Climate change is a global challenge and requires a global solution. Through analysis and dialogue, the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions is working with governments and stakeholders to identify practical and effective options for the post-2012 international climate framework. Read more


Forum on International Climate Action

Promoted in Energy Efficiency section: 
During a week when the United Nations and the Bush Administration held major meetings on climate change, the Pew Center convened an international climate action forum on Capitol Hill. Representatives of China, the European Union, Germany, India, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, Portugal, and South Africa participated in the event.

A Forum on International Climate Action

Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing Room
Washington, D.C.

On September 26, 2007, the Pew Center on Global Climate Change convened a forum on international climate action on Capitol Hill. Representatives of China, the European Union, Germany, India, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, Portugal, and South Africa participated in the event.

Corresponding presentation materials are accessible from the forum's agenda below.

The forum can be viewed via two webcasts:

Presentations: National/Regional Climate Programs

  • Dr. Ryutaro Yatsu, Councilor for Global Environment, Ministry of the Environment
  • Artur Runge-Metzger, Head of Climate Change and Energy Unit, DG-Environment
    European Commission
  • Gao Guangsheng, Director General, Office of National Climate Change Coordination Committee, National Development and Reform Commission

 Roundtable Discussion: Post-2012 Issues and Options

  • Rachmat Witoelar, Minister for the Environment
  • Humberto Rosa, Secretary of State for Environment
    Portugal (on behalf of the Presidency of the European Union)
  • Fernando Tudela, Under Secretary for Planning and Environment Policy
    Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources
  • Dr. Urban Rid, Director General for Climate Protection and International Cooperation, Federal Ministry for Environment
  • Su Wei, Deputy Director General, Department of Treaty and Law, Ministry of Foreign Affairs
  • Alfred Wills, Deputy Director-General, International Cooperation, Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism
    South Africa
  • Dr. Prodipto Ghosh, Member of the Prime Minister's Council on Climate Change

Climate Policy Should Focus on Reducing Emissions

Climate Policy Should Focus on Reducing Emissions

By Vicki Arroyo

Originally published in the September/October 2007 issue of The Environmental Forum

I wish there were an easy solution to climate change — one that didn’t require fundamental and difficult changes in our energy system, law, or behavior. I also wish I could lose weight without diet or exercise. But depending on “geoengineering” to solve global warming is a dangerous delusion. Like a fad diet or liposuction, it may not provide sustainable benefits and will undoubtedly be accompanied by unforeseen adverse consequences (think fen-phen).

Granted, tackling climate change requires a Herculean effort: emissions are on the rise, while the newest science reveals impacts occurring faster than we envisioned. We are running out of time. To avoid the most serious consequences of warming — loss of species, irreversible breakdown of ice sheets, and the human toll from more intense heat waves and hurricanes — scientists say we need to stabilize atmospheric greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide at less than a doubling of preindustrial levels (in the range of 450–550 ppm of CO2). If we’re very lucky, that might hold us to a 3.6ºF (2ºC) global average temperature rise.

It’s tempting to dismiss projected impacts as hyperbole or to believe that we can engineer a “fix,” the way the Apollo 13 crew saved themselves by using duct tape to fashion a make-shift filter in their struggle against rising CO2 levels on board their malfunctioning space capsule. I applaud those working on grand fixes and wish them every success. But I place more stock in solutions that exist now. A Princeton University study shows that choosing just seven current technologies from a number of options, including renewables, energy efficiency, and nuclear power, can curb emissions growth sufficiently now, while buying time for technological breakthroughs. Each of these so-called “wedges” can cut emissions by 1 gigaton per year within 50 years.

But these technologies won’t be deployed on the necessary scale without the right policies. One key policy is emissions trading, which has worked for traditional air pollutants such as sulfur dioxide and is even better suited to curbing greenhouse gases. The European Union has already developed the world’s largest carbon market. Some U.S. states are following suit, and a number of cap-and-trade proposals are pending in Congress. By combining cap-and-trade with efficiency standards for cars and appliances, advanced technology research, and development of geological storage, we can reach our emissions reductions goals.

So the essential first step is simple: stimulate existing technologies through demonstrated, cost-effective policies. This takes political will, and there is no time to lose. Greenhouse gases differ from traditional air pollutants, which can be eliminated with more than 99 percent efficiency at the stack. Greenhouse gases remain in the atmosphere — and our oceans — for hundreds of years. Even if geoengineering manages to cool a warming planet, it won’t solve other problems, such as ocean acidification from conversion of CO2 to carbonic acid. And the risks of such “fixes” as seeding the oceans with iron and adding cooling particles to the atmosphere are too big to ignore.

Yes, we should research all options. But right now our focus should be on putting policies in place to reduce our emissions and on preparing to cope with a changing world.

(Ms. Arroyo offers a view on the direction for climate policy that differs from one advocated by Alan Carlin, a senior economist at the EPA. Carlin advocates a “geoengineering” approach called solar radiation management as an effective and economical climate policy. While such long-shot approaches may be necessary to consider in the future, Arroyo argues that the current focus should be on greenhouse gas mitigation.)
by Vicki Arroyo, Director of Policy Analysis--Appeared in The Environmental Forum, September/October 2007
Vicki Arroyo

Press Briefing: International Climate Change Summits

Promoted in Energy Efficiency section: 

In preparation for major climate change meetings in Washington and New York later this month, the Pew Center held a briefing on international climate issues at the National Press Club on September 19, 2007. The briefing provided in-depth information about key international climate negotiations over the past 15 years, the upcoming meetings, and the UN climate negotiations later this year in Bali.  Main topics of discussion included emission trends among the major greenhouse gas-emitting countries, history and status of the international climate change effort, agendas and expectations for the summits in Washington and New York, and options for a future global climate agreement.  Pew Center experts Eileen Claussen, Elliot Diringer, and Joanna Lewis spoke at the briefing, and their presentation materials can be accessed from the link below: Background Briefing: International Climate Issues (September 19, 2007)

Additional Resources:

World Economic Forum: New Champions Meeting in Dalian, China

Promoted in Energy Efficiency section: 

WEF Inaugural Annual Meeting of the New Champions
September 6-8, 2007

The Pew Center participated in this inaugural event that brought together international leaders in business and government to discuss climate change. View the webcast of Pew Center President Eileen Claussen at the meeting. The World Economic Forum provides more information about the meeting.

U.S. Exceptionalism and Climate Change (Part II)

July 20, 2007

By Eileen Claussen, President and Elliot Diringer

This article originally appeared in The Globalist


American exceptionalism is becoming an increasingly potent force in U.S. environmental policymaking. As Eileen Claussen and Elliot Diringer argue, the United States must encourage and tap those elements of U.S. exceptionalism favoring — and overcome those impeding — stronger action and engagement in the environmental arena.

By many measures, the United States has long been at the forefront of environmental protection, both domestically and internationally.



U.S. consumerism

One particularly touchy dimension of U.S. exceptionalism on climate change is America’s unabashed devotion to consumerism.

What is regarded by many Americans as virtually a sacred right is often seen elsewhere, in poor and wealthy countries alike, as a selfish sense of entitlement.

It is not necessary to delve into the roots of American consumerism to see its powerful sway, most obviously in the case of cars and oil. Existing technology could significantly improve auto-fuel economy with little or no sacrifice in safety, performance or cost.

But the auto industry, having exploited the “light truck” loophole in federal fuel economy standards to introduce an ever-expanding line of sport utility vehicles (SUVs), has successfully fended off tighter standards in part with an argument that they would impinge on consumer choice.


Saving energy

Since the late 1980s, the average fuel economy of the American fleet has been essentially flat. Meanwhile, other countries, including China, have established fuel economy standards, either by law or voluntary agreement, substantially stronger than the United States'.

