An Agenda for Climate Action




MARCH 30, 2006

Thank you very much.   It is great to be here at Yale.  I want to open my remarks today with some polling numbers.  And I know what some of you may be thinking.  You’re thinking this is a typical Washington thing to do: talk about polls.  And you’re thinking about how polls really don’t get at the real issues.  And you may be right, particularly in this era of television and internet insta-polls.  

I was watching BBC Television shortly after the death of Slobodan Milosevic and the announcer asked viewers to call in with their opinions on this question: “How will Milosevic’s death affect the future of peace in the Balkans?”   And I thought that’s really a fairly sophisticated question.  Sort of the kind of essay question you might have to respond to here at Yale.  And fairly typical, I imagine, of BBC’s expectations of its audience.

In contrast, if you turn on CNN or FOX or one of the other American cable networks, the questions tend to be of the quick yes or no variety.   Here is an actual CNN online poll I found on the Internet: “Would you consider having microchips implanted in your body?  Yes or no.”  I can only imagine how someone might use these results.   

But seriously, I think we can all learn something from looking at the polling on an issue such as climate change, especially when it reveals a clear divergence between public opinion and what is happening in Washington to address this issue.

Just a couple of weeks ago, a national survey showed that Americans of all political beliefs are not happy with the U.S. government’s leadership (or lack thereof) on the issues of global warming and alternative energy. More than three out of four – including two out of three conservatives – said the federal government is not doing enough on either of these issues. And nearly nine out of ten agreed with the following statement—and I quote: “U.S. leaders should take steps to reduce carbon pollution now and speed up the conversion to renewable energy and other alternatives.”

Nine out of ten people. That’s higher than the proportion of dentists who recommend sugarless gum for their patients who chew gum. Seriously, it is an overwhelming majority of Americans. And they all want to see something done to address the climate issue and to put America on a path to a low-carbon future.

Of course, President Bush and Vice President Cheney say they don’t pay attention to polls – and this is one time when I believe them. Because if they were to pay attention to polls, they would be doing something serious to solve the climate problem. In ever-increasing numbers, Americans recognize that we are facing a potential crisis here, and they are looking to their elected leaders in Washington to shape solutions.

I am here today to talk about what those solutions might entail—and I want to do that by focusing on a comprehensive plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the United States that the Pew Center released in February. But I want to start with a brief look at the science of climate change, as well as what is happening now at both the state level and nationally.

Then I want to reserve the rest of my remarks to talk about the Pew Center’s Agenda – because what is happening right now in this country is clearly not enough.

The Science of Climate Change

So first the science. The polling data I talked about shows a pronounced shift in Americans’ views on the climate issue and what to do about it. And the main reason for this shift is not that people are beginning to notice that it’s getting warmer or that the pond over at the town park just isn’t freezing as much in the winter as it used to.

No, what’s happening is that people are beginning to pay attention to the science on this issue. And they are coming to understand that there is no longer any doubt about it: climate change is a very real and very serious problem.

Scientists now know for certain that the globe has been warming for the past century. They also know that human activities, mainly the burning of coal and oil, but also agriculture and deforestation, have dramatically increased concentrations of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere

In just the past year, the science linking observed climate change directly to human activities has become increasingly solid. And the impacts of climate change, distributed across the globe, are occurring in patterns that can only be explained by human activities and not by natural variations in regional climate. During the first half of the 20th century, natural factors may have been as important as anthropogenic factors. Unfortunately, the more dramatic warming that has occurred since then has been dominated by the human influence. The science is now clear on this point.

But what is really changing how people view this issue is that the impacts we are seeing now—today—are happening much sooner than anyone might have anticipated even a decade ago. These changes were predicted, but even the scientists who made the predictions are surprised at the rate at which they are now occurring.

What do we know about the impacts of climate change?

We know that ice cover around the world is changing at an unprecedented rate. Just last month, new satellite-based measurements of ice flow in Greenland were published in the Journal Science. And what they showed is that the second largest land-based ice sheet in the world is losing ice twice as fast as scientists had estimated before these new measurements were available. This ice sheet, if completely melted, could raise global sea level by almost 20 feet. That would permanently flood not just New Orleans, but virtually all of America’s major coastal cities.

We also know that we are experiencing a worldwide loss of mountain glaciers, a trend that is accelerating. By mid-century, most mountain glaciers may be gone.

