Climate Change: Beyond A Sideways Approach

CLIMATE CHANGE: BEYOND A SIDEWAYS APPROACH

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

DONALD BREN SCHOOL OF ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE
AND MANAGEMENT- UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, SANTA BARBARA

JANUARY 14, 2005


Thank you.  I am delighted to be here – and I have to say it was awfully nice of the weather to clear up for my arrival. 

Of course, I am not here to talk about the weather.  I am here to talk about the climate.  And the difference, as we all know, is that climate is what you expect.  Weather is what you get.  And California has certainly gotten more than it expected or deserved these last few weeks. 

I am sure some of you saw the movie, The Day After Tomorrow, and it is hard not to think about it given the recent weather you’ve been having.  This is the film that dramatized the effects of climate change by releasing tornadoes in downtown Los Angeles and flooding all of Manhattan.  People called it left-wing propaganda, but I remember watching the movie and wondering why only Blue states were getting hit.

And then of course we have the new Michael Crichton book that you have probably heard about.  The book, which is climbing the bestseller lists as we speak, tells a fictional tale of how climate change itself is a fiction created by overzealous environmentalists so that they can enact draconian regulations on big business. 

The book is called “State of Fear,” and my only fear is that people will take seriously its absolutely wrongheaded portrayal of the problem of climate change. 

I hope all of you will join me in reminding people that Mr. Crichton’s specialty is fiction – even if he does include all sorts of graphs and charts in the current book to make it seem like a scientific tract.  This is the man who wrote such fantastical books as Jurassic Park, and it seems to me he has been hanging out with too many dinosaurs – people who are mired in the past and who simply cannot and will not accept the broad scientific consensus that we have a significant problem on our hands, and that there are practical and economically sound ways to tackle it. 

The point is– whether we are talking about the movie or the book:  They are both fiction.

In contrast to the book’s sensationalistic tone and style, your school’s emphasis on rigorous, interdisciplinary approaches to environmental problem-solving is something that is desperately needed in today’s world.  With so many complex and urgent environmental issues on the agenda at the local, national and international levels, your work here is essential.  And I applaud your interest in these issues and your commitment to solutions.

At the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, we are committed to solutions, too.  And today, I would like to talk for a little bit about some of the potential solutions to the problem of climate change.  More specifically, I want to talk about the nexus of technology and public policy – in other words, what policies do we need in order to unleash the global technological revolution that is necessary to protect the climate? 

I understand there is a hit movie in theaters right now that was filmed in the wine country around here. The movie is called Sideways – and, unfortunately, this is a title that could just as easily apply to current U.S. policy on climate change.  But in saying we are moving sideways, even that may be giving us too much credit.  Perhaps Backwards would be more appropriate. 

Clearly, we can do better.  And today I want to talk about how.  More specifically, I want to talk about a plan that the Pew Center is developing for U.S. action on the climate issue.  We call it our Agenda – and it is something we have been working on in concert with business and government leaders and others to lay out a responsible and practical policy course for the United States for the years to come.

But, before I talk about that, I want to talk briefly about what is at stake here.  And I want to paint a clearer picture of the problem we are trying to solve, the problem we must solve—that is, of course, global climate change. 

Just last month, the World Meteorological Organization reported that 2004 was the fourth hottest year on record – and that the last four years were among the top five. Of even greater concern was the news we learned in November about the arctic region.  This is the canary in the coal mine of climate change, the place where researchers have always said that the effects of this global problem will hit early and hard. 

And in November, we learned just how hard.  The report of the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment showed that the Arctic region is indeed undergoing dramatic and alarming changes.  The reason: It’s warming much more rapidly than previously known, at nearly twice the rate of the rest of the globe. 

And it’s important to remember that this isn’t a random, out-of-left-field report.  It is the result of an unprecedented, four-year scientific study of the region conducted by an international team of 300 scientists.  And its conclusions should be a wake-up call for all nations. 

According to the report, at least half the summer sea ice in the Arctic is projected to melt by the end of this century, along with a significant portion of the Greenland Ice Sheet.  The Arctic region is projected to warm by an additional 7 to 13 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100.  These changes will have major global impacts, contributing to sea-level rise and even intensifying global warming as the disappearance of Arctic ice masses means that more incoming solar radiation will be absorbed at the Earth’s surface instead of being reflected back. 

