Is a global treaty like the Kyoto Protocol–or whatever follows the pact, which the United States has refused to sign–the path to reducing climate change? Proponents say yes, and it’s time for America to show the way. Opponents say only ingenuity and market forces can achieve emissions goals.
U.S. Must Lead by Example
Greenhouse gas emissions are building up in our atmosphere, causing dangerous instability
Fred Krupp has for more than 24 years been president of the nonprofit Environmental Defense Fund.
in our climate. At the same time, we are seeing the oil-addicted global economy falter. The moment has arrived for Congress to take bold action to address these twin crises. As President Obama told lawmakers in February: “It’s time for America to lead again.”
The challenge of climate change grows bigger every day. Scientists say they can now see impacts from the 2-degree increase in average global temperature that has already occurred....
China, Brazil, and Indonesia have joined the United States and Europe as major emitters. The fact that the United States cannot solve this problem alone makes fast action by Congress even more critical. If we refuse to cut our own pollution, there is no reason for other nations to cooperate. If Congress acts quickly, we can lead the world to an effective and sensible solution when climate negotiators meet in Denmark in December.
The good news is that cutting our emissions will be good for America. It will be far cheaper to cap pollution now than to deal with the impacts of climate change later. By pushing our economy toward renewable energy, we will cut billions in oil imports every year. And, as the nation searches for a source of jobs to lead our economic recovery, a cap will create demand for clean energy products made in America—from steel for windmills to energy-efficient windows.
It is easy to be overwhelmed by the recent scientific warnings about global warming. But there are hopeful signs. We have a president who is committed to lead; we have a Congress that is gearing up to act; and other countries have signaled their willingness to move. Brazil recently pledged to cut deforestation by more than half, and China said it wants to work with us on climate change.
U.S. leadership on the climate issue will tell other nations: “Start planning your wind farms, carbon capture, and smart power grids, because clean energy is the next big thing for America—and the world.” That message in turn will create demand for a new global market of clean energy goods, services, and jobs.
How? Capping emissions will signal to governments, businesses, and entrepreneurs everywhere that there will be tremendous demand for new low-carbon technologies. Allowing anyone who finds better, cheaper, faster ways of reducing emissions below capped levels to save or sell the resulting surplus pollution allowances will spur capital to flow direct ly to the low-carbon technologies.
It’s the same approach that cut sulfur emissions two decades ago, and that’s why we no longer hear much about acid rain. And it’s an approach that can give the United States leverage with big developing countries: If they want access to our emissions market, if they want to sell us credits earned by cutting pollution, they’ll need to cap emissions, too.
Common sense tells us we can’t pump endless amounts of pollution into the atmosphere, any more than we can charge up our credit cards and never make any payments. And yet some seek to keep America from capping or limiting emissions, claiming cutting greenhouse gas emissions would cost too much.
That is a false argument. It ignores the unthinkable costs we will incur if we fail to act on climate change. Cleaning up after Hurricane Katrina gave us just the faintest hint of what those costs might be. It also ignores economic benefits that capping emissions can bring. While some businesses oppose caps, many support them. In February, a coalition of major U.S. companies, including DuPont, Duke Energy, and General Electric, submitted a blueprint to Congress for legislative action to cap emissions.
It’s good to stop and remember there’s really no downside to capping emissions and investing in clean energy. It’s strategically smart to reduce oil dependence, environmentally smart to clean up the atmosphere for our kids, and economically smart to keep climate change from be coming a global catastrophe.
It is also one of the smartest things we can do to lift ourselves out of the recession. By pursuing national legislation and a new treaty, we can open the door to the next great global wave of economic opportunity, and save the planet, too.
Global Treaty a Fool's Paradise
Reducing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere is important, but top-down
William L. Kovacs is vice president for environment, technology, and regulatory affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
mandates will not work. The Kyoto Protocol is a perfect example of the inherent flaws in such treaties. Why?
First, without requiring equal participation from all greenhouse gas-emitting countries, a global treaty would put the United States at an unfair disadvantage economically. Climate change is a global challenge requiring a global response. However, emerging nations such as China and India have said that they will not accept binding...
In fact, even if the United States acted immediately and ceased emitting all greenhouse gases, emissions from the developing world are expected to double by 2035 and triple by 2060. The Kyoto treaty created a nonlevel playing field where the undeveloped world is able to produce goods at a cheaper price through the use of less costly, energy-inefficient methods, threatening U.S. jobs and competitiveness in the global market.
In addition, some developed countries have come up with creative ways for getting around their reduction allocations and treaty responsibilities. Germany, for example, achieved its targets through unification with East Germany, as the latter’s collapsed economy and the shutdown of dilapidated factories resulted in drastic emissions reductions. Austria, which claims to be a big producer of clean energy, purchases substantial energy from Hungarian coal-fired power plants. Such machinations are not bringing the world any closer to developing and deploying low-carbon technologies needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
A second reason a global treaty will not work is that the technologies needed to achieve mandated targets do not yet exist or are in embryonic stages of development. Wind and solar, for example, are promising technologies, but they provide only intermittent energy. Though Congress authorized the development of 130 clean energy technologies, these initiatives remained unfunded until passage of the economic stimulus package. Without incentives to make current energy sources capable of burning more cleanly, to capture and store greenhouse gas emissions, or to produce enough low-carbon energy to replace fossil fuels, the world will have no means of achieving meaningful greenhouse gas reductions.
Third, environmental groups are, ironically, standing in the way of increased use of existing carbon-free technology. Nuclear energy—carbon free—is opposed by the environmental community. Moreover, environmentalists recently delayed or stopped more than 65 renewable energy and transmission projects through local opposition or litigation.
Kyoto is an example of a failed policy, but that doesn’t mean we can’t reduce greenhouse gas emissions. To achieve a sensible and effective climate change policy, we must ask ourselves two questions. First, does the solution allow the economies of all nations to grow? Reducing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere will be a long effort, costing trillions of dollars. Still, those costs can and should be managed so that they don’t destroy entire economies, kill jobs, and lower our standard of living.
Second, does the solution allow flexibility and require cooperation from all greenhouse gas-producing countries? Our leaders must appreciate that every nation can contribute to greenhouse gas emission reductions in a way that suits it best. Some countries are equipped to preserve forests; others are capable of replacing old coal plants with state-of-the-art coal technology. Some countries will choose a cap-and-trade system; others will develop and deploy new technologies. It’s less important how greenhouse gas producers contribute to the solution than that they contribute, period.
The world can reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But to do so, it must move from rigid ideology to practical approaches that create the economic wealth needed to pay for the transition to a nonfossil-fuel economy.
What do you think?