Looking Beyond Kyoto: A U.S. Perspective

“Looking Beyond Kyoto: A U.S. Perspective”

 


Remarks of Elliot Diringer, Pew Center on Global Climate Change
at the Green Week 2004 Conference of the European Commission

Brussels, 2 June 2004

I’d like to begin by offering my congratulations to Commissioner Wallström and to her esteemed colleagues at the Commission for two very welcome and very significant accomplishments. 

First, I would like to congratulate you on the establishment of the EU emissions trading scheme.  It was not so long ago that the very idea of emissions trading was viewed quite skeptically here in Brussels.  Today Europe has not only embraced this alien notion from across the Atlantic, but is leading the world in its practice.

Second, I’d like to offer my congratulations, and my thanks, for the vigorous efforts that led to the recent reaffirmation of Russia’s intent to ratify the Kyoto Protocol.  I don’t imagine the EU has received any official message of thanks or congratulations from my side of the Atlantic.  But as one representing an organization seeking to advance the effort against climate change, I believe President Putin’s declaration is indeed welcome news, and for several reasons. 

One reason is that the Protocol’s entry into force will help ensure that Europe and the other ratifying countries deliver on the commitments made in Kyoto.  And in so doing, they will demonstrate to those who are not yet acting that this is a challenge that can be met.

Second, even if Washington is right now distracted by other concerns, Kyoto’s entry into force will send a strong message to the United States.  It will remind us of the urgent need for action against climate change, and of the importance of acting multilaterally.

Finally, Kyoto’s entry into force will set in motion the diplomatic machinery that could advance us to the next stage in the international effort against climate change.  For we all know that while Kyoto is a start, it is hardly the final answer to global warming.  And while I have just congratulated the EU for pushing ahead with the protocol, it is critical, I believe, that we now start looking beyond Kyoto. 

If the protocol does indeed enter into force, negotiations could begin as early next year toward a new round of commitments.  We should use this opportunity to work toward a new approach – one both broader and deeper, one with the hope of engaging all the world’s major emitters in a long-term effort that fairly and effectively mobilizes the technology and resources we need to protect our global climate.

In a moment I’d like to share some preliminary thinking from the Pew Center on the possible path beyond 2012.  But because no path forward can in the long run succeed without the United States, let me first offer a brief assessment of the situation back home.

Most of you I am sure heard about the big climate change news in the States last week.  Indeed, it was the most widely heard pronouncement on this issue ever in the United States.  I am referring of course to the release of the new movie called “The Day After Tomorrow.”  I have not yet seen it but my son has given me his review.  And it sounds to me as if one could leave the theatre believing either that climate change is pure science fiction – or that it’s real, and that at any moment it could thrust New York City into an instant ice age. 

But while the movie itself might do little to educate people on the real causes and consequences of climate change, or its potential cures, it has drawn enormous media attention to those very issues.  The media are so interested, I think, not simply because Hollywood has produced a new disaster movie, but because there is at long last a genuine debate on climate change underway in the United States.  And this debate, I am pleased to say, is beginning to produce some genuine action.

Before the “Day After Tomorrow,” the event that may have done the most to raise public awareness of climate change in the United States was, oddly enough, President Bush’s rejection of the Kyoto Protocol.  In the three years since, this issue has received growing attention in the media, in boardrooms, in the offices of state governors, and in the U.S. Congress.

The most promising developments have been at the state level.    Several of our largest states, led both by Republican and by Democratic governors, are preparing to cap emissions from power plants, cars and SUVs.  The nine Northeast states – including New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts – are working toward creating a regional greenhouse gas market.  And California, which traditionally has led the country in demanding cleaner cars, has enacted legislation to limit carbon dioxide from cars and SUVs.  The law is being challenged in the courts by the carmakers, and Governor Schwarzenegger has promised to defend it.  If the new law survives, other states are expected to follow California’s lead.  

These state efforts are important and encouraging, but they must be a prelude only to stronger action at the national level.  Here the most promising development is the introduction of legislation to establish a nationwide greenhouse gas cap-and-trade system.  This legislation, introduced by Senators John McCain and Joe Lieberman, a Republican and a Democrat, is the first proposal ever put before Congress for a mandatory cap on U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.  Recently it won 43 votes in the Senate, several votes short of a majority but a very respectable showing for a first vote.  Senators McCain and Lieberman promise to keep bringing the legislation back, and a companion bill has now been introduced in the House of Representatives.

