Solving the Climate Equation: Mandatory & Practical Steps for Real Reductions

Mandatory & Practical Steps for Real Reductions

Remarks By Eileen Claussen
President, Pew Center on Global Cliamte Change

Alliant Energy Conference
Madison, Wisconsin

April 15, 2003

Thank you very much. It is a pleasure to be here in Madison. And to be here on tax day makes it even more special. I hope I can be as creative in my remarks as many Americans are on their Form 1040.

Considering that it is tax day and coming from Washington, as I do, I thought you would be interested to know that Congress is indeed getting very serious about tax simplification. It’s true. The new tax forms they are discussing would include just three parts.

Part One: How much did you make last year? Part Two: How much do you have left? Part Three: Please send in the amount listed in Part Two.

Seriously, I expect you will all be glad to know that I am not here today to talk about taxes. Rather, what I want to talk about is the very taxing problem of global climate change. Okay, that’s the last time today that I will mention taxes.

I know that this morning’s panels included a session on the science of climate change. So I will skip the part of the speech laying out the evidence of how serious a problem this is. I hope that I don’t need to persuade you of that.

Instead, I would like to talk about where we stand today in our efforts to meet the challenge of climate change – and I may surprise some of you by saying there are actually a lot of good things happening. The momentum is building for practical solutions. People and governments are indeed taking important and worthwhile steps to address this problem, and I want to talk with you a little bit about what they are doing.

At the same time, I also want to talk with you about what must happen next. Because what is happening now is clearly not enough. And the priority looking ahead must be to marry a long-term vision of a climate-friendly future with the short-term strategies that will get us there. We need mandatory goals to ensure the broadest possible participation across all industry sectors in this effort. And we need to give businesses the flexibility to achieve those goals as cost-effectively as possible.

But, before I get into all of that, let me give you some background about the organization I represent. The Pew Center on Global Climate Change is a non-profit, non-partisan and independent organization. We consider ourselves a center of research, analysis, and collaboration. We are also a center in another sense – a much-needed centrist presence on an issue where the discussion too often devolves into battling extremes.

Our mission is to provide credible information, straight answers and innovative solutions in the effort to address global climate change. We see ourselves as a force for a pragmatic path forward on this issue. And we fulfill this role by educating the public and key policy makers, and by encouraging the domestic and international community to take practical steps to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.

Over the past several years, we have issued 45 reports from top-tier researchers on key climate topics such as economic and environmental impacts, policy solutions, equity issues and more. We have convened conferences and symposia, and we have worked with policy makers and businesses throughout the world as they strive to shape climate solutions.

In the course of our work, as you might expect, we have developed a fairly keen sense of where things stand in the global effort to address the climate problem. This is what I want to share with you today. It is the view from 30,000 feet, and I find it’s an especially useful vantage point for assessing our progress on this issue.

What does this high-level view show us? It shows us that despite everything we see and hear coming out of Washington, despite the fact that U.S. climate policy remains in neutral, from a higher altitude we can see that there is actually a great deal of activity under way. There are actually a lot of people who are already hard at work charting the “Path Forward” on climate change that is advertised as the topic of this conference.

Consider this: Despite the opposition of the Bush administration, the Kyoto Protocol stands on the verge of entering into force sometime this year. The ratification of the treaty by Poland and Canada late in 2002 brought the number of ratifying countries to 100. These countries were responsible for nearly 44 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions in 1990. Russia’s expected ratification of the treaty later this year should bring that share to 55 percent, which is the level required for Kyoto to become law.

I have no illusions, of course, that Kyoto is the definitive solution to the climate problem – and I strongly believe, as I will say later, that it is time to start thinking beyond Kyoto. But the simple fact that this critical mass of developed nations have agreed to the treaty – and are already hard at work on strategies to meet their Kyoto emission targets – is a development of truly historic proportions.