Since U.S. President Jimmy Carter exposed himself to ridicule by encouraging Americans to don sweaters and lower their thermostats, politicians have been loathe to suggest that saving energy (whether to reduce emissions or reliance on foreign oil) will entail sacrifice of any sort.


Gas taxes

Gas taxes are many times higher in Europe, yet in the United States, as the Clinton Administration discovered when it proposed a modest BTU tax, the notion of raising gas taxes is a political non-starter.

Indeed, in the spring of 2006, as gas prices reached record highs, there were bipartisan calls in the U.S. Congress to suspend the federal gas tax. “One of the unwritten stanzas of the American creed,” noted one commentator, “is that a tank of gas, whenever an American needs one, is a birthright.”

For many in other countries, confronting climate change necessarily entails an examination of lifestyle. In the United States, leaders typically invoke the notion of lifestyle only in its celebration or defense.


"The American way of life"

Asked whether President George Bush believed that changing lifestyles was an answer to America’s energy woes, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer was unequivocal in his response.

“That’s a big no,” he said. “The president believes…it should be the goal of policymakers to protect the American way of life. The American way of life is a blessed one.”



Policy innovator

In a very real sense, the prospects for an effective global response to climate change hinge on the willingness of the United States to engage and lead internationally.

The exceptional mix of strengths, interests and predilections we bring to this issue has made us a fickle partner in the global effort. We need to become a full partner, now and for the long term, if we are to protect our national interests and fulfill our global responsibilities.

To assume that role, we must find ways to encourage and tap those elements of U.S. exceptionalism favoring — and overcome those impeding — stronger action and engagement.


New technology

New technology is, in practical terms, the solution — and technological prowess is perhaps our greatest untapped strength.

But developing the climate-friendly technologies we need and then ensuring they are actually deployed requires more than subsidies and R&D partnerships.


New investments

The necessary investments will be made and technologies mobilized only if markets are given clear, consistent signals. These must come from government through enforceable goals and the types of market-based policies we have pioneered.

Unleashing technology will also help overcome some of the sources of resistance.

While many Americans might adopt modest changes in lifestyle to help fight global warming, our consumerism is deeply rooted. The real hope must be that alternative technologies can make the American lifestyle more compatible with climate protection.


Economic advantages

New technology also creates economic advantage. Smarter companies are positioning themselves now for an edge in the global clean-energy market.

Once the United States commits to the path, there is every reason to believe American firms will find significant opportunities. Understanding this can help turn the competitiveness argument around.


U.S. global responsibilities

Yes, some industries and workers may be disadvantaged and their needs must be met, but odds are that many more will benefit from the conversion to a clean-energy economy.

And once we can see beyond the competitiveness question, we can hopefully have a more thorough and honest debate about the broader question of fairness and America’s global responsibilities.

Depending on the issue and the time, the competing strains of U.S. exceptionalism can lead down alternate paths. On issues defined largely by competing national interests, it may be debatable whether the unilateral or multilateral course is the better option.


Multilateral solution

But with climate change, the challenge is to align multiple national interests with the global interest in a stable climate.

The only lasting solution is a multilateral one. As never before, we need the brand of exceptionalism that expresses itself in U.S. engagement and leadership.


Editor's Note: This excerpt is adapted from "Power and Superpower: Global Leadership and Exceptionalism in the 21st Century," copyright 2007 The Century Foundation Press. Reprinted with permission of the publisher.


Read Part I here.

by Eileen Claussen, President and Elliot Diringer, Director of International Strategies--Appeared in The Globalist, July 20, 2007
Eileen Claussen
Elliot Diringer

U.S. Exceptionalism and Climate Change (Part I)

July 19, 2007

By Eileen Claussen, President and Elliot Diringer

This article originally appeared in The Globalist


U.S. policymaking has long been influenced by a sense of exceptionalism, or divinely blessed uniqueness. As Eileen Claussen and Elliot Diringer argue, the United States is indeed exceptional when it comes to climate change — as it is the nation with the greatest responsibility, and the greatest capacity, to lead the global response to the crisis.


By exceptionalism, we mean the unique attributes that shape and empower the U.S. international role, in this case, with respect to global climate change.

We do not mean to imply that this amalgam of interest, attitude and experience in any way confers an innate superiority. Rather, as with other international issues, there are competing strains of American exceptionalism — some tending toward multilateralism, others toward unilateralism.


Sources of U.S. exceptionalism

Some of the sources of U.S. exceptionalism on climate change are the same that condition American conduct across the full range of international relations.

First and foremost, perhaps, is a deep-seated ambivalence and at times antipathy toward international entanglements, compounded in this case by an innate distrust in some quarters of any manner of environmental cause.

A second, more structural source is a system of government that divides treaty-making powers between the executive and legislative branches, allowing divisions and disconnects — at times bordering on the dysfunctional.


A global powerhouse

Beyond such perennial influences are a number of other peculiarly American attributes shaping U.S. attitudes and action on climate change. We explore here some of the more prominent.

It is perhaps all too obvious, but the United States is exceptional in the climate arena simply by virtue of its sheer influence on the global stage. It is the world’s largest economy and not coincidentally, the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases — a position it has occupied for as long as records have been kept.


Environmental damage

On an annual basis, the United States accounts for roughly 25% of global emissions. Much is made of rising emissions from developing countries and the likelihood that in a decade or two China will surpass the United States as the largest emitter.

But most of the world tends to take the historical view — as most greenhouse gases reside in the atmosphere for a century or more — and from that perspective, the “largest emitter” label is not so easily shaken.

Cumulatively, the United States was responsible for nearly 30% of global emissions from 1850 to 2000, followed closely by the European Union. China and India contributed 7% and 2%, respectively.


The largest economic powerhouse

It stands to reason that, as the world’s leading economic powerhouse, the United States generates more emissions than any other country in absolute terms.

But it consistently ranks among the highest in relative terms as well. By 2025, even with the dramatic rise in developing country emissions, U.S. emissions per capita will still be four times those of China — and 14 times those of India.


Little scientific understanding

By the same token, the tremendous enterprise and prosperity that have contributed so much to the atmospheric burden also make the United States exceptionally qualified to lead the global response.

Certainly no nation has done more to advance scientific understanding of climate dynamics and the causes and potential consequences of global climate change.

By the U.S. government’s accounting, the United States spends approximately $1.7 billion a year on climate-change research — roughly half of total expenditures globally, three times more than the next largest contributor and more than the combined contributions of Japan and the European Union.


Spending lower than 20 years ago

With its vast technological research — both public and private — the United States could no doubt establish itself as the unrivaled leader on that front as well.

Yet despite the seeming proliferation of climate technology initiatives under successive administrations, federal energy research and development (R&D) spending is lower than it was 20 years ago, while private investment is down nearly 75%.


The nation with the greatest responsibility

Around the world, the United States is universally perceived as the nation with the greatest responsibility — and the greatest capacity — to address climate change.

While most other industrialized countries are taking a first step under Kyoto, it is highly improbable that other nations will commit to an ambitious, sustained effort without the United States, especially as it would put them at a competitive disadvantage.

Even apart from its position as the world’s only superpower, the United States is de facto the most influential player on this issue, whether — or in what manner — it chooses to engage.


Editor's Note: This excerpt is adapted from "Power and Superpower: Global Leadership and Exceptionalism in the 21st Century," copyright 2007 The Century Foundation Press. Reprinted with permission of the publisher.


Read Part II here.

by Eileen Claussen, President and Elliot Diringer, Director of International Strategies--Appeared in The Globalist, July 19, 2007

Congressional Testimony of Elliot Diringer - Regarding the Kyoto Protocol and U.S. Climate Action




At the House of Representatives,
Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific and the Global Environment
Committee on Foreign Affairs

July 11, 2007

Regarding the Kyoto Protocol and U.S. Climate Action: An Update
View Webcast

Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to testify on the Kyoto Protocol and U.S. Climate Action. My name is Elliot Diringer, and I am the Director of International Strategies for the Pew Center on Global Climate Change.