This is scary stuff.  And, the fact is, we don’t have to travel to the Arctic to see that climate change is already being observed, even if the impacts in that region may be more pronounced and are occurring at a faster rate.  Also in November, the Pew Center released a report showing some of the closer-to-home effects of climate change – effects right here in the United States.  Right now. 

For example, we are seeing a long-term trend toward an earlier spring, with earlier flowering and reproduction of plant and bird species. Butterflies here on the U.S. west coast are moving north and to higher altitudes in search of tolerable climate conditions, with some populations disappearing altogether from the southern end of their ranges.   And this is only the beginning. In addition to their potential to lead to future declines in the diversity of U.S. wildlife, these ecological changes are indicators that global warming is already upon us and that adverse effects to other systems, and ultimately our economy, are just around the corner. 

With warming for the next century projected to be two to ten times greater than the last, we’re heading toward a fundamental and potentially irreversible disruption of our ecology and natural systems, both in this country and around the world.

So what can we do?  Well, at this point, we have to accept that some climate change already is built into the system – indeed, it is already happening, as I have said.  But we do have the power to limit the scope and severity of climate change.  And what we need to do is stabilize greenhouse gases in our atmosphere at a level that will keep this problem from becoming a global crisis. 

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, stabilization means shooting for the magic number of 550 parts per million – that would be roughly double the pre-industrial level of atmospheric greenhouse gases. 

But to get to that level, we need to reduce global CO2 emissions by 55 to 85 percent below what is currently projected under a “business-as-usual” scenario.  Fifty-five to 85 percent.  Making this challenge even more daunting, energy demand around the world is growing at a breakneck pace.  We need to act now to come up with ways to keep global economies growing while curbing the growth in greenhouse gas emissions around the world.  And make no mistake: The United States, which is responsible for one-fourth of global emissions, needs to take the lead.

Over the past year, as I have said, the Pew Center has been working to develop a comprehensive plan for U.S. action on this issue.  This Agenda is our attempt to develop and articulate a responsible course for addressing climate change. 

It is built on six years of Pew Center analysis and experience with leading businesses, and through dialogue with international leaders and experts.  And what we recommend in the Agenda is that the U.S. develop an Integrated National Climate Change Strategy.  That means a strategy that combines technology development with wide-ranging policies on issues from mitigation and science to adaptation. 

This last point, about adaptation, is a crucial part of what we have to do, because even if we push forward with an ambitious strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, we’re already locked in to future changes in the global climate.  There is no way around it.  And these future changes will pose many challenges to ecosystems and natural resources, as well as human health and national economies.  We need to plan now for these changes so that our society and others are able to adapt. 

But adapting, of course, is not enough.  We also need to take serious action to limit the extent of climate change by reducing our emissions.  More than anything else, that will require a global technology revolution – and we need policies to make that revolution happen. 

While it’s true that technology normally advances over time on its own, it does not always advance in the right direction.  Also, we plainly do not have time to wait.  The challenge before us requires a much more deliberate, enunciated effort to develop policies that will help push and pull climate-friendly technologies to the market.  We need a guiding vision on the order of putting a person on the moon or developing a cure for cancer.  And we need to look at the full range of policy approaches that will get us where we need to be – from market incentives and public-private partnerships to a range of R&D efforts focusing on everything from basic research to deployment.

Perhaps the best way to look at the technology and policy challenge we face is on a sector-by-sector basis.  From manufacturing and electricity to buildings, agriculture, forestry and transportation, all sectors of the economy have important parts to play in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  Let me talk briefly about just two: transportation and electricity. 

The transportation sector is responsible for more than a third of our greenhouse gas emissions, and a quarter of U.S. energy consumption. To reduce these emissions, the Pew Center's Agenda identifies a range of specific policies-all aimed at speeding the development and deployment of new technologies.  And what we need to do is focus on both short-term technologies such as hybrid gas-electric vehicles, as well as longer-term technologies such as hydrogen.  
 