Equally encouraging – if not equally historic – are the voluntary efforts of many companies throughout the world to address the climate problem in a proactive way. As many of you know, the Pew Center serves as a convenor of leading businesses that are taking practical steps to reduce their contribution to the problem. The 38 members of our Business Environmental Leadership Council represent nearly 2.5 million employees and have combined revenues of $855 billion. They include mostly Fortune 500 firms, and they are deeply committed to climate solutions:

There is DuPont, for example, which made a voluntary pledge to reduce its global emissions of greenhouse gases by 65 percent by the year 2010. And guess what? Late last year, they announced they had achieved this target eight years ahead of schedule.  Also ahead of schedule in meeting its target is BP, which in 2002 announced that it had reduced global greenhouse emissions by 9 million metric tons in just four years. This marked a 10-percent reduction in the company’s emissions – and, like DuPont, BP had originally intended to achieve this goal in 2010.

Other companies have set similar targets and are working hard to meet them. And then there are all the companies that, even if they are not setting targets, are working in other ways to reduce their contribution to the climate problem. Alliant Energy itself – the sponsor of this important gathering – is also the sponsor of an array of energy efficiency and renewable energy programs.

The company’s innovative Second Nature program, for example, allows residential utility customers in Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin to buy renewable energy equal to 25 percent, 50 percent or 100 percent of their electric usage. At the end of 2002, Second Nature customers helped generate more than 9.8 million kilowatt-hours of renewable energy, including wind power from a new wind farm in Minnesota and biomass energy from a methane gas plant at a landfill in Mayville, Wisconsin.

Companies such as Alliant, BP and DuPont are not alone in taking proactive steps to address this problem. Also charting a path forward are individual states throughout the country. The Pew Center’s research shows that a majority of states have programs that, while not necessarily directed at climate change, are achieving real emission reductions.

Texas and 13 other states, for example, now require utilities to generate a specified share of their power from renewable sources. New York State’s new energy plan sets a goal of reducing emissions 10 percent below 1990 levels by 2020. What’s more, some states are going beyond target-setting and are establishing direct controls on carbon emissions from power plants and – in the case of California – cars and SUVs.

And I would be remiss not to mention what is happening here in Wisconsin, which since 1993 has required any facility that emits more than 100,000 tons of carbon dioxide to report its emission levels to the Department of Natural Resources. Wisconsin was the first state with a mandatory reporting rule; of the other states, only New Jersey has followed Wisconsin’s lead. And now Wisconsin is hard at work on a new registry that will enable firms to report reductions of CO2 or other greenhouse gases. The state is doing this, in part, to make sure that firms acting now will be able to get credit under future emission reduction regimes.

And so the path forward is being mapped out all around us – by entire nations, and by individual companies and states. Even the news from Washington is not all bad. Last year alone, nearly twice as many climate change bills were introduced on Capitol Hill than in the previous four years combined.

Then, early this year, as all of you know, the bipartisan duo of Senators John McCain and Joe Lieberman forged a landmark measure that for the first time brings together several features that would be critical to the success of a national climate change strategy. This bill would establish ambitious and binding targets for reducing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Equally important, it would provide companies with the flexibility to reduce emissions as cost-effectively as possible – thanks to the creation of a rigorous nationwide system allowing emissions trading and providing some credit for carbon storage. Last but not least, the bill would recognize those reductions that are being made now by the companies that are taking the lead on this issue and provide additional flexibility for these early actors.

Of course, the McCain-Lieberman measure has no real chance of becoming law any time soon, but it is an encouraging development nonetheless to see our policymakers in Washington finally coming to grips with exactly what it is going to take to yield real progress toward a climate-friendly future. And what it is going to take, as I stated early in my remarks, is a long-term vision of where we need to be, coupled with short-term strategies that will get us there.

At the Pew Center, we call it the 10/50 Solution. The idea is to think ahead to where we need to be 50 years from now if we are going to meet the challenge of climate change, and then to figure out decade by decade how to do it.