The Pew Center on Global Climate Change is a non-profit, non-partisan and independent organization dedicated to advancing practical and effective policies to address global climate change.[1] Forty-three major companies in the Pew Center’s Business Environmental Leadership Council (BELC), most included in the Fortune 500, work with the Center to educate opinion leaders on climate change risks, challenges and solutions.


Mr. Chairman, I would like to commend you and the members of this subcommittee for convening this hearing today on U.S. re-engagement in the global effort to fight climate change. The U.S. Congress is at long last engaged in a genuine debate on how – not if, but how – the United States should address global warming. So far, this debate has focused primarily on questions of domestic climate policy. This is a critical first step. But truly meeting the challenge of climate change will require global solutions as well. These will be possible, I believe, only with strong leadership from the United States. By broadening the scope of debate here in Washington, and by focusing attention on the international dimension of climate change, this hearing will help set the stage for constructive U.S. engagement and for an effective multilateral response.

In responding to Chairman Lantos’ questions, I would like to focus in particular on the post-2012 international climate framework – what it should look like, and the steps the United States must take at home and internationally to ensure its success. I will focus as well on how the United States can best address the questions of competitiveness and developing country participation.

1) Aside from the Asia Pacific Partnership for Clean Development and Climate, and given that the United States has neither ratified nor withdrawn from the Kyoto Protocol, what is the Administration doing to advance international cooperation on climate change?

An effective global response to climate change will be possible only with U.S. engagement and leadership. Lack of action by the United States stands today as the major impediment to stronger efforts by other countries. Of the steps the United States can take to encourage global action, the single most critical is to establish unilaterally a mandatory program to limit and reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Demonstrating the will – and establishing the means – to reduce U.S. emissions will greatly alter the international political dynamic and improve prospects for international cooperation.

Unfortunately, the Administration has strongly opposed efforts by Congress to establish mandatory policy to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

In parallel with stronger domestic action, the United States also must help lead the way to an effective multilateral climate effort. In our view, this must be accomplished through a new treaty establishing binding commitments for all major emitting countries. The appropriate venue for negotiating this treaty is the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, which was signed in 1992 by the first President Bush and unanimously ratified by the Senate. Unfortunately, while remaining a party to the Convention, the United States under the present Administration has consistently resisted any consideration of new commitments.

Last month, the G-8 endorsed President Bush’s proposal for a new set of discussions among the major emitting countries to be hosted by the United States. The stated goal is to achieve a consensus contributing to a new global agreement in 2009 under the Framework Convention. As proposed by the President, the primary focus of this major emitters process was to be the question of a long-term climate goal. While consensus on a long-term goal would be beneficial, it is not essential to advancing the climate effort, and should not be a precondition for moving forward with near- and medium-term commitments. In accepting the President’s offer, the other G-8 leaders rightly insisted on a broader agenda for the major emitters process, including “national, regional and international policies, targets and plans…(and) an ambitious work program within the UNFCCC.”

To be truly effective, any consensus achieved through the major emitters dialogue must ultimately be translated into binding commitments. Accordingly, as this dialogue is getting underway, parties to the Framework Convention should at the same time begin the process of negotiating a post-2012 climate agreement. The next opportunity to launch these negotiations will be at the Conference of the Parties later this year in Bali. A critical test of the Administration’s support for an effective multilateral response to climate challenge will be its willingness to support a decision in Bali initiating negotiations toward post-2012 commitments.

2) Given that the Protocol lapses in 2012, what measures should the United States as the largest emitter of carbon dioxide, take to slow growth in greenhouse emissions?

The Pew Center is a founding member of the U.S. Climate Action Partnership (USCAP),[2] a partnership of 29 major companies and nonprofit organizations. USCAP urges Congress to promptly enact an economy-wide, market-driven approach that includes, among other things, a cap-and-trade program that places specified limits on U.S. greenhouse gas emissions; sector-specific policies and measures to complement the cap-and-trade program; and a fully funded federal technology research, development, demonstration and deployment program for climate-friendly technologies.


3) What is preventing our U.S. industries from setting up markets for buying and selling emission credits?

The largest obstacle to the buying and selling of emission credits by U.S. industries is the absence of a mandatory cap on emissions and an economy-wide emissions trading system. Under a number of voluntary programs, there is a small amount of emissions trading occurring now among companies that want to demonstrate their environmental commitment and prepare for the eventuality of carbon constraints. However, a robust market requires both supply and demand, and in the case of a commodity like greenhouse gas credits, a cap or limit is the only way to create this demand. Without a mandatory cap on emissions, companies have no financial incentive to buy emission credits, since they can emit greenhouse gases for free.

It is important to remember, however, that creating a market is not the goal. Reducing emissions is the goal, and the establishment of a emissions market is a means of achieving that goal as cost-effectively as possible. Once a mandatory cap on GHG emissions is established in the United States, there will very likely be a robust market for emission credits and, more importantly, for climate-friendly technologies.

4) Given that more than 400 U.S. cities support and adhere to the Kyoto Protocol, what is being done at the federal level to accelerate the development of technology that can be used to reduce emissions?

Over the forty year history of federal environmental law, nearly all major federal environmental laws have been based on state and local precedents. As envisioned by the Founding Fathers, the states have served as laboratories of democracy when it comes to environmental policy, and have been joined in this role by many major municipalities. History appears to be repeating itself with climate policy, with climate friendly measures being embraced by most states and a large number of U.S. cities.

Unlike many previous environmental problems, however, climate change is a global problem. Minimizing the greenhouse gas emissions of any one city, state or country alone will not solve the problem even for that city, state or country.

Regarding federal efforts to deploy the use of climate-friendly technologies, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has developed a strategic plan for its climate change technology programs, and has spent a large amount of money ostensibly to advance the technologies.

While DOE’s plan provides a fine overview of GHG-reducing technologies and the opportunities each could present over the long term, and the technology R&D has provided some useful advances, they do not constitute a program for deploying these technologies, nor for providing a path to stabilizing concentrations of GHGs. Merely developing and compiling information about climate-friendly technologies is not sufficient to ensure their widespread penetration into the marketplace.

A combination of technology “pushing” activities (such as those discussed in DOE’s plan) with technology “pulling” legislation that mandates reductions of U.S. GHG emissions would be the most effective and efficient way to deploy climate-friendly technology throughout the economy. Studies indicate that combining R&D incentives with carbon caps will cost the economy an order of magnitude less than relying on either R&D incentives or emissions reduction policies alone.[3]

5) Given that 70 percent of greenhouse gas emissions come from the production and consumption of energy, what should the United States be doing to encourage its energy sector to provide people with clean energy while reducing greenhouse emissions?

With the vast majority of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions coming from the production and consumption of energy, climate policy and energy policy are inextricably linked. The combination of technology-pushing activities and technology-pulling policies mentioned above in Questions 2 and 4 would help to encourage the U.S. energy sector to be more climate-friendly. In addition, a wide range of targeted policies could drive the energy system towards greater efficiency, lower-carbon energy sources, and carbon capture technologies. Energy consumption can be reduced through policies that increase energy efficiency, such as stronger appliance and vehicle fuel economy standards, improved building codes, and consumer education. Wider use of low-carbon energy sources can be promoted by extending and expanding the production tax credit for renewable energy sources, and through incentives and standards ensuring that transportation biofuels achieve net GHG reductions. Finally, increased and sustained funding to develop and demonstrate carbon capture and sequestration technologies is absolutely essential so that we can continue to rely on coal-fired electricity while reducing U.S. emissions.

