In last year’s State of the Union address, President Obama stated that “no challenge poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change,” and said he was “determined to make sure that American leadership drives international action.” By aggressively implementing his Climate Action Plan—especially EPA’s standards on the amount of carbon pollution that the nation’s power plants are allowed to dump into the atmosphere—and engaging in nonstop diplomacy with China, India, Brazil, and other key countries, the president and his team laid the groundwork for last month’s historic climate agreement in Paris. Expect President Obama to claim his share of the credit for this achievement, which blows a gaping hole in opponents’ arguments that other countries won’t join the United States if we take action on climate change. Also expect him to lay out the economic, environmental, and security benefits of such action, and to commit to keep working for additional progress on this critical issue until his last day in office. Not only is this the right thing to do; it also is good politics, as the American public—including a majority of Republicans—strongly supports regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant.
President Obama may well mention Mission Innovation, the commitment announced in Paris by the United States and 19 other countries to double the level of government investment in clean energy technology R&D over the next five years, and call for bipartisan support for this initiative. He may acknowledge the extension of the investment tax credit and production tax credit provisions for solar, wind, and other renewable sources in the comprehensive tax bill passed by Congress last month, and how this will continue the rapid increase in electricity production these clean energy resources have experienced since he took office in 2009.
He will likely discuss how climate-related impacts—including tidal flooding linked to sea level rise, forest die-back, wildfires, heatwaves, drought, health effects, and threats to iconic landmarks and to our electricity system—are increasingly affecting local communities across the country, and ask Congress to join him in increasing federal assistance to state and local governments to prepare for and cope with the consequences of climate change.
President Obama may also highlight the need for climate justice and equity to be key components of efforts to build resilience in communities on the frontlines of climate change, and put in a plug for his solar access initiative, which seeks to ensure that disadvantaged communities enjoy full access to clean, renewable forms of energy and benefit from the rapid growth of clean energy jobs.
The increasing fuel efficiency of our vehicle fleet is a major contributor to recent reductions in oil and gasoline prices; the president was part of a bipartisan group of Senators who helped pass historic legislation in 2007 that increased the federal corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards for light-duty vehicles for the first time in 20 years, and he built on that success during his first term as president by adopting even more ambitious standards for new light-duty vehicles out to 2025. He now needs to ensure that the analysis and technology assessments that his agencies use as they prepare for next year’s mid-term evaluation of these standards is based on the best information and science. That will allow the next administration to have the best data in hand when assessing how to keep the 2025 standards strong.
In his 2014 State of the Union address, the president committed to keep working to improve vehicle efficiency, “by setting new standards for our trucks, so we can keep driving down oil imports and what we pay at the pump.” This spring, the Obama administration is set to finalize these standards to increase fuel efficiency in our heavy-duty trucks, which make up less than 7% of cars on the road but use over 25% of our oil. While strong, the administration’s proposed standards could still be improved, according to UCS analysis. Stronger standards would require a 40 percent reduction in fuel consumption by 2025—a technically feasible and cost-effective target that, when compared to the current proposal, would save more fuel, and sooner. When final, these standards will be another major component of the comprehensive strategy that’s needed to cut our oil use in half through efficiency and innovation, reducing the problems oil causes our economy, our security, our environment, and our climate.
President Obama also can and should do more to address the supply side of the equation. For the fact is that unnecessary leaking, venting, and flaring of methane dramatically increases the greenhouse gas emissions associated with extracting, refining, and producing a barrel of oil. The Obama administration has already proposed regulations to address methane leaks from new and modified oil and gas production; tomorrow night, the president should announce that not only will he finalize those standards, but that he will also move to set standards for existing drilling sites before he leaves office next year.
As he has in previous State of the Union addresses, President Obama may refer to the nation’s expanding production and use of natural gas as a benefit to our economy and environment. It’s true that substituting natural gas for coal in electricity production can help reduce carbon pollution in the near-term, though just as with oil, there are fugitive methane emissions from gas production and use, which if large enough, could overwhelm these carbon benefits. But ultimately, we need to virtually eliminate carbon pollution from all sources—including natural gas—if we are to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.
An overreliance on natural gas over the long-term won’t allow us to achieve the emissions reductions needed to address global warming, and could crowd out essential investments in renewable energy sources and improving energy efficiency. Also, as UCS’s toolkit on fracking makes clear, too many communities are being pressed to make decisions on new oil and gas production projects without access to comprehensive and reliable scientific information about the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on their local air and water quality, community health, safety, economy, environment, and overall quality of life. President Obama should pledge that the federal government will take a stronger role in protecting these communities, and work with states to strengthen regulation and oversight of these industries.
Just last week, the House passed H.R. 1155, the Searching for and Cutting Regulations that are Unnecessarily Burdensome (or “SCRUB”) Act, which as the Coalition for Sensible Safeguards points out, “would establish a new bureaucracy empowered to dismantle long-established public health and safety standards and would make it significantly more difficult for Congress and federal agencies to implement essential future protections.” Fortunately, the White House has already issued a veto threat for this ill-conceived legislation, should it ever reach the president’s desk. But this isn’t the first bad idea on “reforming” the federal regulatory process to be put forward by the current Congress, and it almost certainly won’t be the last. President Obama should make it crystal clear tomorrow night that he will continue to stand up to these efforts of special interests and their allies in Congress to undermine the ability of the federal government to protect the public’s health and safety.
There is also more that President Obama can do on his own on this front. For example, in 2013, he issued an Executive Order to improve chemical facility safety and security, but as my colleague Gretchen Goldman points out, the rules that provide better information for communities and protections against the risks of chemical accidents—the EPA’s so-called Risk Management Plan—are woefully out of date. The president should ensure these rules are updated before he leaves office.