We know that hurricanes are becoming more intense, not just in the Atlantic, which gave us Katrina and Rita, but in all oceans where hurricanes occur.

We know that ecosystems around the world are showing signs of responding to climate change. One study found that 130 species - both plants and animals - have responded to earlier spring warming over the last 30 years. These organisms have changed their timing of flowering, migration and other spring activities. More startling than this, however, climate change is also driving some species to extinction. For instance, in the past 20 years dozens of species of mountain frogs in Central America have disappeared because of a disease that formerly did not occur where they live. Early this year, a paper in the journal Nature revealed that the disease-causing organism, a fungus, has spread to higher elevations as a result of climate warming. This paper not only provides an example of climate change driving species extinct, but also strong scientific evidence that climate change is promoting the spread of diseases to new areas. In the authors' own words, "With climate change promoting infectious disease and eroding biodiversity, the urgency of reducing greenhouse-gas concentrations is now undeniable."

And these are, if I may say this, just the tip of the melting iceberg.

So the bottom line is this: The earth is warming; the impacts—once only predictions—are now upon us and are likely to worsen; and human activity is largely to blame.

U.S. Action on Climate Change

So we have all this science, and we have Americans responding to it by saying that our government needs to do more. How has our government responded? Well, at the state level at least, the response has been encouraging. For example:

Twenty-one states and the District of Columbia have enacted renewable energy mandates requiring utilities to generate a share of their power from renewable sources.

  • Twenty-eight state governments have adopted climate action plans; 15 have programs or policies in place to reduce, sequester or register greenhouse gases; and nine states have statewide targets for reducing their emissions.

Connecticut, I am pleased to say, has done all of these things. And more. As many of you know, Connecticut, along with six other northeastern states has signed onto a regional initiative called RGGI that is aimed at reducing carbon dioxide emissions from power plants in the Northeast. This is the first “cap and trade” program to control these emissions in the United States. It couples a mandatory cap on emissions from the electricity sector with a market-based trading program that will allow companies to achieve their reductions at the lowest possible cost.

So Connecticut is really out in front on this issue—and all of you should be proud to live in a state with leaders who understand the need for climate action.

Among the other states that are taking this issue seriously, I have to mention California.

Like Connecticut, California has established greenhouse gas emissions targets, and they are very ambitious. And that state also has taken steps to begin regulating carbon dioxide emissions from cars and trucks. (a policy that Connecticut will follow if it survives the automakers’ legal challenge)

And then there is New Mexico, a major coal-producing state. NM has established its own targets, and has also announced a partnership with neighboring Arizona to jointly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and address the impacts of climate change in the Southwest.

These are just a few examples of the kinds of things states are doing. Now, you might think one state’s actions cannot possibly affect a global problem like climate change. But consider this: California’s emissions top those of Brazil. Texas comes in ahead of Canada, the UK and Mexico. And Illinois produces more CO2 than the Netherlands. States are a significant part of the climate problem, and many of them, including Connecticut, are showing they can be a significant part of the solution as well.

So what about our national government? To what extent have our leaders in Washington embraced the need for action? Well, I have some good news and some bad news.

First the good news: During the U.S. Senate’s debate on energy legislation last year, senators approved a bipartisan measure calling for a national, mandatory, market-based program to slow, stop and, ultimately, reverse the growth in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. The legislation was sponsored by senators Domenici and Bingaman, the chair and the ranking Democrat on the Senate Energy Committee. And although it was a nonbinding measure, it marked the first time the Senate has gone on record to support mandatory action on this issue. That is an important achievement – and now Senators Bingaman and Domenici are seeking input on how to create a mandatory climate program that gets real results.

Still in play is the cap and trade legislation proposed by Senators John McCain and Connecticut’s own Joseph Lieberman. And now Senator Dianne Feinstein has joined the issue as well, offering her own version of a cap and trade climate policy. And we are helping others in Congress develop other proposals. So clearly, we’ve seen an up-tick in Congressional interest in this issue. Granted, these proposals may not become law right away, probably not before 2008, but I believe it is only a matter of time before limits on greenhouse gas emissions are in place.

So that’s the good news: people on Capitol Hill, especially in the Senate, are looking at this issue and thinking hard about how to address it.