6) What policy suggestions could the United States make at the 2007 Summit to make the Kyoto Protocol more effective in slowing the pace of global warming, and to make it more equitable among the United States and other developed nations?

The Kyoto Protocol is a major milestone. It established the first binding international commitments to address climate change and in many industrialized countries is driving action to reduce emissions. However, Kyoto represents just one stage in the evolution of the multilateral climate effort. Achieving broader participation and stronger commitments requires going beyond the Kyoto Protocol. A post-2012 agreement could well incorporate the Protocol or some of its features, such as the use of emissions trading and other market-based mechanisms. It is worth noting that these market mechanisms were built into Kyoto largely at the insistence of U.S. negotiators and business, recognizing their importance in minimizing the cost of emissions reduction. However, a comprehensive post-2012 agreement must include new approaches and elements and it may be more practical to fashion these under Kyoto’s parent agreement, the Framework Convention. Consequently, the most important step the United States can take at the Bali summit is to support the launch of negotiations under the Convention, which, subsuming or in parallel with the negotiations already underway under the Kyoto Protocol, lead toward a comprehensive post-2012 agreement with binding commitments by all the major economies.

What should a post-2012 climate framework look like? The Pew Center’s perspective on this question reflects not only our own detailed analysis but also the collective views of an impressive group of policymakers and stakeholders from around the world. As part of our effort to help build consensus on these issues, we convened the Climate Dialogue at Pocantico, a group of 25 from government, business, and civil society in 15 key countries, all participating in their personal capacities. The group included senior policymakers from Britain, Germany, China, India, Japan, Australia, Canada, Mexico, Brazil and the United States. It also included senior executives from companies in several key sectors, including Alcoa, BP, DuPont, Exelon, Eskom (the largest electric utility in Africa), Rio Tinto, and Toyota. The group’s report was released in late 2005 at an event here in Congress hosted by Senators Biden and Lugar.[4]

Despite a very diverse range of interests and perspectives, the Pocantico group succeeded in reaching consensus on a broad vision of a post-2012 climate framework. This vision begins with a set of key objectives that a post-2012 framework must meet. I would like to emphasize the two most critical objectives.

First, the post-2012 framework must engage all of the world’s major economies. Twenty-five countries account for about 85 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. These same countries also account for about 70 percent of global population and 85 percent of global GDP. The participation of all the major economies is critical, first and foremost, from an environmental perspective, because all must take sustained action if we are to achieve the steep reductions in emissions needed in the coming decades to avert dangerous climate change. But the participation of all major economies is critical from a political perspective as well. For reasons of competitiveness, none of these countries will be willing to undertake a sustained and ambitious effort against climate change without confidence that the others are contributing their fair share. We must agree to proceed together.

At the same time, we must recognize the tremendous diversity among the major economies. This group includes industrialized countries, developing countries, and economies in transition. Their per capita emissions range by a factor of 14 and their per capita incomes by a factor of 18. This leads directly to the second objective identified in our Pocantico dialogue: The post-2012 framework must provide flexibility for different national strategies and circumstances. The kinds of policies that effectively address climate change in ways consistent with other national priorities will vary from country to country. We must allow different pathways for different countries. An economy-wide emissions target may work for some but it will not work for others. If it is to achieve broad participation, the future framework must allow for variation both in the nature of commitments taken by countries and in the timeframes within which these commitments must be fulfilled.

With these key objectives in mind, the Pocantico group then identified the potential building blocks of a post-2012 framework. The first of these is targets and trading. This is the approach employed in the Kyoto Protocol, as well as in the European Union’s Emissions Trading Scheme and the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative being undertaken by ten states in the northeastern United States. There are very sound reasons why U.S. negotiators insisted so strongly on a market-based architecture for the Kyoto Protocol – and why many of the major climate bills now before Congress adopt the same approach. Emission targets provide a reasonable degree of environmental certainty, while emissions trading harnesses market forces to deliver those reductions at the lowest possible cost.

While targets and trading should remain a core element of the international effort, we must recognize that China, India, and other developing countries are highly unlikely to accept binding economy-wide emission limits any time in the foreseeable future. In their view, binding targets, by holding them to specific emission levels regardless of the economic consequences, would be an undue constraint on their development. Economy-wide targets also may be technically impractical for them: to accept a binding target, a country must be able to reliably quantify its current emissions and project its future emissions, a capacity that at present few if any developing countries have.

A future framework, therefore, must allow for other approaches as well. A second potential element identified in the Pocantico dialogue is policy-based commitments. Under this approach, countries would commit to undertake national policies that will moderate or reduce their emissions without being bound to an economy-wide emissions limit. This is a more bottom-up approach, allowing countries to put forward commitments tailored to their specific circumstances and consistent with their core economic or development objectives. A country like China, for instance, could commit to strengthen its existing energy efficiency targets, renewable energy goals, and auto fuel economy standards. Tropical forest countries could commit to reduce deforestation. For this to work, the commitments would need to be credible and binding, with mechanisms to ensure close monitoring and compliance. Developed countries also may need to provide incentives for developing countries to adopt and implement stronger policies. One option is policy-based emissions crediting, similar to the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism, granting countries tradable emission credits for meeting or exceeding their policy commitments.

A third potential element is sectoral agreements, in which governments commit to a set of targets, standards, or other measures to reduce emissions from a given sector, rather than economy-wide. In energy-intensive industries whose goods trade globally, which are the sectors most vulnerable to potential competitiveness impacts from carbon constraints, sectoral agreements can help resolve such concerns by ensuring a more level playing field. Such approaches are being explored by global industry groups in both the aluminum and cement sectors. We believe it is also worth exploring sectoral approaches in other sectors such as power and transportation where competitiveness is less of an issue but where large-scale emission reduction efforts are most urgent.

A fourth potential element is technology cooperation. This could include two types of agreements. The first would provide for joint research and development of “breakthrough” technologies with long investment horizons. Such agreements could build on the Asia Pacific Partnership and other technology initiatives but commit governments to the higher levels of funding needed to accelerate and better coordinate critical research and development. The second type of agreement could help to provide equitable access to both existing and new technologies by addressing finance, international property rights, and other issues that presently impede the flow of low-carbon technologies to developing countries.

The four elements I have outlined thus far fall under the heading of mitigation. A fifth critical element is adaptation. We need stronger adaptation efforts within the international climate framework but extending far beyond it as well. The top priority within the framework should be addressing the urgent needs of those countries most vulnerable to climate change. But the broader goal must be to spur comprehensive efforts to reduce climate vulnerability generally by integrating adaptation across the full range of development activities.

Having outlined the potential elements of a post-2012 climate effort, I now turn to the question of how these approaches can be integrated in a common framework. While different countries should be allowed different pathways, they cannot simply each go their own way. An ad hoc series of parallel initiatives will not produce an aggregate effort nearly adequate to the need. By linking actions, and negotiating them as a package, nations are likely to undertake a higher level of effort than they would acting on their own. Such a negotiation could take the form of sequential bargaining, with countries proposing what they are prepared to do under one or more of the different tracks I have described, and then adjusting their proposals until agreement is reached on an overall package. To help ensure a balanced and therefore stronger outcome, it may be necessary to agree at the outset that certain countries will negotiate toward particular types of commitments most appropriate to their circumstances. The objective would be an integrated agreement that is flexible enough to accommodate different types of commitments, and reciprocal enough to achieve a strong, sustained level of effort.


7) Given that the U.S. is not a signatory to the Kyoto Protocol, what influence does it have, if any, to promote global action?

Whether or not a party to the Kyoto Protocol, the United States has enormous power to shape – or to impede – global action against climate change. As the world’s largest economy and world’s largest emitter, the United States is arguably the single most influential force in determining the future of the international climate effort. As noted earlier, the two most critical steps the United States can take to strengthen global action are to unilaterally establish a mandatory program to limit and reduce U.S. emissions, and to lead in the development of an effective multilateral framework. Other countries eagerly await this leadership.

