Climate Change: Then and Now

Climate Change: Then and Now

Remarks by Eileen Claussen
President, Pew Center on Global Climate Change

Environmental Council of the States

AUGUST 11, 2003

Thank you very much. It is a pleasure to be here in Salt Lake City and among so many friends. And I thank ECOS for inviting me here today.

I understand that a lot of you will be visiting the Utah Olympic Park this evening for some bobsledding and a ski jump aerial show. And I was interested to see that those of you who are actually interested in doing some bobsledding on your own have to pay an additional fee. As if your copayments at the emergency room will not be enough à

Seriously, I think it is quite fitting, here at the site of the 2002 Winter Olympics, to discuss a topic that calls on all of us, both inside and outside of government, to exert and push ourselves and to test the limits of what we can achieve. That topic, of course, is global climate change. And today, I want to talk with you about what we have achieved looking six years back, and about the future work that must be done.

I know what you are thinking. You are probably thinking that I am here to talk about everything we are not doing. And, I will surely get to some of that, or else I would not be doing my job. I believe that the past six years have been a time of real and legitimate progress in how we think about the problem of climate change, and in what we are doing to address it. And I want to celebrate some of that with you today.

Think about it. In 1997, the debate on this issue was about whether to do anything. There were many, in the scientific, environmental and government community saying we had a very serious problem, and others, in industry, in the States, and in the Congress who either didn't believe that it was a problem or who believed that there was no rush to deal with it.

Fast forward to 2003, and you see how the debate has shifted. Now it is not about whether to do something but about what to do and when to do it. Even President Bush had to revisit his prior assumptions after he assigned a committee of the National Academy of Sciences to look into the matter--and they came back to him reporting that, and I quote "GHGs are accumulating in Earth's atmosphere as a result of human activities, causing surface air temperatures and subsurface ocean temperatures to rise." Temperatures are, in fact rising. The changes observed over the last several decades are likely mostly due to human activities. The report goes on to say that we can't exclude the possibility that natural variability has contributed as well--but the main point remains--the earth is warming, and humans must accept some responsibility for that warming.

Back in 1997, the nations of the world gathered in Kyoto, Japan, to negotiate the outlines of a treaty that would for the first time establish binding limits on worldwide emissions of greenhouse gases. At the time, the Kyoto Protocol was derided by some in the United States as a fantasy itself--impractical to implement and even unfair in that it did not enlist developing countries in this "global" effort.

And, while some of the criticisms of the Protocol were and remain well founded, we can fast forward to today and see that 111 countries have so far ratified this watershed agreement, and its entry into force awaits the action of only one nation, Russia. What's more, now that the focus has shifted from negotiating Kyoto to implementing it, we are seeing the beginnings of a serious discussion about what comes after the first budget period in Kyoto--and how to engage developing countries, as well as the United States, in the global effort to reduce emissions.

We also are seeing the countries that are part of Kyoto starting to get serious about achieving its goals. The European Union, for example, has adopted a carbon dioxide emission trading program. And Prime Minister Tony Blair has committed Great Britain to a 60 percent cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050--the first instance of a world leader taking an ambitious and long-term view on how to address this problem.

Back in 1997, the perception was that business was adamantly opposed to doing anything about climate change. And then things started to change. Lord John Browne, the CEO of British Petroleum (BP), made an announcement that his company accepted the science that global warming is a problem--and that it is caused in large part by the burning of fossil fuels. Browne went on to pledge that BP would voluntarily reduce its global greenhouse gas emissions by 10 percent below 1990 levels before 2010, and they have met that target already, eight years ahead of schedule. In the six years since making its pledge, BP has joined with 37 other companies as part of the Pew Center's Business Environmental Leadership Council, a group that is committed to achieving real progress on this issue. Twenty-three of these companies, BP included, now have specific targets for reducing their emissions, and several more will be announcing targets in the coming months.

These companies have moved from acknowledging the science about climate change to showing what can be done to create a climate-friendly future while still maintaining our economic competitiveness, to becoming advocates for strong government requirements to address this issue.

Back in 1997, the issue of global climate change was not much of a concern at the state level, where other environmental priorities held sway. But today, we know that a majority of states have programs that, while not necessarily directed at climate change, are achieving real reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

Back in 1997, if you mentioned the problem of global climate change on Capitol Hill, you were either laughed at or told to leave the premises. The only congressional action on this issue came in the form of requirements that the United States do nothing. Thus we had the Byrd-Hagel resolution, which passed unanimously in the Senate, laying out strong reservations about the Kyoto Protocol negotiations without offering any alternative. And we also had an array of other amendments and so-called "riders" to appropriation bills that sought to prohibit the State Department, the EPA and other agencies from doing anything whatsoever on the issue of climate change.