I must be frank and say that it will be some time still, perhaps years, before such legislation is enacted, regardless of the outcome of our November election.  And that is important to bear in mind as we think about steps beyond 2012.  Because the United States will be in a position to join other countries in a binding international agreement, I believe, only once we have achieved a broad national consensus on just how we are prepared to address this issue at home.

Still, we must begin now to envision such an agreement – one that can work not only for the United States, Europe, and the other industrialized nations, but for developing countries as well.  Last year, the Pew Center organized a series of papers and international workshops on the key challenges in forging a workable approach that can take us beyond Kyoto.  We are not yet at the point of suggesting specific approaches or architectures.  But some important themes emerged from our work last year, and I’d very briefly like to share some of those with you today.

First, a point that emerged over and over again: The basic challenge we face is building political will.  In material terms, of course, the challenge is technological – nothing less, actually, than a global technological revolution.  This revolution must be carried out in the marketplace, because only markets can mobilize the resources and ingenuity that are needed.  But the markets won’t do this on their own.  The direction – the imperative – must come from government.  And that requires political will. 

When and how it materializes depends on a host of factors: public awareness, media attention, elections, even the weather.  But it depends as well on our resourcefulness in fashioning common approaches.  We must ask ourselves: What types of international arrangements can best capture and motivate political will to achieve the broadest possible participation in an effective, long-term effort? 

A second, and related, point is that there is no getting around national interest.  We all know that climate change is a common challenge that must be met through collective action.  But the political reality is that nations will engage in collective action only if they perceive it to be in their national interest.  All parties must try to better understand their respective domestic concerns, and to build a collective framework that assists each in generating greater political will. 

This is, in part, a matter of recognizing that climate is not simply an environmental issue but fundamentally one of economics and development.  And it is in part a matter of reocgnizing that a multilateral approach cannot succeed by attempting solely to remold countries’ behavior from the top down.  It must at the same time recognize and reflect national circumstances from the bottom up.  

This leads to a third point:  We need a more flexible architecture, one that can accommodate a broader range of national strategies.  We must construct a more “variable geometry,” as one of our papers puts it.  The Kyoto Protocol provides a degree of flexibility.  But it employs only one form of mitigation commitment: fixed targets and timetables.  Other approaches are needed.  We need different strategies for developed and for developing countries, and possibly within those groupings as well. 

A fourth point is that, in considering alternative approaches, we should think about targeting action, not only emissions.  The climate effort so far has sought to drive mitigation through measures mandating specific environmental outcomes.  An alternative or complementary approach might instead frame commitments in terms of the kinds of actions that are required.  For instance, having a long-term greenhouse gas concentration target – say 550 parts per million – would be extraordinarily helpful.  But negotiating one would likely be fruitless, and potentially even counterproductive.   Why not instead agree on the types of actions needed to move economies toward the goal of climate stabilization.  For instance: achieving zero net emissions from the power sector, or replacing gasoline with hydrogen, by 2050. 

My fifth and final point is that we must consider the right forum, and the right quorum, for future international efforts.  There are strong rationales for a global approach – from an environmental perspective, from an economic perspective, and from an equity perspective.  But the reality at the moment is one of fragmentation.  A variable geometry could mean for now parallel regimes undertaken within any number of regional or multilateral forums.  It is also possible to envision a different grouping within the existing global framework, something perhaps transcending the present division between developed and developing countries.  If we count the EU as one party – just 12 parties account for nearly 80 percent of global CO2 emissions.  In the long run, some type of global approach is not only preferred but necessary.  The question is whether at this stage something less than fully global might better deliver the political will that is needed.

I offer these thoughts not as hard principles or prescriptions, but rather as broad points worth considering as we chart a course forward, a course that will take us beyond 2012, and beyond Kyoto.  That there is today an international effort against climate change is thanks in large measure to the political will shown here in Brussels, and across Europe.  As we across the Atlantic begin coming to terms with the climate issue, we must all think anew about the best ways to move the international effort forward.  We will need to be open, and we will need to be creative, if we are to forge a common approach equal to the challenge.

Thank you.