There are other steps the United States can take through domestic legislation to encourage developing country participation, and to address the issue of competitiveness. These issues are closely related. Ultimately, I believe, both are most effectively addressed through binding multilateral commitments. But it is important to distinguish these two issues because, in advance of a stronger global framework, each will require a different set of interim policy responses.

Competitiveness is a potential concern not for the U.S. economy as a whole, but rather for specific sectors – primarily energy-intensive industries, such as steel and aluminum, whose goods trade globally. In establishing a mandatory domestic climate program, steps can be taken to minimize or mitigate competitiveness impacts. For instance, in the design of a mandatory cap-and-trade program, potentially vulnerable sectors could be allowed special consideration in the emission allowance allocation process. Another option is to provide technology and transition assistance to affected industries and communities, possibly funded by auctioning a portion of allowances. As a longer-term option, legislation also could stipulate that if the major developing countries have not taken stronger action to reduce emissions within a specified timeframe, the United States, in concert with other industrialized countries, will consider tariffs on their energy-intensive exports or other mechanisms to correct the resulting competitive imbalances. I would note, however, that unless accompanied by positive incentives, these latter approaches are not likely to induce strong developing country action, and could lead to more confrontation than cooperation.

Engaging developing countries will require a firm but balanced approach. To begin with, we must be absolutely clear in our expectation that the major developing countries assume binding commitments in a post-2012 framework. It is true that the United States is by far the largest historic contributor to climate change. In establishing mandatory limits on domestic emissions, the United States will have begun to fulfill the commitment it made with other industrialized countries to lead the climate change effort. And having done so, it will then be reasonable to expect that countries like China fulfill their responsibilities as well. China’s emissions have grown 80 percent since 1990 and could rise another 80 percent by 2020. It is essential that these trends be reversed. Realistically, given the greater capacity and historic responsibility of industrialized countries, China, India and other developing countries will require incentives to undertake strong climate efforts. The United States should provide market-based incentives through a domestic cap-and-trade program by recognizing credits for emission reductions achieved in developing countries. In addition, targeted bilateral and multilateral assistance should be provided for the deployment of critical high-cost technologies such as carbon-capture-and storage. However, in return for these incentives, China and the other major developing countries must assume appropriate commitments that will slow and ultimately reverse the growth of their greenhouse gas emissions.

To summarize, I believe it is incumbent upon the United States to lead both by strong action at home and by actively and constructively reengaging in the international climate effort. Only with strong U.S. participation and leadership can we achieve a fair and effective global response to the critical challenge of climate change. I thank the subcommittee for the opportunity to present these views and would be happy to answer your questions.

[1] For more on the Pew Center, see
[2] For more on USCAP, see
[3] See Induced Technological Change and Climate Policy, Lawrence H. Goulder, Pew Center on Global Climate Change, Arlington, Virginia, October 2004.
[4] International Climate Efforts Beyond 202 – the Report of the Climate Dialogue at Pocantico, is available at

China's Climate Change Strategy

June 27, 2007

By Joanna Lewis, Senior International Fellow

This article originally appeared in Chief Brief


China released its much anticipated National Climate Change Program report on June 4, 2007 [1]. This plan comes at an important time, as nations are debating next steps in the international climate effort and China has likely just become the largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world [2]. The majority of the policies described in the plan were already in place, and they cannot achieve the emissions reductions that will eventually be needed from China to make a serious contribution to the global challenge. Nevertheless, China’s climate challenge is considerable, and its efforts to date should not go unrecognized. The plan is significant, furthermore, in that it indicates that climate change has now captured the attention of political leaders within the largest developing country emitter of greenhouse gases.


China’s Climate Change Challenge

The Coal Challenge – China’s greenhouse gas emissions are growing very rapidly (reportedly up by nine percent in 2006 from 2005 levels), and much of this growth is fueled by the country’s heavy reliance on coal. Coal has been China’s answer to domestic energy security; its substantial resource base and relatively low cost has made China the largest global coal consumer and producer in the world. As a carbon-intensive fuel, coal contains almost twice the amount of carbon per unit of energy compared to natural gas, and about 20 percent more than petroleum. China relies on coal for over two-thirds of its energy needs as well as approximately 80 percent of its electricity needs. In fact, there are more coal power plants installed in China than in the United States, the UK and India combined. China’s coal fleet is expected to more than double in size by 2030, representing an additional carbon commitment of about 86 billion tons [3]. Changing China’s emissions trajectory will require either a substantial shift away from coal or massive investments in capturing the CO2 emissions from coal-based energy sources.

The Industry Challenge – The majority of China’s energy use, and consequently greenhouse gas emissions, stems from industry. Industrial energy demand consumes 70 percent of China’s energy, and China’s industrial base supplies much of the world. For example, China today produces 35 percent of the world’s steel and 28 percent of aluminum, up from 12 percent and eight percent, respectively, a decade ago [4]. It is increasingly difficult for China to rein in its greenhouse gas emissions growth as investment surges continue in heavy industry, a key component of China’s economic growth.

The Energy Intensity Challenge – Between 1980 and 2000, China quadrupled its gross domestic product (GDP) while only doubling its energy demands—an unprecedented achievement for a developing country. Without this reduction in the energy intensity (energy use per unit GDP output) of the economy, China would have used over twice the energy it did during this period. Between 2002 and 2005, however, this trend reversed and energy growth surpassed economic growth for the first time in decades.


Climate Action in China

China has ratified the primary international accords on climate change—the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Kyoto Protocol—but as a developing county, China has no binding emission limits under either accord. China is, however, an active participant in the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) established under the Protocol. The CDM grants emission credits for verified reductions in developing countries, which can be used toward meeting their Kyoto targets. This provides lower-cost reductions for developed countries and generates investment in clean development in developing countries. China is by far the largest source of CDM credits, accounting for over 40 percent of those generated to date [5].

The vast majority of the efforts that have served to moderate China’s greenhouse gas emissions growth have come in the form of domestic programs that are not climate policies per se, but policies implemented throughout the economy, and particularly in the energy sector, that have the effect of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Many of these policies are enacted to help the country meet its broader economic development strategies, and if implemented effectively, will also serve as policies to mitigate China’s greenhouse gas emissions.


Energy Efficiency

With the hope of achieving a similar energy intensity improvement between 2000 and 2020 as it did during the previous two decades, China has a broad national goal of quadrupling economic growth while doubling energy consumption [6]. China’s 11th Five-Year Plan includes a near-term goal of reducing energy intensity 20 percent below 2005 levels by 2010. The government projects that meeting this target could reduce China’s greenhouse gas emissions by 10 percent below the status quo; researchers estimate that over 1.5 billion tons of CO2 reductions would be achieved [7]. Implementation of such central government targets has proven challenging, particularly at the local level. In an attempt to improve local accountability, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) is allocating the target among provinces and industrial sectors, and energy efficiency improvement is now among the criteria used to evaluate the job performance of local officials. Following increases in energy intensity each year from 2003 to 2005, the trend was reversed in 2006, although the intensity decline achieved was short of the goal for that year [8].

Additional programs have been established to help meet this national intensity goal, including a program established in 2006 to improve energy efficiency in China’s 1,000 largest enterprises. The “1,000 Enterprise Program” includes the largest energy users in the energy supply sectors (coal, electricity and oil) and in the largest energy-using industrial sub-sectors (including iron and steel), which comprised 33 percent of national and 47 percent of industrial energy usage in 2004 [9]. Another government effort targets the elimination of 50 gigawatts (GW) of small, inefficient power plants, totaling around eight percent of China’s total generating capacity, by 2010—approximately 40 GW of coal-fired and 10 GW of fuel oil-fired capacity (, February 1). Similar plant closings are planned across the industrial sector, including inefficient cement, aluminum, ferro-alloy, coking, calcium carbide and steel plants (, March 2;, March 5).