Fast forward to 2003, and you see that instead of Byrd-Hagel, we now have Byrd-Stevens, a measure establishing a White House office dedicated to formulating a national strategy to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations.

In 1998, Republican Senator John Chafee and Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman were blasted by climate skeptics for writing legislation that would give companies credit for early reductions of greenhouse gas emissions. Last year, we had Senators Hagel and Voinovich, offering credit for early reductions, and Senators John McCain and Joe Lieberman offering an economy wide cap and trade bill.

The McCain-Lieberman proposal brings together several features that would be critical to the success of a national climate change strategy.

The bill would establish ambitious and binding targets for reducing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Equally important, it would provide companies with the flexibility to reduce emissions as cost-effectively as possible-thanks to the creation of a rigorous nationwide system allowing emissions trading and providing some credit for carbon storage. Last but not least, the bill would recognize those reductions that are being made now by the companies that are taking the lead on this issue and provide additional flexibility for these early actors.

In another couple of years we will look back and realize that the McCain-Lieberman proposal was pretty moderate.

Of course, I am not a Pollyanna on this issue. I know - and you know - that there are still a small number of skeptical scientists, and there are still those that prefer to do nothing. And some of these people have loud megaphones, and they continue to argue that the science is uncertain, and that action to deal with climate change will ruin the economy. And I also know - and you know - that these individuals are working very hard to see that we do not have a legitimate national policy on this issue.

But I do not believe that they will prevail. I believe strongly that there are also many certainties in the science; that there are many actions that can be taken with no negative economic impact, and that, with careful planning and execution, and with continued technological development, we can address this problem and still have a growing global economy. Which is precisely what we need to do.

So what happens now? Well, the first thing that must happen is for the United States to get a better handle on how we will supply and use energy in the decades ahead. The electric power and transport sectors account for over 80 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. The extent to which we weigh the climate impacts of our energy choices will therefore be the key determining factor in whether we can and will achieve progress in reducing our emissions.

The current Capitol Hill debate on U.S. energy policy does not come close to the kind of hard-nosed assessment we need. In this year's House-floor debate over energy policy, congressmen were not even allowed to bring up climate change amendments, perhaps a sign that the House leadership was concerned about an amendment passing.

And the Senate ducked a robust debate on energy and climate policy by simply passing last year's Senate energy bill. Of course, that's not all bad - that Senate bill included the Byrd-Stevens provision, as well as a Brownback-Corzine provision establishing national reporting of greenhouse gas emissions. While the much-heralded vote on the McCain-Lieberman proposal was delayed, an agreement was reached that it will come up for a vote this fall.

In an effort to develop a clearer sense of the future energy picture for the United States, the Pew Center recently teamed up with Peter Schwartz and the Global Business Network to convene relevant experts from the business, academic and NGO sectors. Their charge was to envision a suite of future energy scenarios for the country and to describe the implications of these scenarios for U.S. policy on climate change, going out to 2035.

The group settled on three future energy scenarios:

  • The first was titled Awash in Oil and Gas. In this scenario, as you might suspect from the title, oil and gas remain cheap and abundant. Oil and gas production technology continues to improve, OPEC collapses, and a highly competitive global oil market emerges. Concerns about U.S. oil import dependence are rarely mentioned, so there is little incentive to improve energy efficiency, and carbon emissions rise rapidly. Seventy percent of the coal plants operating in 2000 are still operational in 2035.
  • The second scenario, Turbulent World, is one in which energy supply disruptions and threats to energy facilities lead to aggressive U.S. energy policy measures. The House of Saud falls, leading to oil price spikes and a federal focus on energy security, including tough vehicle efficiency standards of 50 miles per gallon by 2020, and a crash "moonshot" program to develop and commercialize hydrogen and fuel cell technologies. Threats to nuclear facilities and transmission failures lead the public and policy makers to prefer alternative energy systems. Because of its domestic abundance, coal is favored -- it continues its dominant role in electricity generation and becomes an increasingly important source of hydrogen.
  • The third scenario, Technology Triumphs, envisions a future in which a convergence of four forces -- state policies, technological breakthroughs, private investment, and consumer interest -- push and pull climate-friendly technologies into the marketplace. Significant advances in renewables, distributed generation, and efficiency -- especially combined heat and power, building-integrated photovoltaics, and fuel cells -- result from the convergence of these four forces. In this scenario, many states adopt greenhouse gas standards for vehicles, move forward with initiatives to control greenhouse gases from powerplants, and continue to implement renewable portfolio standards.