While the president may once again refer to First Lady Michelle Obama’s campaign against childhood obesity, it’s unlikely he will address the disconnect between health and nutrition policies, on the one hand, and our national agricultural policy on the other. As UCS Food and Environment program director Ricardo Salvador and three colleagues put it in a November, 2014 Washington Post op-ed:
How we produce and consume food has a bigger impact on Americans’ well-being than any other human activity. The food industry is the largest sector of our economy; food touches everything from our health to the environment, climate change, economic inequality and the federal budget. Yet we have no food policy — no plan or agreed-upon principles — for managing American agriculture or the food system as a whole.
While an executive order to establish a national policy for food, health, and well-being is likely a bridge too far in the president’s final year, the lack of a national food policy needs to be an issue in this year’s presidential campaign.
In the meantime, President Obama should make clear that he will defend healthy and sustainable food and farm policies in 2016, which will likely see the passage of at least one major food bill, the Child Nutrition Reauthorization (CNR) Act. CNR sets nutrition standards and funding levels for school lunch and breakfast programs, and authorizes the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) Program, which provides food assistance to low-income families. It also authorizes the Farm to School program, which has been instrumental in connecting local and regional farmers with schools, providing a win for farmers and schools alike. President Obama can use his veto power to ensure that a CNR bill delivers healthy, affordable food for those who need it most. Additionally, he can ensure that any other food and agriculture legislation or federal rules are developed using sound science in order to protect our water, air, and soil, and our families’ health.
Less than three months after taking office, President Obama gave a stirring speech in Prague on reducing the threat from nuclear weapons. Sensibly, he sought to “put an end to Cold War thinking” and to “reduce the role that nuclear weapons play in U.S. security policy.” He set forth a bold goal by declaring “I state clearly and with conviction America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.” Almost seven years later, there has been far less progress toward those goals than many—presumably including the president—had hoped. Some of that is due to Russian intransigence and misbehavior, but despite those challenges, President Obama still has time and the authority to take steps that would reduce the nuclear threat.
He could begin tomorrow night, by declaring that the United States will remove its land-based nuclear-armed missiles from hair trigger alert, a dangerous posture held over from the Cold War that dramatically increases the chances of accidental or inadvertent nuclear war. He could also cancel the proposed new nuclear-armed cruise missile, a dangerous new capability that lowers the threshold for nuclear use. In June 2013, based on a comprehensive Pentagon study of military requirements, President Obama declared that the United States could safely reduce deployed U.S. nuclear forces by one-third, but he has not done so. He could seize that opportunity in the State of the Union. Finally, he could declare that the sole purpose of U.S. nuclear weapons is to deter a nuclear attack on the United States and its allies, a significant move that would fulfill his intention to reduce the role that nuclear weapons play in U.S. security policy.
By reducing the nuclear threat, each of these steps would lead to a significant improvement in U.S. and global security.
President Obama can take a measure of satisfaction from the difference he and his administration have made on issues such as these that are of such vital importance to the future of all Americans. But there is clearly more work to be done, and the president has made clear he will use every remaining minute of his time in office to make more progress wherever he can.
Part of his focus over the next year—and beyond—should be on continuing to raise public awareness of the benefits of responsible government action on climate change, clean energy, public health and safety protections, arms control, and other critical issues. This will not only build support for the actions he takes as president, but will help create positive pressure for continued constructive action after he leaves the Oval Office next January.]]>
There was drama right up to the last minute, as a drafting error by the UNFCCC Secretariat staff that would have made the Agreement’s emission reduction commitments legally binding—thus requiring ratification of the Agreement by the United States Senate—almost derailed the negotiations. But a technical correction was read from the podium, and France’s Foreign Minister and COP 21 President Laurent Fabius quickly gaveled through the agreement. Following its adoption, there were a series of powerful statements by Minister Fabius, French President Francois Hollande, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, and UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres.
The Paris Agreement represents a triumph of multilateral diplomacy, and a powerful indication that 23 years after adoption of the Framework Convention in Rio de Janeiro, the nations of the world are coming together to respond to the greatest challenge humanity has ever faced. Having been involved in the climate negotiation process since it started in early 1991, last night’s decision was tremendously gratifying on a personal level; for almost an hour after the gavel came down, I found myself exchanging hugs and hearty handshakes with dozens of colleagues—fellow non-governmental group advocates, negotiators, and even the odd minister or two.
It was a very emotional moment.
While there is much more work ahead of us, the Paris Agreement gives the world renewed hope that we can come to grips with the mounting climate change crisis and leave our children and grandchildren with a habitable planet. The Agreement sets an even more aggressive temperature limitation goal than the 2 degrees Celsius goal set at COP 16 in Cancun five years ago: “holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 degrees C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees C above pre-industrial levels.” Getting the 1.5 degrees C reference in the Agreement represents a major victory for small island states and other countries who have been correctly making the case that a 2 degrees C limit is by no means “safe,” and for some island states, in fact poses an existential threat. Of course, we are nowhere near on track to constrain temperature increases to below 2 degrees C, much less to avoid exceeding 1.5 degrees C, and achieving such a goal will be quite challenging.
The Agreement outlines what must be done to meet this aggressive temperature goal, saying countries must “aim to reach global peaking of global warming emissions as soon as possible, recognizing that peaking will take longer for developing country Parties, and to undertake rapid reductions thereafter in accordance with best available science, so as to achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century.” As the latest UNEP Emissions Gap report makes clear, such an objective likely requires achieving net zero emissions of the principal greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, by 2070 or so to have a likely chance of keeping temperature increases below 2 degrees C, and even earlier — around 2050 — for a 1.5 degree C goal.