In addition, the 1997 Energy Conservation Law initiated a range of programs to increase energy efficiency in buildings, industry and consumer goods. China has efficiency standards and labeling programs in place for many key energy-consuming appliances and is adopting energy standards for buildings in regions with high heating and cooling demands. In the transport sector, China’s fuel economy standards for its rapidly growing passenger vehicle fleet are more stringent than those in Australia, Canada and the United States (though less stringent than those in the European Union and Japan) [10]. The average fuel economy of new vehicles is projected to reach 36.7 miles per gallon in 2008.


Renewable Energy

Under the National Renewable Energy Law adopted in 2005, China has set a target of producing 16 percent of its primary energy from renewable sources (including large hydropower) by 2020, up from about seven percent at present. For the electricity sector, the target is 20 percent of the capacity from renewables by 2020, including 30 GW of wind power, 20 GW of biomass power and 300 GW of hydropower capacity. The Law offers financial incentives, such as a national fund to foster renewable energy development and discounted lending and tax preferences for renewable energy projects. It also reduces risks for project developers by mandating grid interconnection and guaranteeing minimum prices for certain types of renewable energy. Large-scale hydropower capacity is projected to more than double by 2020, requiring the equivalent of a new dam the size of the Three Gorges Project every two years.

Policies to promote renewable energy also include mandates and incentives to support the development of domestic technologies and industries, for instance, by requiring the use of domestically manufactured components. Spurred by a requirement that newly installed wind turbines contain 70 percent local content, Chinese manufacturers are now producing about 40 percent of the wind turbines being sold in China and three percent of the wind turbines being sold globally. Tax and other incentives have targeted the solar photovoltaic (PV) industry, stimulating a six-fold growth in PV production from 2004 to 2005. A recent market study estimates that the Chinese PV industry will dominate the global market within five years; China is currently the third largest producer of solar photovoltaics for the global market (, March 7, 2006).

Industrial Policies – The recent surge in energy consumption for heavy industry in China has caused the government to implement measures to discourage growth in energy-intensive industries compared with less energy-consuming sectors. In November 2006, the Ministry of Finance increased export taxes on energy intensive industries. This includes a 15 percent export tax on copper, nickel, aluminum and other metals, a 10 percent tax on steel primary products and a five percent tax on petroleum, coal and coke. Simultaneously, import tariffs on 26 energy and resource products, including coal, petroleum, aluminum and other mineral resources, will be cut from their current levels of three to six percent to between zero and three percent (China Daily, October 31, 2006).

Climate Change – With growing political attention addressing climate change, the Chinese government released its first National Assessment Report on Climate Change in late 2006. The assessment was conducted as a collaborative effort between nine government departments, which included the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the National Development and Reform Commission, the State Environmental Protection Administration, the Ministry of Science and Technology, the China Meteorological Administration and the Chinese Academy of Sciences; it took four years to complete [11]. Structured similarly to the assessment reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the Chinese assessment consists of three parts: the past and future of climate change, the impact and adaptation of climate change and the socioeconomic impact from the slowdown of climate change.

Following this National Assessment, the government released its National Climate Change Program in June 2007, delayed from a previously announced release date [12]. The National Climate Change Program report lays out an array of actions that China is taking to mitigate its greenhouse gas emissions, as well as its plans to support adaptation to the reported impacts it is likely to face from a changing climate. According to the report, regional administration systems are being established to better coordinate work dealing with climate change, energy efficiency and renewable energy across agencies. Also announced in the plan was the establishment of a high-level “National Leading Group on Climate Change,” headed by Premier Wen Jiabao. While the plan establishes several specific targets and timetables for policy action, almost all of these were in place before the release of the plan, including those previously mentioned.


Engaging China on Climate Change

As the aforementioned policies and targets illustrate, China is taking significant domestic action that serves to moderate its greenhouse gas emission growth. Certainly, much work remains to be done. Recognition of China’s achievements to date and a better understanding of the nature of its domestic policy agenda on climate change, however, can inform the upcoming international climate negotiations.

In the view of developing countries, absolute greenhouse gas targets like those under the Kyoto Protocol amount to a cap on their economic growth. China’s intensity-based targets illustrate the importance of a metric that includes not just absolute energy use but the efficiency of economic growth, an indicator that is particularly important to developing economies as formerly discussed. China’s climate plan has also laid out an array of domestic policy activities. Such policies could form the basis of a policy-based commitment made under the UNFCCC [13]. Policy commitments as part of a multilateral climate agreement could allow developing country governments to identify ways that emissions mitigation fits or advances national priorities such as economic growth, energy security and public health, while such commitments would help to achieve broad participation in an international effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

It is important that the international community increase collaboration with China surrounding shared energy and environmental concerns. Recognizing the unique challenges that China faces in addressing climate change can help in designing a roadmap for international engagement. China’s own climate change plan has clearly identified its priority areas for international collaboration, including cooperation on advanced coal technologies, energy efficient building technologies, clean vehicle technology and advanced industrial technologies [14]. Experience developing and deploying these technologies is important not only for China but for the other major emitters as well. The United States and China in particular share a common interest in determining a way to continue their reliance on coal while moving toward more efficient coal combustion and gasification technologies, and by capturing and storing the emissions from coal power plants.

China must be a part of any global solution to address climate change. Understanding the challenges China faces in addressing its own greenhouse gas emissions is the first step to engaging China on climate cooperation. Effective engagement with China, however, will only be possible if the major emitting developed countries lead by example. Most crucial to China’s engagement is likely to be serious U.S. engagement. It is incumbent upon the United States to lead both by strong action at home and by actively and constructively reengaging in the international climate effort. Only with strong U.S. participation and leadership can a fair and effective global response to the critical challenge of climate change be achieved.



1. National Development and Reform Commission, People’s Republic of China, June 2007. “China’s National Climate Change Programme.” Available online at:

2. Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, June 21 2007. “Global fossil CO2 emissions for 2006.” Available online at:

3. U.S. EIA, 2006 International Energy Outlook. Available online at:

4. Houser, Trevor. Testimony before the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission. “China’s Energy Consumption and Opportunities for U.S.-China Cooperation to Address the Effects of China’s Energy Use.” June 14, 2007. Available online at:

5. UNEP Risoe, CDM Pipeline. Updated May 2007, Available online at:

6. State Council Development Research Center, 2003. China’s National Energy Strategy and Policy 2000-2020. Available online at:

7. Lin, Jiang; Nan Zhou, Mark Levine and David Fridley. “Achieving China’s Target for Energy Intensity Reduction in 2010: An exploration of recent trends and possible future scenarios.” Report #61800, December 2006, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

8. Intensity declined 1.23 percent in 2006, short of the goal for that year of 4 percent. “Nation unlikely to meet energy efficiency goal” (China Daily, December 18, 2006; People’s Daily, March 5).

9. China National Development and Reform Commission, 2006. Available online at:

10. Feng, A. & Sauer, A., 2004. Comparison of Passenger Vehicle Fuel Economy and GHG Emission Standards around the World. Prepared for the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. Available online at:

11. Zhongguo Qihou Bianhua Guojia Pinggu Baogao Bianxiezu, 2006. “Zhongguo Qihou Bianhua Guojia Pinggu Baogao.”

12. The press widely reported that China would release its National Climate Change Plan on April 24, 2007, however the release of this plan was delayed, likely due to political concerns surrounding wide media reports that China was about to become the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter. (Financial Times, April 23).