The bad news is that the White House and leadership of the House of Representatives are strongly opposed to addressing climate change in any significant way. As a result, I do not believe anything substantive is likely to come out of Congress on this issue for some time. I would like to be proved wrong, but it is hard for me to see any leadership on this issue coming from the White House during the remainder of its term.

Despite the President’s famous statement in his State of the Union Address that America is addicted to oil, Washington does not seem truly ready to fight the addiction. The Administration’s budget proposals don’t come anywhere close to providing the shot in the arm we need to accelerate clean energy research in this country. (Again, this is despite the American public’s clear interest in alternative energy solutions.) More importantly, even if the technology programs were properly funded, they simply are not enough.

And this is the problem with what has been happening on this issue to date, whether at the state or the federal level. In addition to being late to start, what we are talking about and doing is simply not enough. As I said, I applaud what many of the states are doing, and I am pleased to see members of Congress beginning to understand the need for action. But we need to remember what this is about.

James Hansen, the NASA scientist who is one of the world’s leading experts on climate change, says we have just 10 years to begin reducing greenhouse gases before global warming reaches what he calls a tipping point; the tipping point, as the phrase implies, is the point from which we may not be able to avert a catastrophe. To forestall a climate crisis, we must stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere. And what does that mean? According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, it means limiting the concentrations to about 550 parts per million –roughly double the pre-industrial level of atmospheric greenhouse gases.

To get to that level, we need to reduce global CO2 emissions by 55 to 85 percent below what is currently projected. Fifty-five to 85 percent. And we need to do this at the same time that energy demand around the world is growing at an unprecedented rate. We need to act now to come up with ways to limit emissions growth without endangering economic growth. And make no mistake: The United States, which is responsible for one-fourth of global emissions, needs to play a leadership role.

And that is going to require a fundamental shift. We need to move from an economy based on traditional burning of fossil fuels to one based on more energy efficiency; increased use of low-carbon energy sources; and the capture and storage of carbon from fossil fuels. This is not something that one piece of legislation, or even one strategy or one approach, will accomplish. We need a comprehensive approach.

An Agenda for Climate Action

In February, the Pew Center released the first comprehensive plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. Our Agenda outlines an ambitious yet practical approach to addressing this issue. It is based on seven years of Pew Center analysis and work with leading businesses and policymakers.

The number-one lesson we have learned from this work: There is no single technology fix, no single policy and no single sector that can solve this problem on its own. For example, addressing emissions from the utility sector is key, but doing only that leaves out about 60 percent of emissions. In the same way, if we adopt policies to limit emissions from transportation and do nothing else, we’re hitting just 30 percent of the problem—which is significant, of course, but it is not enough.

The Pew Center’s Agenda outlines 15 specific recommendations in six overarching areas where the United States must take action. These six areas are: 1) science and technology; 2) market-based programs; 3) sectoral emissions; 4) energy production and use; 5) adaptation; and 6) international engagement.

I want to provide you with a better sense of what our Agenda is about by highlighting some of the recommendations in each of these six areas.

In the area of science and technology research, we call for increased and stable funding to spur technological innovation. Because it is important to spend this money wisely, we suggest the use of a “reverse auction.” Unlike a traditional auction, where buyers bid against each other to purchase an item, a reverse auction allows providers of goods or services—in this case, new, climate-friendly technologies—to compete for a pot of money by offering emissions reductions.

Since 1998, California has used reverse auctions to promote development of renewable energy. The program collects money through a charge on electric power, and solicits bids for renewable projects, with the money going to the bidder that can provide the renewable energy at the cheapest rate. Thus far, there have been 81 successful bids to produce renewable energy through this competitive and cost-effective system.

Second, we believe it is critically important to enact a mandatory cap and trade program that applies to large stationary sources – power-plants and major manufacturing facilities. Our work over the years has shown that market mechanisms such as emissions trading allow companies to reduce emissions in the cheapest, most efficient manner possible.

What a cap and trade system does in essence is send a signal to the market. It tells the market that there is a value in reducing emissions. And it tells inventors and investors that there is profit in creating and deploying climate-friendly technologies. It creates an essential pull for new technologies to enter the market. The push for those technologies, in turn, comes from the funding of innovation, through mechanisms like the reverse auction. And we need both the push and the pull to achieve real and cost-effective results. A cap and trade system coupled with a reverse auction is a great example of a comprehensive approach.