Either of these scenarios will clearly require much more ambitious action than is represented by the post-2020 emissions limitation proposals (referred to as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, or INDCs) put forward by 189 countries thus far, as noted in paragraph 17 of the Paris decision. The COP requested that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change prepare a special report on these issues by 2018, to inform a “facilitative dialogue” amongst countries at COP 24 at the end of that year. The aim of that dialogue is to “take stock of the collective efforts of Parties in relation to progress towards the long-term goal…and to inform the preparation of nationally determined contributions.” The decision also requests all countries to formally submit their contributions by 2020, to be recorded in a registry maintained by the UNFCCC Secretariat.
The IPCC special report, 2018 facilitative dialogue, and 2020 INDC submission deadline will combine to create a global moment at the end of this decade where countries will be expected to update their current proposed actions, in light of the science as well as technology and economic trends. The cost of energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies has been coming down at a breathtaking pace; to give just one example, when I met with a team of senior negotiators from India at COP 21 last week, they told me that the price of super-efficient LED light bulbs in their country had been reduced from the equivalent of $5 each to a little over $1 each in just the last 17 months. As these trends continue over the next several years, all countries should be in a position to significantly increase the ambition of their post-2020 emissions proposals, thus helping close the “ambition gap” — the difference between the collective level of emissions expected between now if countries implement the proposals they have put forward, and the much higher level of reductions needed to get on a pathway to hold temperatures below 2 degrees/1.5 degrees C.
The Paris Agreement sends a clear and powerful message to the fossil fuel industry: after decades of deception and denial, their efforts to block action on climate change are no longer working. Growing public concern about climate impacts, and the availability of cost-effective efficiency and renewable energy solutions are giving leaders the political will to stand up to fossil fuel polluters and to put us on a path to create the global clean energy economy needed to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.
But even if we succeed in holding the increase in global temperature well below 2 degrees Celsius, the impacts of climate change will continue to increase over the next several decades, as a result of global warming emissions over the last two centuries. Vulnerable countries require scaled-up assistance to cope with these impacts, which they had almost no responsibility for creating. While some progress was made on this front in Paris, much more remains to be done, and ramping up developed country public finance for both adaptation activities and responses to loss and damage — the costs of dealing with both sudden disasters like typhoons and floods, and slow-onset impacts like sea-level rise and droughts — must be a priority going forward. These issues need to be a major focus of the next Conference of the Parties meeting, to be held next November in Marrakech, Morocco.
Finally, let me express my thanks to the tremendous UCS team that worked so hard here in Paris —staff members Ashley Siefert, Doug Boucher, Jason Funk, Kathy Mulvey, Ken Kimmell, Peter Frumhoff, and Rachel Cleetus, as well as to our board chair, Anne Kapuscinski and our special delegation member, Texas Tech climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe. Thanks also to so many other UCS staff who weren’t here in Paris, but whose skillful analysis, advocacy, outreach, and public communications work helped contribute to this historic outcome in Paris. While we are by no means finished, I am convinced that years from now, Paris will be seen as the tipping point when the transition away from fossil fuels really picked up pace and the dawn of the age of renewables became inevitable. I am so grateful to be part of this amazing team of smart, savvy, and dedicated people.]]>
The papal encyclical that Pope Francis released in May, Laudato Si, left no doubt as to how deeply he cares about the impacts that climate change is already having, particularly on the most vulnerable amongst us. And he reiterated that concern in his remarks at this morning’s welcoming ceremony at the White House, saying that “climate change is a problem that can no longer be left to a future generation. When it comes to the care of our common home, we are living at a critical moment of history.”
Tomorrow morning, tens of thousands of people are expected to pack the National Mall for the rally for Moral Action on Climate Justice, organized by a coalition of faith, social justice, secular and environmental leaders; the goal is to “bring more people into the conversation that Climate Change is a Moral Issue and significantly expand the number of persons who will recognize and take action for climate justice.” I will be speaking at the rally on behalf of the Union of Concerned Scientists; here is some of what I plan to say:
Climate change is not just an environmental problem; it is also one of the greatest social, economic, and moral challenges of our time. No country is immune from its impacts, and no country can meet the challenge alone. We can’t point fingers and say “your end of the lifeboat is sinking;” rather, we must put aside our differences and come together to address this crisis. As the world’s largest economy and largest historical emitter of heat-trapping gases, the United States has a special responsibility to provide leadership.
The climate summit in Paris this December offers us the opportunity to meet this challenge, by taking the actions needed to avert the worst impacts of climate change. We need an ambitious agreement that sees all countries committing to do their part, and that sets us on a clear course towards a global economy that is much more energy-efficient and is entirely powered by the sun, wind, and other renewable resources. We must do this in a way that also addresses the crises of economic inequality, poverty, and social exclusion. At the same time, we must greatly expand support for communities that are already struggling to cope with the impacts of climate change, both in other countries and here at home.
Two months out, there are promising signs that such an agreement is possible. Hundreds of cities, states, and provinces are making bold action commitments. Investors are starting to shift their assets away from fossil fuels and into clean energy sources. People around the world are taking steps to reduce the impacts of their own consumption patterns, and are coming out to rallies like this one to demand action from their political leaders. And leaders are responding by committing to work for a successful outcome in Paris.
Of course, there are some politicians who still don’t get it, who say that action is too expensive, that other countries won’t join us if we take action, or in some cases, that the threat of climate change is a hoax. One Member of Congress even told a reporter that when the Pope addresses Congress tomorrow, he hopes that he “emphasizes moral issues, rather than things like global warming.” Anybody who doesn’t understand that climate change is one of the most profound moral issues we face hasn’t been paying any attention to what Pope Francis has been saying!