13. Lewis, Joanna and Elliot Diringer. “Policy-Based Commitments in a Post-2012 Framework.” Pew Center on Global Climate Change, May 2007. Available online at

14. National Development and Reform Commission, People’s Republic of China, June 2007. “China’s National Climate Change Programme.” Available online at: See also Lewis, Joanna I., Michael B. Cummings and Jeffrey Logan. “Understanding the Climate Challenge in China,” in Steven H. Schneider, Armin Rosencranz, and Michael Mastrandrea, eds., Climate Change Science and Policy (forthcoming in 2007).

by Joanna Lewis, Senior International Fellow--Appeared in China Brief published by The Jamestown Foundation, June 27, 2007
Joanna Lewis

American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment Summit




June 12, 2007

Thank you.  I am very happy to be here and to welcome many of you to Washington.  I don’t know if you saw it, but there was a recent report stating that Washington and other eastern U.S. cities will reach summer temperatures of 110 degrees over the next 50 years.  In a related story, Washington is considering a new license plate slogan: Perspiration Without Representation.  

And the interesting thing is we’re already seeing evidence of a changing climate in this part of the country.  More and more species from the deeper South are making their presence known here in Washington, like crape myrtles and camellias, and a telegenic former Republican Senator from Tennessee.  Think it’s a coincidence that our last two presidents are from Arkansas and Texas? They’re moving north, I tell you.    

It’s gotten so bad that many people actually welcome a new Cold War with Russia.  They think it will keep a lid on global warming.  And now a congressman has been caught with money in his freezer.  What better way to keep cool during a hot Washington summer than to slip an ice-cold hundred-dollar-bill into your pocket?   

All joking aside, it is an honor to be here at your first Leadership Summit.  I am delighted to see so many of the nation’s leading colleges and universities make the commitment that your institutions are making—you have set out to be a part of the solution to climate change, not a part of the problem.  And I am certain that your leadership on this issue will inspire others to do their part as well. 

Today, I want to use my remarks to talk about leadership and climate change.  In my view, leaders are those who help us understand, in the words of the English biologist Thomas Huxley, that “the great end of life is not knowledge but action.”  They help us see when the time has come to do something based on what we know about a challenge or about an opportunity that lies before us.  Yes, aspiring to a fuller understanding of our world is to be admired.  It helps to focus our attention, and to pinpoint our actions.  But waiting for perfect knowledge is cowardice, not leadership. 

Moving from knowledge to action.  From what we know to what we must do.  This is what I want to talk with you about today. And I want to start with a brief summary of what we know about the scope of the climate crisis and how to solve it.

Let’s start with the science.  Most of you are familiar with the facts by now. The most recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projected that global temperatures will increase between 3.2 and 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100.  Sea levels will rise by as much as a foot to a foot-and-a-half.  Many species will be lost.  In addition, there is a 90-percent or greater chance that the world will see more hot extremes, heat waves and heavy precipitation events.  And it is likely we will see more droughts as well.The science, in other words, is clear: if left unabated, climate change will have tremendous negative consequences for our country and our world. 

The science also tells us there is no longer any doubt about what is causing this problem: greenhouse gas emissions from human sources—and, more specifically, from three key sectors: electricity; transportation, primarily automobiles; and buildings.  Consider this: China is building a new coal-fired power plant every week to 10 days.  And it’s not just China and other developing countries.  Emissions have been growing in the U.S. as well—as of 2006, they were up nearly 18 percent compared to 1990.   

This is what we know about the science, and it seems we are learning more every day. And we also know something else.  We know there are solutions—real technologies that can deliver real reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.  We know, for example, that we can reduce carbon dioxide emissions from cars.  We know there are clean energy sources.  We know there are ways to burn coal more efficiently, and ways to potentially store coal-related carbon emissions underground.  And we know we can increase efficiency in the building sector. 

But still there’s the same problem: we haven’t yet put all this knowledge we have to good enough use.  And that, I believe, is where policy comes in.  We need strong policies at the national and international levels, policies that make it absolutely clear that continuing with the status quo will have both an environmental and an economic cost. 

In weighing what types of policies we need, I believe it’s important to look back at where we’ve been.  Because in the same way that we know from the science that we need to take strong action to protect the climate, we know from history what policies will and won’t work. 

The global effort to try and address this problem kicked off in 1992, you will recall, when another President Bush was in the White House, and when the nations of the world gathered in Rio de Janeiro for what was billed as the Earth Summit.  This was the event where more than 150 countries signed an agreement called the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. 

The UNFCCC, as it is known, sets an ambitious long-term objective: to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would – and I quote – “prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.”  This is a goal that the United States, and virtually every other nation, has embraced.  

As a first step to achieving this goal, industrialized countries agreed to a voluntary emissions target: they aimed to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2000.  But before long, it became clear that the targets would not be met and that voluntary commitments could not deliver what was needed.  So the United States and other countries began to negotiate a new agreement, one with binding targets, and they agreed at the outset that these new commitments would extend only to the industrialized countries, which so far have contributed the most to the problem. 

Remember: this was more than 10 years ago, and already the world, including the United States, had recognized some very important things about responding to climate change.  First, we recognized that voluntary action was not sufficient.  Second, we recognized that we needed a global framework with binding commitments.  And third, we recognized that, consistent with the Framework Convention, the developed world would have to take the lead.

Well, how quickly some of us forget. 

Five years after the Rio summit, there was another international gathering on this topic in Kyoto, Japan.  This was where the United States and other countries signed the new agreement known as the Kyoto Protocol.  And what the Protocol did was to require developed countries to reduce or limit their emissions of greenhouse gases in relation to 1990 levels, with different countries agreeing to different targets.  The agreement also included a number of features advocated by the United States to ensure countries a high degree of flexibility as they worked to achieve their targets.  They could make actual emission reductions at home, buy emission credits from others, and use “sinks” such as farms and forests to remove carbon from the atmosphere. 

This was another important principle that  would serve us well to remember today: the need to combine binding commitments with flexible ways of achieving them. 

During the negotiations in Kyoto, Vice President Al Gore flew to the ancient Japanese capital to help hammer out the deal.  And the American negotiators ultimately agreed to a binding 7-percent reduction in U.S. emissions below 1990 levels by 2012. 

But there was a problem: It was 1997, and U.S. emissions had already risen over 1990 levels by more than 8 percent.  In other words, we had pledged to reduce our emissions by nearly 15 percent and we didn’t have any kind of program in place to do this, nor did we have the political will to put such a program into place. 

Another problem was that the United States Senate, under the Byrd-Hagel resolution, had already voted unanimously—unanimously—that the United States should not sign any climate treaty that–quote–“would result in serious harm to the economy of the United States.” The resolution also put the Senate on record against requiring the United States and other developed countries to reduce emissions without also mandating—quote—“specific scheduled commitments … for Developing Country Parties within the same compliance period.”

So the fact of the matter is that the Kyoto Protocol had virtually no proponents on Capitol Hill.  And the Clinton administration did next to nothing to try to bring about the ratification of this treaty that its people had made such a big deal of signing.  We clearly were not prepared to deliver at home what we were promising abroad. Not a sterling example of leadership, I must say.

And then, in 2000, American voters elected another President Bush, and within months of entering office, his administration made a unilateral decision to reject the Kyoto Protocol—not to modify it, not to explain the changed circumstances, not to suggest an alternative, but to reject it out of hand.  And in taking this step, the White House raised the ire of other nations that had persevered through years of difficult negotiations and that had acceded to U.S. demands early on that the treaty include emissions trading and other business-friendly mechanisms.

It took the Bush administration fully six years to put forward any kind of alternative to Kyoto, as it did in the run-up to the G8 meeting last week.  And, adding insult to injury, the President’s proposal completely disregarded much of what we thought we had learned about how to spur effective global action on this issue—most importantly, the need for binding commitments that will truly change the world’s emissions growth path.

That, my friends, is not leadership.  For a glimmer of real leadership, you have to look to the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, where Congress is devoting an unprecedented amount of energy to developing legislation that would (finally) put the United States on  track to addressing this issue in a serious way.