But the fact is that a cap-and-trade system by itself, and particularly at the level that would be politically practical, is not enough. In fact, many of the current proposals for cap-and-trade programs, tend to leave out the transportation sector, which is of course a major source of emissions.

And this is why the Pew Center’s Agenda also calls for sectoral approaches such as transforming the much-maligned Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency (or CAFE) program. CAFE, as you know, sets average fuel efficiency levels for carmakers across their fleets. But the standards have not changed significantly in over 20 years. And, because SUVs and light trucks now make up as much as half of the new-vehicle product mix, the average fuel economy of all the cars and light trucks sold in America—import and domestic— is no better today than it was in the early 1980s. Although NHTSA is currently considering changing the way it classifies different kinds of light trucks, it is unclear what that will translate into as far as actual emission reductions. But I am fairly sure it won’t be enough.

We recommend strengthening and converting the United States’ current fuel economy standards to a set of tradable standards based on greenhouse gas emissions. If you are looking to protect the climate, focusing on emissions rather than fuel efficiency seems more logical. By creating a market for emissions reductions through trading, and at the same time supporting the development of low-emission vehicles and fuels (the push and pull approach)—you can reduce the cost of getting the job done.

Of course, it is not only in the transportation sector where additional action is needed.

Our plan proposes tighter standards for appliance and equipment efficiency, as well as incentives for the manufacture of more climate-friendly products. Similarly, for the building sector, we call for stricter building codes to decrease energy use. We even touch on the role of the agriculture and forestry sectors in keeping carbon out of the atmosphere through climate-friendly practices. Again, all sectors of the economy have a role to play in this, and it is going to take all sectors to achieve the results we need.

But all sectors are not equal when it comes to having a hand in the climate problem and its potential solutions. One sector stands head and shoulders above the rest, and that is, you guessed it, energy. Eighty-percent of US greenhouse gas emissions come from the combustion of fossil fuels. The ways in which we generate, distribute and use energy have a profound impact on our emissions of greenhouse gases—and that is why the Pew Center’s Agenda reserves a special set of recommendations for this all-important sector. Our recommendations cover all of the major energy sources.

Let’s start with coal. And we need to be realists here. Coal is responsible for 50 percent of our nation’s electricity. It is cheap and it is plentiful and I believe (along with many others) that it will continue to play a role in meeting U.S. and global energy needs for years to come. Let’s look for a moment at our current and projected energy mix and needs. If we assume coal will continue to contribute roughly half of U.S. electricity requirements; and you look at the projected growth of energy demand in this country - by 2025 the U.S. will need to grow our coal capacity by 60% - that would mean emissions from U.S. coal burning alone in 2025 would equal 15% of our current global emissions. Globally, the numbers are even more dramatic. China is even more dependent on coal for electricity than the US. It contributes to 75% of their electricity needs, and despite efforts to ramp up generation in gas, renewables and nuclear, the overall share of coal in the mix is unlikely to change significantly. Think about this: China is building new coal power plants at a rate of one plant per week.

So we need to get serious—and I mean very serious—about reducing emissions from coal-fired power plants. First, we need to build the very best, most efficient coal burning power plants possible to reduce emissions per kWh of electricity. And then we have to prove that the carbon dioxide that still is emitted from these plants can be captured and stored (sequestered) in geological formations where it can be kept from entering the atmosphere for centuries or millennia.

We recommend an aggressive program of research, development and demonstration for these technologies. A few random demonstration projects done at a leisurely pace clearly are not enough. We need to build the most efficient plants and we need a concerted public-private effort to demonstrate that capture and sequestration can work, and then we have to insist that it be done.

But dealing with coal alone is not enough. Because capture and storage technologies are not quite ready, we need to work on expanding the role that renewables play in our energy future. We should also concentrate on expanding natural gas supplies and using natural gas more efficiently. And we will need to solve the problems associated with nuclear power. For each energy source, we propose specific measures in areas from R&D to incentives to regulation that can help expand the suite of carbon-friendly technologies that are necessary to put us on a low-carbon path.

It is of course important to understand that none of the things I have talked about can fully prevent all of the potential effects of climate change. In fact, as I mentioned at the start of my remarks, many impacts are already being seen. This is why, at the same time that we are working to reduce emissions in order to minimize the effects of climate change, we also need to develop a national strategy to adapt to those effects. Climate change is happening, and it is going to affect everything from agriculture to public safety and public health. Without a strategy, as well as a system for identifying the early warning signs of climate problems confronting our country, we are going to be caught unprepared.