We can hope that these advocates of inaction will open their hearts to Pope Francis’s message, will reflect on the kind of world they want to leave to their children and grandchildren, and will change their position. But in the meantime, the rest of us must push ahead to win the change we need to see, both in Paris and here at home. By your presence here today, you are sending a strong message to our political leaders that the science is clear, the problem is urgent, the solutions are available, and inaction is unacceptable. Riffing off of President Obama, we are saying: Yes We Can! Yes We Must! Yes We Will!]]>
In last year’s State of the Union, the president dismissed those who question the reality of the climate threat. “The debate is settled,” he said. “Climate change is a fact. And when our children’s children look us in the eye and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safer, more stable world, with new sources of energy, I want us to be able to say yes, we did.” Since then, the president and his team have been moving full steam ahead on his Climate Action Plan, with the latest element, on methane emissions in the oil and gas sector, unveiled earlier this week. The centerpiece of the plan, though, remains the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed standards on the amount of carbon pollution that the nation’s power plants are allowed to dump into the air, which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he will do “any and everything I can to block.” Expect the president to reiterate the economic, environmental, and security benefits of his domestic climate initiatives; while he won’t persuade Sen. McConnell or other Congressional opponents to change their stance, he knows that the public — including a majority of Republicans — support regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant.
President Obama is also likely to underscore the need for U.S. leadership on climate on the global stage, building on his forceful speech at last September’s climate summit at the United Nations, and his joint announcement with Chinese President Xi Jinping in November, where China committed to cap its total carbon emissions by 2030, if not earlier. It will take global collaboration on an unprecedented level for humanity to come to grips with the climate crisis, and as the president has acknowledged, “as the world’s largest economy and second-largest carbon emitter, as a country with unsurpassed ability to drive innovation and scientific breakthroughs, as the country that people around the world continue to look to in times of crisis, we’ve got a vital role to play.”
Finally, climate-related impacts — including tidal flooding linked to sea level rise, forest die-back, wildfires, heatwaves, drought, health effects, and threats to iconic landmarks and to our electricity system — are increasingly affecting local communities across the country. Mayors, governors, and other local leaders are on the front lines of the real-world fight to avert the worst impacts of climate change; several of them served on President Obama’s Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience, which presented its recommendations to the president last November. President Obama will likely refer to these impacts in his speech, and he should call on Congress to join him in ramping up federal assistance to state and local governments to prepare for and cope with the the consequences of climate change.
The increasing fuel efficiency of our vehicle fleet is a major contributor to recent reductions in oil and gasoline prices; the president was part of a bipartisan group of Senators who helped pass historic legislation in 2007 that increased the federal corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards for light-duty vehicles for the first time in 20 years, and he built on that success during his first term as president. In last year’s State of the Union address, the president committed to keep working to improve vehicle efficiency: “When we rescued our automakers,’ he said, “we worked with them to set higher fuel efficiency standards for our cars. In the coming months, I’ll build on that success by setting new standards for our trucks, so we can keep driving down oil imports and what we pay at the pump.” Those standards are expected out in March, and will be another major component of the comprehensive strategy that’s needed to cut our oil use in half through efficiency and innovation. By taking additional steps to cut oil use, we can reduce the problems oil causes our economy, our security, our environment and our climate.
As he did last year, President Obama may refer to the nation’s expanding production and use of natural gas as a benefit to our economy and environment. It’s true that substituting natural gas for coal in electricity production can help reduce carbon pollution in the near-term, though we must make sure that fugitive methane emissions from gas production and use don’t overwhelm these carbon benefits. But ultimately, we need to virtually eliminate carbon pollution from all sources — including natural gas — if we are to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. An overreliance on natural gas over the long-term won’t allow us to achieve the emissions reductions needed to address global warming, and could crowd out essential investments in renewable energy sources and improving energy efficiency. Also, when it comes to expanded oil and gas production, the federal government needs to take a much stronger role in protecting communities, and work with states to strengthen regulation and oversight of these industries. As UCS’s toolkit on fracking makes clear, too many communities are being pressed to make decisions on new production projects without access to comprehensive and reliable scientific information about the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on their local air and water quality, community health, safety, economy, environment, and overall quality of life.
The new Congress is wasting no time in resuscitating bad ideas on “reforming” the federal regulatory process. While the White House issued a veto threat to the Regulatory Accountability Act passed by the House earlier this week, this is only the first in a likely onslaught of such bills. The president should make it crystal clear next Tuesday night that he will stand up to these efforts of special interests and their allies in Congress to undermine the ability of the federal government to protect the public health and safety.
The President is almost certain to mention the trade pacts now being negotiated with the European Union and with a set of key Asian countries, and may call on Congress to give him “fast track” authority to require only an up-or-down vote when he submits those agreements for approval. But there are mounting concerns amongst both public interest groups and members of Congress about the substance of these new agreements, as well as the lack of transparency in the negotiating process. It is crucial that these and other trade agreements are crafted to protect public health and safety and the environment, with standards based on the best available science. And these agreements must be negotiated in the sunlight, permitting the American public and law makers access to their details before they are concluded.
While the president is likely to once again refer to First Lady Michelle Obama’s campaign against childhood obesity, it’s unlikely he will address the disconnect between health and nutrition policies, on the one hand, and our national agricultural policy on the other. As UCS Food and Environment program director Ricardo Salvador and three colleagues put it in a recent Washington Post op-ed, “how we produce and consume food has a bigger impact on Americans’ well-being than any other human activity. The food industry is the largest sector of our economy; food touches everything from our health to the environment, climate change, economic inequality and the federal budget. Yet we have no food policy — no plan or agreed-upon principles — for managing American agriculture or the food system as a whole.” Pursuing such a shift in food and farm policies would require taking on some real sacred cows (pun intended), and given the president’s need to defend his environmental, health care, immigration, and financial reform accomplishments, it’s understandable, though unfortunate, that he will likely leave this issue to the next president to take on.
