real emissions reductions.

Oregon, for example, requires all new power plants to limit or offset their carbon dioxide emissions, making it the first state in the nation to enact mandatory carbon controls. Texas requires that all its electricity providers generate about 3 percent of their power using renewable sources. New Hampshire plans to cut emissions and save $4 million a year through energy-saving retrofits on state-owned buildings. Here in Illinois, a new Clean Energy Community Foundation is helping local governments and community groups improve energy efficiency and promote renewable power. And last fall, Chicago became the first city in America to join a voluntary emissions trading system called the Chicago Climate Exchange. Finally, here's one of my favorite examples: In Pattonville, Missouri, high school students have teamed up with state officials to run their school's boilers using methane captured from a neighboring landfill. Perhaps if we could channel the energies of high school students everywhere we'd have this thing licked.

But most high school students, I'm afraid, are channeling their energies elsewhere. And, unfortunately, so are many governments. Ten years after the Earth Summit in Rio, where nations pledged themselves to the fight against global warming, they are just barely getting started. Governments have yet to deliver a clear, unequivocal message to the marketplace that climate change can no longer be ignored.

What kinds of policies would get the message across? Here in the United States, we need a firm mandate that puts us on the path to long-term emissions reduction. And we need flexible policies that give companies room to find the most cost-effective ways to fulfill that mandate. Internationally, assuming Kyoto does get off the ground, we must start looking well beyond its short-term goals. As with a domestic program, firm mandates that move us toward our goal of stabilizing concentrations of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere are key. This will take more than keeping those countries committed to Kyoto on a downward emissions path. It will take putting the United States firmly on that path. And it will take moving major emitting countries in the developing world on cleaner energy paths as well. In short, we will need to forge an effective global strategy that combines the force of governments with the force of the marketplace.

So why haven't we made more progress? Because, I believe, we have not yet brought to bear the fourth, and perhaps most critical, force. That is the force of people--the sheer force of public pressure. Like the marketplace, government will deliver only if it perceives a demand. The polling shows that most Americans believe that global warming is real and that more should be done to address it. But those sentiments have yet to translate into an effective call for action. People are concerned, but they're also confused. And many feel powerless in the face of such a monumental challenge.

Let me suggest a few ways in which we do have power if we choose to exercise it. First - and I'm speaking now, of course, to those of you who are so inclined - don't underestimate your power as a citizen to sway your elected leaders. Next time one of your Senators is touring the state, show up at a town hall meeting and ask what he's doing to make our cars and tucks more fuel efficient, or our electricity supply less carbon-intensive. Believe me, it makes a difference. Second, you have power as a consumer. Once you understand the fundamental link between climate change and our use of energy, you can send your own signals to the marketplace. Every time you replace a regular light bulb with a compact fluorescent, or choose a more efficient appliance or car, you express a demand for climate protection. Third, you have power as an investor - at least those among you with something to invest. The more companies are asked by investors about their greenhouse gas emissions, the quicker they will reduce them.

These may seem like small steps, but they can add up. We all bear responsibility here. And only when we accept our responsibility and act on it - as citizens, as consumers, as investors - will government and the marketplace respond. The science, I believe, paints a compelling picture: Future generations face grave risks. The technology to avert those risks is, I believe, within reach. The marketplace has the power to deliver it. But government will demand it only when we do - only when we bring our force to bear.

Thank you very much. 

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