Looking first at the short term, we can do a lot more on the issue of hybrids.  This is, in fact, a classic case of how smart policy can make a difference.  Yes, hybrid vehicles are selling.  But, despite their popularity, there is no way they will represent more than a small fraction of U.S. vehicle sales without government stepping in and creating a bigger market.  What can government do?  Well, we can do a lot more to step up consumer incentives for buying these low greenhouse gas emitting vehicles - and it is not just hybrids I am talking about but clean-diesel vehicles as well. 
 
We can also remove incentives in the law for purchasing inefficient vehicles such as SUVs - it is frankly hard to believe these incentives exist, given the energy and climate challenges we face.  And, last but not least, government can and should take steps to boost public-sector procurement of climate-friendly vehicles.  The goal is to create and expand the market - and government can help do that with its own purchases. 
 
Among the longer-term transportation technologies we need to be looking at are hydrogen, biofuels, and all-electric cars and trucks.  But every one of these technologies faces substantial barriers that the private sector is unlikely  to be able to resolve on its own.  We need to ramp up funding for research, design and deployment.  Just as important, we need demonstration programs.  Everybody talks about a hydrogen economy, but you need a hydrogen infrastructure to make it work.  And the government needs to work with industry to come up with demonstrations that will show what's feasible and practical - and how to do it right.  For example, it is absolutely essential that we find environmentally friendly ways of producing hydrogen - because if we merely use fossil fuels to do it, the climate problem does not improve; it actually gets worse. 
 
I have talked a lot about cars, but we need to look at other forms of transportation, too.   Air, rail, marine transportation, road freight - all of these are a part of the problem, and all of them must be a part of the solution.  In the Pew Center Agenda, we talk about the need for government to work with the International Civil Aviation Organization to adopt policies aimed at boosting the fuel efficiency of aircraft.  The bottom line is that there are countless ways to reduce emissions from this vital and growing sector.  Our challenge is to adopt policies that will ensure that those reductions happen sooner rather than later - when the damage may already be done.

People in California know what needs to happen.  Your state is on the verge of establishing tough but achievable standards for greenhouse gas emissions from cars.  You would be the first state to do this – and, if it happens, you’ll be charting a productive path forward for the rest of the country.  Because the fact is we need national standards like those proposed for California.  And, in the Pew Center Agenda, we recommend converting the United States' current fuel economy standards to a set of tradable standards based on greenhouse gas emissions.  If you are looking to protect the climate, focusing on emissions is the way to go.

Another sector where we can and must achieve significant progress is electricity, which is responsible for almost 40 percent of U.S. emissions.  And here I want to start by talking about coal.  In 2003, coal provided 51 percent of U.S. electricity.  Worldwide, it is the most abundant and widely distributed fossil fuel.  Given current rates of production and use, we have 200 years of reserve supply.  Whether you like it or not, coal is going to remain a major part of the energy mix for decades to come. 

And so our challenge is twofold: we need to come up with better, cleaner ways to burn coal; and we also need to do everything in our power to figure out how to capture and store the carbon that is produced when we do burn it.  There are technologies being developed that hold promise on both of these counts.  But, once again, these technologies will go nowhere fast if we don’t light a fire under them, so to speak, with government R&D and other policies.  We need tests to find out the practicality of geologic storage of carbon.  We need demonstrations so we can understand the ins and outs of CO2 injection underground.  We also need to build demonstration plants so we can learn more about coal gasification, which holds the promise of allowing us to burn coal with dramatically reduced carbon emissions.  

All of these are smart and necessary investments – not just for climate reasons but also because they can place the United States in a leadership position around the world so we can then export these technologies to other countries with significant coal resources, such as India and China. 

So that’s the story with coal.  But what about other energy technologies?  What about combined heat and power?  This is when you capture and use the waste heat generated along with electricity.  Want to know the overall efficiency of the U.S. electricity system – what we put in vs. what we get out? It’s 30 to 33 percent of input energy; that level has remained constant since the 1970s.  This is inexcusable when you consider that combined heat and power systems can boost efficiency to upwards of 80 percent.  Right now, these systems account for just 8 percent of U.S. energy supply, compared to 40 percent in Europe.  What policy steps can we take to promote combined heat and power?  Well, we can start by regulating utilities based on total energy output.  A lot of these are just common-sense solutions. 