Less than three months after taking office, President Obama gave a stirring speech in Prague, where he said “I state clearly and with conviction America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.” And in last year’s State of the Union address, he observed that “American diplomacy has rallied more than 50 countries to prevent nuclear materials from falling into the wrong hands, and allowed us to reduce our own reliance on Cold War stockpiles.” Locking down nuclear materials is an important achievement that UCS fully supports, but there are other steps the president can and should take to protect Americans, such as taking our missiles off dangerous high alert levels. This would also be a good signal to countries that are looking for signs that the U.S. and other nuclear weapons states are committed to reducing the nuclear threat, prior to the Non-Proliferation Treaty review conference this spring. The State of the Union address presents a great opportunity for President Obama to signal such an initiative, though there are no indications that he intends to do so.]]>
But these developments had done little to resolve the sharp disagreements about which countries are responsible for taking which kinds of action on climate change, and these different perspectives on the issue of differentiation nearly derailed the final decision in Lima. As it was, the Lima decision on the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) was a disappointing, minimal outcome. If these conflicts over the issue of differentiation are not resolved, or at least significantly narrowed, they could threaten the prospects for agreement in Paris next December on a new, comprehensive post-2020 climate regime.
In the 1992 Framework Convention on Climate Change, countries were split into two groups; the developed countries who collectively were responsible for the majority of historical greenhouse gas emissions were placed in Annex 1 of the treaty, and the developing countries were labeled as non-Annex 1. Under the Kyoto Protocol, only Annex 1 countries were required to take on binding emissions reduction commitments.
At COP 17 in Durban in 2011, countries agreed that the post-2020 actions to be negotiated by next year’s climate summit in Paris would be “applicable to all.” To the U.S., other developed countries, and some developing countries as well, this phrase meant that the strict “firewall” between Annex 1 and non-Annex 1 countries would not continue in the post-2020 agreement; different countries would take on different kinds of actions, but those would be based on their capabilities and their current national circumstances, not by the binary division of the world in the 1992 Framework Convention. However, other countries, in particular the Like-Minded Developing Countries group continue to insist that obligations in the post-2020 agreement must be based on the Annex 1 and non-Annex 1 groupings.
At the COP 19 climate summit last year in Warsaw, countries agreed that the obligations under the post-2020 agreement would be “nationally-determined,” with each country deciding for itself what kinds of actions it would take to reduce emissions. While there is general agreement that developed countries should continue to take on economy-wide emissions reduction commitments, there is no guidance in the Warsaw decision as to what kinds of obligations developing countries should take on, nor could there have been, given the deep divisions on this issue.
In the November 12th U.S. China Joint Announcement on Climate Change, China pledged to achieve an economy-wide peak in its carbon dioxide emissions by 2030 or earlier. While this represents a significant advance in China’s national position over its previous intensity-based approach, it had no effect on its international stance in Lima on the post-2020 agreement, nor on the positioning of the Like-Minded Developing Countries group, of which China is a leading member. These countries continue to insist that developing countries should only take actions based on provision of finance and technology support from developed countries (which, of course, is not a condition of China’s pledged post-2020 emissions cap).
In Lima, these disputes about the responsibility of different countries arose not only in the discussions of post-2020 mitigation actions, but also in debates over finance, adaptation, and technology transfer.
In the final decision text put forward by COP President Manuel Pulgar-Vidal and adopted by consensus in the wee hours of Sunday morning, a new paragraph appeared: “Underscores its commitment to reaching an ambitious agreement in 2015 that reflects the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in light of different national circumstances.” This language was taken directly from the U.S.-China announcement, and was enough to paper over the clear differences on the differentiation issue and to allow unanimous adoption of the decision.
In their written submissions earlier this year, countries spelled out their approaches to several issues, including the issue of differentiation in the post-2020 agreement. While these positions reflect the well-known divisions between the developed countries and the Like-Minded Developing Country group, there are several proposals from other developing countries that provide a more nuanced view of the issue and represent a potential landing ground for the agreement next year in Paris.
In its submission, the European Union notes that one of the most challenging aspects of negotiating the post-2020 agreement in Paris will be how it reflects the Framework Convention’s principle of Common but Differentiated Responsibilities and Respective Capabilities (CBDR&RC). The EU believes that “to be consistent with this principle, Parties’ obligations must reflect evolving realities, circumstances, responsibilities and capabilities in a fair and dynamic way that is ambitious enough to keep us on track to achieve the below 2 degrees C objective.” The EU sees the process of countries submitting their Intended Nationally-Determined Contributions, or INDCs, together with the international process to consider and analyze them, as the way that CBDR&RC will be operationalized in the post-2020 agreement.
The U.S. also believes that differentiation will be determined by the INDCs put forward next year. The U.S. is quite clear that it cannot support a post-2020 agreement “based on a 1992-era bifurcated approach,” unless that approach “were on the basis of categories that are updated, in line with evolving realities.”
Norway calls for all countries to participate in the post-2020 regime, and sees a need to “differentiate according to the actual differences among Parties, and not on the basis of fixed categories of Parties.” Norway says that it “would expect all Parties with reasonable capacity and significant responsibility for global emissions” to put forward economy-wide emission reduction or emission limitation commitments.
Taking a directly counter approach, the Like-Minded Developing Countries group has called for the post-2015 agreement to be strictly differentiated between Annex 1 and non-Annex 1 countries, with the former taking on “economy-wide mitigation commitments” and the latter taking “mitigation actions subject to provision of support” from developed countries. China, which is a leading member of the LMDC, is quite firm in its belief that the goal of the negotiations on the new post-2020 agreement is “by no means to create a new international climate regime, nor to renegotiate, replace, restructure, rewrite, or reinterpret the Convention and its principles, provisions, and Annexes.”