Using an economic model developed by Argonne National Laboratory, we were able to project how each of these scenarios would affect the United States' energy technology mix and annual CO2 emissions over the next 30 years. Since the key purpose of scenario planning is not to predict the future, but rather to facilitate strategic planning in the face of deep uncertainty, it is useful to identify commonalities among the scenarios.

For example, natural gas use and distributed electric generation increase in all three hypothetical futures, continuing current trends. But another commonality across all three scenarios is that even by 2035 we are still using a lot of the same technology we use today because of significant inertia in the energy sector.

National climate policy was deliberately excluded from each of these "base case" scenarios. The most striking finding of the analysis was that even when we modeled the most optimistic assumptions about the future cost and performance of energy technologies, emissions rise. In Technology Triumphs, emissions rise by a total of 15 percent over 2000 levels by 2035; by 20 percent in Turbulent World, and by 50 percent in Awash in Oil and Gas.

Each of the three scenarios we looked at envisions a future when the only national policy measures in place to protect the climate, are voluntary measures. And the fact that none of these scenarios--even the most optimistic--resulted in any reduction in our carbon emissions highlights the fundamental need for a mandatory carbon emissions policy to address climate change. To state it more clearly, no combination of voluntary programs and research and development incentives will put us on a path that sustains economic growth, enhances economic security, and allows the U.S. to participate appropriately and proportionally in protecting the global climate.

But back to right now, a voluntary effort is all we have. Here I am, near the close of my remarks, and I have yet to offer a critique of the climate policies of the current occupant of the White House. I cannot let him and his Administration off the hook, even if he is trying to enjoy a few weeks of vacation in the parched Texas plains, where I would think the appeal of doing something--anything--to arrest global warming would be great. And if you think I am being partisan, I will be happy to offer a critique of the Clinton Administration's all talk no action policy as well.

But seriously, rather than establishing an absolute target for emission reductions-as many of the companies I have talked about have done-the Bush administration's climate strategy sets a voluntary "greenhouse gas intensity" target for the nation. The idea is to reduce the ratio of greenhouse emissions to U.S. economic output, or GDP. And the funny thing about the White House target--an 18 percent reduction in greenhouse gas intensity by 2012--is that it would allow actual emissions to grow by 12 percent over the same period.

That's not what I call progress. Progress would mean adopting a real-world domestic energy policy. It would mean engaging the full spectrum of business and society in the effort to reduce the U.S. contribution to this problem. It would mean adopting a clear, mandatory goal for emission cuts, along with sensible, business-friendly rules that give companies the flexibility they need to help meet this goal as cost-effectively as possible.

That would be progress. And it would put the federal government in the company of many businesses throughout the world, as well as entire countries and U.S. states that already are moving forward to address this issue.

In closing, allow me pay special tribute to the work that many of you are doing at the state level. In 2002, we released a report entitled Greenhouse and Statehouse: The Evolving State Government Role in Climate Change, that surveyed the current level of state activity on this topic. And we found that a variety of measures that have proven controversial at the federal level, such as renewable portfolio standards and mandatory reporting of greenhouse gas emissions, have been implemented at the state level, often with little dissent.

Texas and 13 other states, for example, now require utilities to generate a specified share of their power from renewable sources. Five states have carbon sequestration programs in place. Three have established reporting programs for greenhouse gas emissions, and two of these are mandatory programs. In addition, two states have overall caps on their emissions, and one state, California, is working on direct controls on emissions from motor vehicles.

And then there is the story of the efforts of New York state, under Governor Pataki, to create a regional market in which power plants can buy and sell carbon dioxide credits. To date, nine of ten states contacted by the governor have indicated that they are interested in working together to reduce emissions across the region.

The work that all of you are doing in your states is vitally important, both in reducing emissions and in showing that progress is possible--that we can protect the climate while at the same time promoting economic growth. Over the last six years, we have seen that climate change is an issue where solutions bubble up from below. Businesses, states, and localities begin to take it seriously, and they begin to take action to reduce their contribution to the problem. And, in the process, they create a climate that is more hospitable and more conducive to broader changes at the national and international levels.

As you gather here in this Olympic city, I encourage all of you to keep the torch burning for climate solutions--both within your states and at the federal level. You may not get a medal for your performance, but future generations will surely reward you with their admiration and their thanks.

Thank you very much.