Finally, the Pew Center’s Agenda, while primarily focused on domestic actions, also calls for greater U.S. participation in international negotiations on this issue. It is obvious now that there is no chance the United States will sign on to the Kyoto Protocol. Kyoto, of course, is the 1997 agreement that sets country-by-country targets for reducing emissions for industrialized countries. However you feel about Kyoto, the fact remains that climate change is a global problem that demands a global solution. It also needs a longer-term solution; Kyoto includes targets only through 2012.

We need to engage every country that is a major source of these emissions, not just the United States but China and India as well. And we need to come up with ways to make the process fair and equitable for all involved.

Finding common ground on global approaches to the climate problem has been the focus of a special Pew Center initiative we launched a couple of years ago and released in Montreal in December. I don’t want to spend a lot of time on it here, but we organized a dialogue-with business and political leaders from the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Japan, Australia, China, India, Mexico, Brazil, and other countries. And a key take-away from the group is that we need a more flexible framework than Kyoto, something that allows different countries to take on different types of commitments, all under the umbrella of a common global framework.

Working with us on global approaches are Senators Lugar and Biden, the majority and minority leaders in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. And I cannot speak highly enough of what these Senators have done. They sent senior staff to participate in our dialogue. They co-sponsored a resolution urging US leadership in the international negotiating process, and are committed to getting a majority of Senators to support it this year. And they expect to hold hearings this year on energy security and climate change.

So those are the recommendations in the Pew Center’s Agenda. Once again, they cover the areas of: 1) science and technology; 2) market-based programs; 3) sectoral emissions; 4) energy production and use; 5) adaptation; and 6) international engagement.

The Role of Business

What I want to emphasize about this agenda is that this isn’t pie-in-the-sky thinking. All of the steps we are recommending are eminently doable. We just need the political will to do them.

And, if we do these things thoughtfully, this transition can actually become a platform for new economic growth, new jobs, new manufacturing and service industries, and new roles for sectors such as agriculture and forestry in our nation’s efforts to protect the climate.

America’s business leaders appear to understand this. They know that a mandatory program to limit and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. is inevitable, and they know it is in their best interests to see that the program is designed intelligently and fairly.

That’s why so many of them stood with us at the event in February where we unveiled our Agenda. And why so many companies responded to Senator Bingaman and Domenici’s call for proposals and suggestions to fashion legislation setting mandatory caps on U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases. And that is why last June, five Fortune 500 companies provided testimony on climate to the Science Committee of the House of Representatives. ;

There are two unifying themes in these examples of corporate and investor leadership. First, most corporate leaders know that greenhouse gas regulation is inevitable. Second, they know that properly designed mandatory climate policies are consistent with sound business planning and good corporate governance. As more companies and investors come to this realization, pressure will mount for other companies to take a more responsible stance on the climate issue. And as corporate leadership aligns with activity at the state and international level, pressure will grow for serious policy change at the federal level.

Why? Because these companies want to ensure that the burden of responding to the climate problem is evenly shared across all sectors of the economy. And they also want another thing: they want certainty. Businesses, particularly electric utilities that have to make significant up-front investments in power plants, are saying they need to be able to plan for the future-and they cannot plan effectively without knowing what kind of policies this country is going to adopt to control emissions.

I opened my remarks with some polling data that shows Americans clearly understand the need for action on this issue. And I have concluded with examples of how business leaders, too, are concerned and how they’re beginning to take action. And, when you consider what many of the states are doing to address this issue, you realize that the one place where climate change still hasn’t achieved priority status is in Washington. Yes, we have seen a fair amount of discussion of this issue. And, yes, there are policymakers who take it seriously and who want to shape solutions.

But we need solutions now. We don’t have time to wait. Climate change policy in this country is at a crossroads, and the American public, together with visionary business and state leaders, are pointing us in the direction we need to go.

The sooner we get started by reversing our current course and adopting a serious and comprehensive approach to addressing this problem, the better off and the safer we will be. And the sooner we’ll begin transforming our economy for the realities and the opportunities that lie ahead.

And so, I will leave you today with another bit of polling described by Jay Leno. "According to a survey in this week’s Time magazine, 85% of Americans think global warming is happening. The other 15%" according to Leno, "work for the White House." Thank you very much. I welcome your questions.