Brazil, on the other hand, has proposed an approach it calls “concentric differentiation,” that would see all countries putting forward “quantified mitigation targets and actions.” These could include economy-wide reduction targets relative to a previous base year, relative to a future projection of emissions, relative to unit of GDP (intensity target), or on a per capita basis, or actions that aren’t economy-wide. Developed countries would be expected to take the first approach, while least-developed countries would be encouraged to put forward non-economy wide actions. Other developing countries would be expected to put forward “economy-wide mitigation targets, leading to absolute targets over time, in accordance with their national circumstances, development levels, and capabilities.” Brazil’s proposal is summarized in this graphic:
Brazil sees this approach as fully consistent with the principles of the Convention, including differentiation between developed and developing countries. But to me, it represents a much more dynamic and effective approach to increasing ambition than the Annex 1/non-Annex 1 division of responsibilities that some countries state should be maintained ad infinitum.
In its submission, Mexico calls for developed countries to take the lead by putting forward economy-wide emission reduction targets, and for “other Parties in a position to do so” to follow their lead by doing the same. Similar to Brazil, Mexico envisions a spectrum of other possible commitments, including absolute limits on emissions, intensity targets, deviation from business-as-usual, and sectoral mitigation plans and strategies.
The Association of Independent Latin American and Caribbean countries (AILAC) states that while developed countries must take the lead, all countries should put forward contributions under the post-2020 agreement, based on their “national context, capabilities, responsibility and challenges,” and all countries should be “ambitious in contributing to global efforts to combat climate change.”
Finally, the Least-Developed Countries also call for developed countries and others in a position to do so to take on economy-wide emission reduction commitments, and for other countries to take on emission limitation commitments “in a form that is appropriate to meet their national circumstances.” They call on themselves to develop and implement low-carbon development strategies.
The differentiation issue nearly blocked the final decision in Lima, where the stakes were actually quite small. In Paris next year, the stakes will be quite high: nothing less than the shape of the climate regime for the next several decades. It will not be possible to paper over sharp differences on this issue with artful language that different groupings can interpret in a way favorable to their position, as happened in the last hours of Lima.
Given the opposition of developed countries and of many developing countries to maintaining the Annex 1/non-Annex 1 groupings as the basis for obligations in the post-2020 agreement, it is clear that the position of the Like-Minded Developing Countries group is not viable. But the notion of purely self-determined obligations is not appealing to the vast majority of countries either; while it may represent the de facto basis for the first round of commitments under the Paris agreement, there will need to be more guidance in the agreement for subsequent mitigation commitments, as well as for the provision of finance, capacity-building, and technology transfer to developing countries, if it is to be acceptable to all. The submissions from Brazil, AILAC, Mexico, the Least-Developed Countries and others have much to offer in this regard.
Given that these submissions were made only recently, they have not received full discussion in the negotiating process. Creating the space for a full and focused discussion of the differentiation issue should be a priority for the new ADP co-chairs, Dan Reifsnyder of the United States and Ahmed Djoghlaf of Algeria. For as more than one delegate observed in Lima, differentiation is “the elephant in the room.” To make real progress towards agreement in Paris, there will need to be greater alignment around a shared vision of post-2020 differentiation. My hope is that through constructive discussion of the proposals put forward recently, together with the reality of differentiated INDCs being put forward by countries starting next March, we will start to see some breaking down of the polarization around the differentiation issue. Whether it will be enough to enable us to reach a comprehensive, ambitious post-2020 climate agreement in Paris remains to be seen — but it is an effort well worth making.]]>
As UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon recently said, “Time is running out. The more we delay, the more we will pay. Climate change is accelerating and human activities are the principal cause… The effects are already widespread, costly and consequential — to agriculture, water resources, human health, and ecosystems on land and in the oceans. Climate change poses sweeping risks for economic stability and the security of nations.”
The Climate Summit is the unofficial beginning to a process that must eventually result in commitments across the globe to slash carbon emissions, reduce the world’s exposure to the risks of a warming planet and find fair ways to support nations that face the consequences of any warming we can’t contain.
World leaders attending the summit must demonstrate that they fully understand the dangers that climate change poses to the prosperity and well-being of their citizens; they must also acknowledge their collective responsibility to act urgently to reduce this threat.
The good news is that more and more countries are taking action to cut emissions of the heat-trapping gases that drive climate change, as a report by the Global Legislators Organization recently documented. Almost 100 developing countries now have renewable energy policies in place. Carbon pricing is gaining traction around the world as 40 national and 20 sub-national governments have some form of it; over 20 percent of all the world’s emissions are covered by a carbon cap or price.
But even greater action is needed if we are to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. Most importantly, governments and the private sector alike must urgently shift investments away from the polluting fossil fuel sources that have caused the problem, and towards the efficient and renewable energy technologies that can solve it.
There will be useful initiatives launched at the [AL1] summit across a range of sectors, involving action commitments by governments, business, and non-governmental groups. But these will only be a down payment on the national emissions reduction pledges that countries have agreed to put forward in the runup to the December 2015 meeting in Paris, where a comprehensive new climate agreement is to be reached.
Much has been made about the expected absence of a few major country leaders from the summit – such as Chinese President Xi Jinping, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. While it would have been desirable for these leaders to join their peers in New York, their absence doesn’t mean they don’t understand the climate threat, or that they are not taking action at home to address it.
Take China: Just recently, Chinese leaders announced that a national carbon emissions trading program would begin in 2016, building on the experience gained through the seven regional programs now underway. While China remains the world’s largest emitter, the nation’s emissions intensity, which is the amount of emissions produced for each unit of GDP growth, has declined. And just last week, China’s State Council put forward the draft version of a new law to crack down on air pollution from coal burning, which severely affects Chinese citizens’ health. China will be represented at the New York Summit next week by Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli, who will be the most senior Chinese official to attend a climate talk since the 2009 Copenhagen climate conference. He is expected to elaborate on China’s plans to put limits on its consumption of coal, which is the source of some 80 percent of the country’s carbon emissions.
