The United States Should Sign a Binding Treaty on Greenhouse Gas Emissions, says Fred Krupp

The U.S. must lead by example, says Fred Krupp.


Greenhouse gas emissions are building up in our atmosphere, causing dangerous instability 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 directly 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 becoming a global catastrophe.

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