Why look 50 years out? Because achieving the necessary reductions in our greenhouse gas emissions will ultimately require innovation on a level never before seen. It will require a massive shift away from fossil fuels to climate-friendly sources of energy. It will require fundamental changes in how we produce things, how we power our homes and buildings, and how we travel to work.

The 10-50 approach doesn’t just look long-term, though. It recognizes that in order to realize that 50-year vision, we have to start right now. A while back, the Pew Center held a workshop with leading scientists, economists and other analysts to discuss the optimal timing of efforts to address climate change. They each came at it from a different perspective, but the overwhelming consensus was that to be most effective, action against climate change has to begin right now. Among the reasons why:

First, current atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases are the highest in more than 400,000 years. This is an unprecedented situation in human history, and there is a real potential that the resulting damages will not be incremental or linear, but sudden and potentially catastrophic. Acting now is the only rational choice under these circumstances.

A second reason to act now is that the risk of irreversible environmental impacts far outweighs the lesser risk of unnecessary investment in reducing or mitigating greenhouse gas emissions.

Third, it is going to take time to figure out how best to meet this challenge. And we must begin learning by doing now.

Fourth, the longer we wait to act, the more likely it will be that we are imposing unconscionable burdens and impossible tasks on future generations.

Fifth, there is an obvious lagtime between the development of policies and incentives that will spur action and the actions themselves.

And, last but not least, we can get started now with a range of “no regrets” policies that have very low or even no costs to the economy.

We can start with the low-hanging fruit – the countless ways we can reduce greenhouse emissions at little or no cost by simply being more efficient: everything from more fuel-efficient cars and trucks, including hybrids, to energy-efficient appliances and computers, efficiency improvements in industry, and even better management of animal wastes.

In the medium to long term, the challenge is to begin what we have called a second industrial revolution. The Pew Center is just now completing a scenario analysis that identifies several technologies as essential to our ability to create a climate-friendly energy future for the United States. Among them:

  • Number one: natural gas. Substituting natural gas for coal results in approximately half the carbon emissions per unit of energy supplied, but we need policies to encourage the expansion of natural gas supply and infrastructure.
  • Number two: energy efficiency. We have the ability to dramatically improve the fuel economy of cars and light trucks right now and in the very near future through a combination of advances in the internal combustion engine or through hybrid electric vehicles.
  • Number three: renewable energy and distributed generation. The potential here is enormous, but policy support will be essential in promoting investment and breaking barriers to market entry for these technologies.
  • Number four: nuclear power. Despite its problems, the fact remains that our carbon emissions would be much higher without nuclear power,
  • Number five: geological sequestration. Sequestration holds the potential of allowing for the continued production of energy from fossil fuels, including coal, even in the event of mandatory limits on carbon emissions.
  • And number six: hydrogen and fuel cells. The President’s recent announcement of a new federal commitment to fuel cell research was a welcome one, but we must have policies that will help pull these vehicles into the market.

Looking down this list, it is hard not to see that most, if not all, of these technologies would be important even in a world where we did not have this pressing obligation to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. For energy security and economic growth reasons, and a wide range of environmental reasons as well, these are simply smart things to do. The second industrial revolution is not just about responding to the challenge of climate change; it’s about creating a common-sense energy future.

And how can we make that future happen? Well, for one thing, we need an effective, long-term international agreement – one ensuring that all major emitting countries do their fair share to meet this challenge. The Kyoto Protocol – despite all its flaws, and despite being rejected by President Bush – is a reasonable first step. But even as other countries move ahead to implement it, they need to be looking beyond 2012 when the 1st commitment period ends. Because an agreement that’s going to work – an agreement that can bring in not only the United States, but developing countries as well – will in all likelihood be somewhat different than Kyoto. And it’s going to take some time to get there.

The more immediate challenge, of course, is here at home. That challenge is to get serious about reducing U.S. emissions. And getting serious means recognizing that a national climate strategy that lets emissions continue to grow is really not much of a strategy at all.

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