Germany has also taken significant action to address climate change. The country has undertaken one of the most successful energy transformations in the world, while remaining the strongest economy in Europe. Germany currently generates almost 30 percent of its energy from renewable sources, and is on track to increase that to 45 percent by 2030. Germany has committed to cut its global warming emissions by some 55 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. And at the Petersberg Climate Dialogue in Berlin in July, Chancellor Merkel pledged 750 million Euros towards capitalizing the new Green Climate Fund to help developing countries cut their emissions and deal with the impacts of climate change. So while Germany’s Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks will represent the country at the Climate Summit and not Chancellor Merkel, its clear that German leadership and action on climate change will both be front and center at the UN summit.
The Climate Summit isn’t just the largest collection of heads of state focusing on climate change in five years; it comes at a time when there is unprecedented public support to take action. On Sunday, the largest climate demonstration ever took place in the streets of New York as part of the People’s Climate March; similar marches also were held on the same day around the world.
Polling in Europe, the U.S. and other countries also shows support for climate action. American voters say they are more than twice as likely to vote for a candidate that supports climate action than for a candidate who does not. A whopping 84 percent of Germans want to move to a fully renewable energy economy as quickly as possible, and down under, three out of five Australians wanted to keep the carbon tax scrapped by Prime Minister Tony Abbott. So while leaders have the opportunity to talk the talk in New York, it’s clear that voters will be demanding that they walk the walk when they return home from the Summit.
What happens in New York will set a tone for the climate leadership needed from world leaders between now and the Paris meeting in 2015. They will need to keep engaging with each other over the next 15 months to work out the political compromises that will allow ministers and negotiators to craft an equitable and ambitious agreement.
This will happen through both bilateral and multilateral discussions. For instance, just one week after the Climate Summit, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be meeting with President Obama in Washington, and as Secretary of State John Kerry made clear when he visited India in July, climate change is front and center in the U.S.-India dialogue. At the APEC Summit in Beijing in November, climate change and energy issues will be on the agenda, as they will in the bilateral meeting that President Xi of China will hold with President Obama the day after the summit. Similarly, Chancellor Merkel has made it clear that climate change will be a prominent topic of discussion when she hosts the G-7 summit in Germany next June.
The Climate Summit won’t be the end of this process; it’s just the beginning. As Secretary General Ban Ki-moon aptly put it in a speech in Brussels in April, “Much heavy lifting is required. We need to apply political courage, technological knowhow, and sensitivity toward human need. Humankind has caused this problem. We can only look to ourselves for the solution.”
Note: This post originally appeared as a guest post at Jeff Nesbit’s blog, “At the Edge”, at usnews.com.]]>
On climate change, the president brushed aside those in Congress and elsewhere who question the reality of the problem. “The debate is settled,” he said. “Climate change is a fact. And when our children’s children look us in the eye and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safer, more stable world, with new sources of energy, I want us to be able to say yes, we did.”
The president underscored how climate-related impacts are already affecting local communities across the country, stating that “we have to act with more urgency – because a changing climate is already harming western communities struggling with drought, and coastal cities dealing with floods.” UCS and others have documented how these impacts – and their costs – will increase in the years to come if we don’t take concerted action. Mayors, governors, and other local leaders are on the front lines of the real-world fight to avert the worst impacts of climate change; it would have been good to hear the president more directly acknowledge the need for the federal government to ramp up its assistance to them in that fight.
In last year’s State of the Union address, the president called on Congress “to get together, pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change, like the one John McCain and Joe Lieberman worked on together a few years ago. But,” he warned, “if Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will.” This time around, he didn’t even bother to call on Congress to act. For the sad reality is that Congress is AWOL on this issue. Too many members reject the science and many more buy the economic scare stories the fossil fuel industry is selling.
Given this paralysis, the president is right to do exactly what he said he was going to do in last year’s address, by moving full steam ahead on the Climate Action Plan he laid out at Georgetown University last June. The centerpiece of that plan is the president’s memorandum ordering the Environmental Protection Agency to establish standards on the amount of carbon pollution that the nation’s power plants are allowed to dump into the air; the proposed rule for existing power plants is to be put forward no later than June 1 of this year.
As the president has noted in previous speeches, it will take global collaboration on an unprecedented level for humanity to come to grips with the climate crisis, and the United States is an essential player in this process. President Obama clearly gets it that to be a global leader on climate change, other countries need to see we’re doing our part here at home. By recommitting his administration to action last night, the president has further bolstered the nation’s credibility and leverage on the international stage.
The president called on Congress last night to provide additional incentives for more efficient trucks, advanced vehicles, and cellulosic biofuels; there’s a little more detail in the White House’s State of the Union fact sheet than there was in the speech itself. While the devil will be in the details, these initiatives are welcome, and deserve bipartisan support from Congress.
President Obama also committed to keep working to improve vehicle efficiency. “When we rescued our automakers,’ he said, “we worked with them to set higher fuel efficiency standards for our cars. In the coming months, I’ll build on that success by setting new standards for our trucks, so we can keep driving down oil imports and what we pay at the pump.” The President is right that there is more we can do to cut our oil use in half through efficiency and innovation. By cutting oil use, and being smart about managing all our fuel sources, we can reduce the problems oil causes our economy, our security, our environment and our climate. But we must not undermine that practical goal by giving oil companies carte blanche to go after so-called “new oil” that is dirtier, more difficult and expensive to extract.
President Obama devoted a fair amount of attention in last night’s speech to the nation’s expanding production and use of natural gas, stating that “if extracted safely, it’s the bridge fuel that can power our economy with less of the carbon pollution that causes climate change.” Substituting natural gas for coal in electricity production can indeed make a contribution to reducing carbon pollution in the near-term, though we must make sure that fugitive methane emissions from gas production and use don’t overwhelm these carbon benefits. But ultimately, we need to virtually eliminate carbon pollution from all sources — including natural gas — if we are to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. An overreliance on natural gas over the long-term will not achieve the emissions reductions needed to address global warming, and threatens to crowd out the investments we need to build a low-carbon electricity future based on renewable energy sources and improving energy efficiency.