Another promising energy technology is distributed generation, or DG.  This is when you  generate electricity close to the point of use. With distributed generation, you can reduce  CO2 emissions in a number of ways.  In fact, a major benefit of this technology is that you avoid so-called transmission and distribution losses; when electricity is moved over long distances, 7 to 8 percent of it is lost along the way.   With distributed generation, you can also use waste heat for combined heat and power in ways that you cannot in a large, centralized power station. So it can be more efficient in that way too.  But we need policies to make distributed generation more feasible -- for example, by allowing people to sell excess power back to the grid at a fair price.

Now, what about renewables?  If you are talking about climate-friendly sources of energy, you have to talk about renewables – wind, solar, hydropower, geothermal and more.  In the past, these technologies have cost significantly more than fossil fuels for the same energy output.  But over time we have adopted policies at the national, state and local levels that promote renewables – tax breaks, consumer incentives, portfolio standards that require utilities to generate a set share of their power from these sources.  California’s aggressive deployment policies in the 1980s helped bring the cost of wind power down to where it is today – close to the cost of fossil fuel generation in some markets.  Yet, the lack of policy leadership in the U.S. meant that we lost our leadership position in the wind field to Europe. 

So it is policy that has made these technologies more competitive, but policy needs to do more.  We need to do things like extending the wind production tax credit, creating renewable portfolio standards at the state, regional and/or national level, and investing more in research and development.  Given the energy security challenges we face in this country, not to mention the climate challenges, developing and deploying renewables should be at the top of our national agenda. 

Burning coal in clean ways.  Safely storing carbon.  Investing in combined heat and power and distributed generation.  And making renewables an integral part of our national energy mix.  These are critical energy challenges for the future – and they are not the only ones.  At the Pew Center, we have always been careful to remain “technologically neutral” – we will throw out the welcome mat for any and all technologies that can be part of the climate solution.  And, in our Agenda, we address the need for policies to encourage the development and deployment of everything from advanced nuclear power to new energy-efficiency technologies.  This problem is too big for any one solution. 

We need to look at an array of technologies, and at an array of policies as well.  We need strong R&D policies, government standards and codes, public infrastructure investments, public education programs, public-private partnerships and more.  And we also need to look at broader, technology-neutral policies as well – policies that can encourage action across all sectors of the economy.  Here I am talking specifically about the policy known as “cap and trade.” 

Cap-and-trade is the approach taken in the Climate Stewardship Act introduced last year by Senators Joseph Lieberman and John McCain.  Their bill attracted the support of 43 U.S. senators and prompted the first serious debate in Congress about exactly what we need to be doing to respond to the problem of climate change.

The reason cap-and-trade works is that it enables companies to reduce emissions as cheaply as possible.  We all know the example of how trading has worked to achieve cost-effective reductions in emissions of the pollutants that cause acid rain.  In fact, it was because of the United States’ successful use of trading to reduce sulfur emissions that our country insisted that trading be a central element of the Kyoto Protocol.  And now, inspired by Kyoto, the European Union is on the verge of launching the broadest emissions trading system ever established.

What’s more, right here in the United States, nine Northeastern governors, led by New York Governor George Pataki, are developing a multi-state regional “cap-and-trade” initiative aimed at reducing carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.  This effort is proceeding well, and we expect them to complete their work by this spring, with agreement on a model rule.

Now, it will probably be some time before we establish a national, economy-wide cap-and-trade system in the United States—the political support for it is not there.  But what might be possible is a series of interlinked trading systems – the east coast with Europe and perhaps with Canada and the west coast as well. Such a “bottom-up” system could be robust enough both to achieve some environmental benefit and to keep costs down.  And it would be a valuable learning experience for both sides on this issue, hopefully one that would show that taking action to protect the climate is both practical and affordable.

Of course, cap-and-trade is not the only broad policy that we need to think about.  We also need a climate-conscious energy policy for the United States.  In Great Britain, the government has developed an energy blueprint for the next 50 years that makes climate change a key driver of that country’s energy policy, along with price and security of supply.  The United States would be wise to follow suit. 