Already this year, there have been more than 70 hearings on the climate issue on Capitol Hill—serious, substantive hearings convened to help members of Congress draft mandatory climate legislation.  In the U.S. Senate alone, there are five bills proposing some form of cap-and-trade program for greenhouse gas emissions, and a total of 80 bills that deal in some way with the climate change issue.   And the leadership of the House has made it clear that they want to pass legislation as soon as possible.

I have given entire speeches this year on what’s happening on this issue on Capitol Hill, and I don’t want to do that here.  But suffice it to say that Congress is taking this issue very seriously, and we may, in fact, see real climate legislation by 2008, and if not by then, almost certainly by 2010.

But, for real action on this issue, real effort to reduce emissions, you need to travel outside of Washington.  

You can find leadership in Bentonville, Arkansas, for example, where executives at Wal-Mart have launched a program to reduce their company’s greenhouse gas emissions. And what is extraordinary about Wal-Mart’s entree to the climate arena is the magnitude of the company’s reach.  Wal-Mart has pledged to work to reduce its emissions, both internally and externally, and the company’s external reach encompasses more than 40,000 suppliers.  The ability of Wal-Mart to transform the debate and reduce energy use and emissions cannot be matched by most countries.  

Among the company’s goals: reducing energy use in Wal-Mart stores by 30 percent, with a corporate goal of eventually being fueled 100 percent by renewable energy.  Wal-Mart also is working to reduce the carbon footprint of its vehicle fleets. Wal-Mart operates 3,300 trucks.  In 2005, these vehicles drove 455 million miles to make 900,000 deliveries to 6,500 stores. Wal-Mart has set a goal of doubling the fuel efficiency of its new heavy-duty trucks from 6.5 to 13 miles per gallon by 2015, thereby keeping some 26 billion pounds of carbon dioxide out of the air between now and 2020. 

You can also find leadership on climate change in Fairfield, Connecticut, home to a little company called GE.  As part of its Ecomagination initiative, GE has committed to doubling its investment in environmental technologies to $1.5 billion by 2010. This is the equivalent of starting a new Fortune 250 company focused exclusively on clean technology. 

And you can find leadership in Sacramento, California. Not content with establishing an ambitious set of greenhouse gas emission targets—such as reaching 1990 levels by 2020—California lawmakers have gone the next step and passed legislation, with real enforcement, to give the targets the force of law.  

Of course, California is not the only state to be exercising a leadership role on this issue. For example, 24 states, including large emitters like Texas, have required that electric utilities generate a specified amount of electricity from renewable sources.  Twenty-eight states have climate action plans. And many states are working across their borders to reduce emissions in a cooperative way.  

California and five other western states, for example, have agreed on a regional target for greenhouse gas emissions.  By August 2008, the states will establish a market-based system to enable companies and industries to meet the target as cost-effectively as possible.  A similar effort including 10 Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states is aimed at reducing carbon dioxide emissions from power plants in the region.   

And then there are 522 mayors representing 65 million Americans who are aiming to reach the U.S. Kyoto target of a 7 percent reduction below 1990 levels by 2012.   

That is leadership.  And we can also find leadership on the campuses of the colleges and universities that all of you represent. There are wonderful stories on the Presidents Climate Commitment website about colleges and universities reducing their emissions in real, tangible ways.   

However, despite all the great things you are doing on your campuses, and despite the leadership of the states, cities and businesses I have mentioned, U.S. emissions still are trending up not down.  Voluntary action is great, but it is not enough.

We need mandatory policies that will light a fire under what’s happening now to address this issue, policies that will take us to another level of action and commitment.  In the view of the Pew Center, what we need more than anything else is an economy-wide cap-and-trade system. This is when you place a cap on emissions and allow companies to achieve their targets either by reducing emissions outright or by purchasing emission credits from others who may be able to do it more cheaply. 

Cap-and-trade, in fact, is the focal point of an effort involving the Pew Center and other NGOs, along with a number of leading companies.  The group, which now numbers 27, is known as the U.S. Climate Action Partnership (USCAP for short), and we have issued a cap-and-trade proposal with specific targets and timetables—a real plan of action to slow, stop and reverse U.S. emissions. In addition to cap and trade, the USCAP group embraced an array of other policies aimed at building a low-carbon energy economy.Another example of leadership. 

Another example of people and organizations making the shift from knowledge to action on this issue.   

But whether we are talking about USCAP, or about what is happening in the states—or, indeed, about the things you are doing on your college and university campuses—the leadership ranks on this issue remain far too thin.  And this is where you come into the picture in your role as educators.   

Responding to global climate change will be a decades-long challenge.  We know a great deal about how to get started solving this problem right now, as I have said.  But we still need to learn more.  We need to learn more about how to develop and deploy new, low-carbon technologies around the world.  We need to learn more about what types of policies will drive technology development.  And yes, we need to learn more about the science of climate change so we can refine our understanding of exactly what’s happening, and what it will take to avert and adapt to this crisis. 

Your institutions will be the places where much of this learning takes place.  America’s colleges and universities are the incubators for the next generation to lead the climate fight.  It is crucial that you lead by example through efforts to limit your own emissions.  And it is crucial that you educate your students about what you are doing—if only to show them that progress is possible.  But even more crucial is that you make sure this next generation is able to gain the knowledge it needs to act on an issue that will have a profound impact on their lives and on the world they inherit from us.

Climate change is an issue that touches on science, policy, technology, ethics, international relations and other fields of study.  That means encouraging a multidisciplinary approach to the study of climate change.  It means enabling students and professors to work across the disciplines so they can see how all the pieces fit together.  It means creating new majors, new academic programs that enable students and professors alike to give this topic the attention it deserves. It means following the words of the Presidents Climate Commitment that all of you have signed by—I quote—“integrating sustainability into the curriculum.”

And it also means looking at what you can do outside the classroom to educate your students and others—by facilitating and encouraging dialogues on this issue on your campuses. 

“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire,” said the poet William Butler Yeats.  We need to light a fire in this next generation so they can see the urgency of this issue, explore solutions, speak out for action, and act.    

Today, I am pleased that the climate debate has moved from focusing on what we know to what we must do.  Now, the challenge is to build a common understanding among the young and not-so-young alike …. a common knowledge of what it is going to take to address this enormous problem … and a shared sense of responsibility on the part of today’s—and tomorrow’s—leaders.   

Meeting this challenge will take perseverance, and yes, a certain amount of perspiration as well. But I believe we are up to the task. Thank you very much.   

Statement: G8 Climate Proposal

Statement by Elliot Diringer, Director of International Strategies, Pew Center on Global Climate Change

June 7, 2007

Today's G-8 agreement represents modest but genuine progress toward an effective multilateral response to global climate change. Chancellor Merkel deserves enormous credit for forging a new consensus among G8 leaders that hopefully will be a foundation for concerted action.

In accepting the U.S. offer to host a meeting of major economies, the other G-8 leaders rightly insisted that this new dialogue go further than proposed by President Bush and consider international policies, not just a long-term goal. With their call for a global agreement under the UN Framework Convention by 2009, G-8 leaders have set a very ambitious timeline for establishing the post-2012 framework but offer no clear vision of what it should look like. Wide differences remain on fundamental issues such as the need for binding international commitments. And without such commitments, emissions will continue to grow.

If the United States and other G-8 governments are serious about this ambitious timeline, the next critical step will be launching formal negotiations under the Framework Convention at the upcoming talks in Bali. The goal in Bali should be a clear road-map toward a comprehensive post-2012 agreement with binding commitments by all the major economies.


Read the G8 Agenda for Global Growth and Stability

Eileen Claussen with Foreign Policy: "Seven Questions: Can Climate Change be Stopped?"

Syndicate content