I have tried in these remarks to talk about what we need to do here at home in order to approach the climate issue in a serious way.  We need a robust, climate-friendly energy policy.  Incentives and requirements for clean technologies.  A cap-and-trade program to reduce emissions at the lowest cost.  But it is important to remember that we need to engage on this issue at the international level too.  Climate change is a global problem.  Even if we were to get dead serious about reducing our emissions tomorrow, we won’t get where we need to be unless all countries become a part of the solution.

In December, as many of you know, delegates from the United States joined representatives of other nations at a climate meeting in Buenos Aires.  The ostensible purpose of the meeting was to tie up any loose ends that remained before the Kyoto Protocol goes into force in February.  The Protocol, of course, is the international agreement that commits all of its signatory countries to specific targets for reducing their greenhouse gas emissions before 2012.  The Buenos Aires meeting also, it was assumed, would begin to lay the groundwork for the next steps in the international climate effort – in other words, what happens after 2012?

The only problem with the latter assumption is that the United States, which is not even a party to the Protocol, was opposed to any discussion of the future.  In a truly Orwellian quote, the lead U.S. negotiator at the meeting was heard to say, “We need to absorb and analyze lessons learned before committing to new actions.”  End quote.  New actions?  I didn’t know that we had committed to any old actions.  And it is hard to learn any lessons when you’re doing next to nothing. 

We might as well have had Michael Crichton as the head of our negotiating team.  At least he would have made it more interesting. 

In any case, the events in Buenos Aires underscore how far the U.S. has strayed since 1992, when President George H.W. Bush signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.  This is the treaty where the nations of the world acknowledged that climate change was a problem and pledged to act – voluntarily, I might add – to reduce their emissions.  Even during the Clinton administration, despite signing the Kyoto Protocol, we clearly were not willing to own up to our global responsibility on this issue.

Climate change requires that we act at both the international and the national levels, and my goal today has been to give you some ideas and examples of the kinds of things we need to do.  Now, at this point I could wrap up by remarks by comparing what we need to do with what is actually happening.  And, I would start by talking about the relatively low level of investment in this issue on the part of the federal government.  I would then have to mention the Administration’s goal of growing our emissions.  And I would come back again to our reluctance to enter the debate on how we might move forward on this issue globally.  But I don’t want to leave you depressed, particularly given the fact that you have had such frightening weather these last few weeks. 

Instead, I will leave you with a look on the bright side of this issue.  Because, despite everything else, we have seen a few signs of progress in the past year.  One of these, of course, is the fact that the Kyoto Protocol is ready to enter into force in February – no matter what you want to say about it, this is an historic achievement.  And, in a related development that I already mentioned, we have seen the launch of the EU trading system for carbon dioxide – it is another historic achievement and, hopefully, the first of many such trading systems around the world. 

Next, I want to pay tribute to British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who has spent a good part of the past year touting climate change as one of two key issues he intends to work on as president of both the EU and G-8 group of industrialized nations. 

Yet another thing to celebrate is the work of many U.S. states to get a handle on this issue, even despite the lack of action in Washington.  I mentioned the work of the Northeastern governors on cap-and-trade.  And I also talked about what’s happening here in California with regard to motor vehicle emissions.  And there are many more stories from the states about people stepping up to their responsibility to act.  U.S. states are a large source of greenhouse gas emissions – California’s exceed those of Brazil.  And, while national policies are essential, we also need the states to do their part.  

Last but not least, I want to celebrate what is happening in many corners of the business community to address this problem.  Many of the companies we work with at the Pew Center are adopting voluntary targets for reducing their greenhouse gas emissions.  And, not only that, they are taking action to meet their targets by investing in new technologies, increasing efficiency, and developing energy-saving products, clean fuels, biomass energy, and more.

In closing, let me say that the forecast for the future needn’t be gloomy.  A lot is happening to address the climate change problem.  But we need to do a lot more.  And I encourage all of you to do what’s needed to make sure your state remains a leader in addressing this issue in the years ahead.  We need to show that solutions are within our grasp, that smart, forward-thinking policies can drive the development and deployment of new, low-carbon technologies, and that progress is possible. 

Climate change is the most important global environmental challenge we will face in the years ahead.  Don’t let anyone tell you it’s fiction.  You know better.  And it is going to be people like you who come up with the solutions we need. 

Thank you very much.