Also, when it comes to expanded oil and gas production, the federal government needs to take a much stronger role in protecting communities, and work with states to strengthen regulation and oversight of these industries. As UCS’s toolkit on fracking makes clear, too many communities are being pressed to make decisions on new production projects without access to comprehensive and reliable scientific information about the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on their local air and water quality, community health, safety, economy, environment, and overall quality of life. President Obama needs to act on these issues despite resistance from the fossil fuel companies and their allies in Congress.
Finally, there were several important issues that received surprisingly little attention in President Obama’s speech last night.
Trade: While the President stressed the benefits of trade, and briefly mentioned the trade pacts now being negotiated with the European Union as well as with a set of key Asian countries, he didn’t address the mounting concerns amongst both public interest groups and members of Congress about the substance of these new agreements, as well as the lack of transparency in the negotiating process. It is crucial that these and other trade agreements are crafted to protect public health and safety and the environment, with standards based on the best available science. And these agreements must be negotiated in the sunlight, permitting the American public and law makers access to their details before they are concluded.
Food and farm policy: While the president referred to First Lady Michelle Obama’s campaign against childhood obesity, he neglected to address the disconnect between health and nutrition policies, on the one hand, and our national agricultural policy on the other. Far too many adult Americans are struggling with diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and other chronic ailments linked to diet; the treatment of these diseases costs our healthcare system hundreds of billions of dollars a year. As my colleague Ricardo Salvador points out, the government recommends “filling half our plate with fruits and vegetables [as] the most potent and effective prescription for avoiding health-impairing, life-threatening diseases,” but then ends up “undermining its own recommendations by pouring taxpayer dollars into agricultural subsidies that make junk food cheap.”
As a recent UCS report documents, “transitioning the American diet to one that includes less processed food and meat, and more fruits and vegetables, would…have positive effects—not only in improved nutrition and health for consumers but also in the form of significant benefits for the environment and farm country’s local economies.” Of course, pursuing such a shift in food and farm policies would require taking on some real sacred cows (pun intended), and it’s perhaps understandable why on the eve of politically sensitive votes in the House and Senate on a compromise Farm Bill, the president was reluctant to raise these issues last night.
Nuclear weapons: President Obama boasted in his speech that “American diplomacy has rallied more than 50 countries to prevent nuclear materials from falling into the wrong hands, and allowed us to reduce our own reliance on Cold War stockpiles.” Locking down nuclear materials is an important achievement that UCS fully supports, and the president should be applauded for reducing U.S. reliance on nuclear weapons. Unfortunately, his speech included no steps to either further reduce the bloated U.S. nuclear stockpile or to take our missiles off dangerous high alert levels.
The long-term objective must be to de-legitimize nuclear weapons as instruments of national security and eventually lead to a world free of nuclear weapons. Unless the United States and other nuclear weapons states start taking more steps in this direction, more countries—and eventually terrorists—will acquire nuclear weapons. Less than three months after taking office, President Obama gave a stirring speech on this issue in Prague, where he said “I state clearly and with conviction America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.” It’s too bad that he didn’t use the occasion of the State of the Union address to signal his own personal commitment to make real progress towards this goal during his remaining years in office.]]>
Regardless of what you think about the first President Bush, Margaret Thatcher, or the Gulf War, her challenge certainly helped stiffen President Bush’s resolve in mobilising the world community to roll back Iraq’s seizure of Kuwait.
World leaders are gathering in New York this week for the United Nations General Assembly debate.
It is exactly one year ahead of a special meeting to be convened by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for Heads of State focused exclusively on climate change, and two years ahead of the Paris climate conference where governments have committed to forge a new international climate change agreement.
As they meet, the world is in desperate need of greater resolve to confront the mounting threat of climate change.
As the Iron Lady herself noted in her speech to the General Assembly in 1989, “Of all the challenges faced by the world community…one has grown clearer than any other in both urgency and importance – I refer to the threat to our global environment.”
She warned the other leaders gathered in New York that day that “the problem of global climate change is one that affects us all,” and “the environmental challenge which confronts the whole world demands an equivalent response from the whole world. Every country will be affected and no one can opt out.”
She was not gazing into a crystal ball 24 years into the future; she based her concerns on the best available science at the time.
And as the report to be released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Changelater this week will make clear, the world’s scientific community is more certain than ever about the dangerous impacts that human activities – such as the burning of fossil fuels and agricultural and land use practices – are having on the global climate system.
In 2009, in part spurred by the last such report from the IPCC, world leaders committed themselves to the goal of keeping global temperature increases below 2°C as compared to pre-industrial levels.
Not that this is a “safe” level of warming – it represents more than twice the warming the earth has experienced over the last century, a level that is already having serious consequences.
But it is far preferable to the catastrophic damage the World Bank and others have warned we will face from the much higher temperature increases the world will see if we do not change our ways.
The problem, of course, is that nations are not taking the collective level of action needed to meet the 2°C goal set by their leaders.
In fact, as a series of reports by the United Nations Environment Program makes clear, the gap between the commitments made and those needed by 2020 to give us a halfway decent chance of meeting this goal is not shrinking year-by-year – it is widening.
The good news is that we have the know-how, the technologies, and the investment capital needed to close this gap and get back on track to staying below 2°C; what is lacking is the political will.
The unfortunate truth is that far too few leaders are willing to stand up to the fossil fuel polluters and put in place the policies needed to drive us towards a sustainable future. In doing so, they are failing to represent the best interests of the vast majority of the people they represent.
Leaders must therefore come to the Secretary General’s meeting one year from now fully prepared to turn this around.
They must announce much more ambitious actions to rein in emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases. And by ambitious, we mean nothing short of what it will take to close the gap between promises and action.
They must also mobilise the necessary levels of funding to help developing countries meet the climate challenge, by deploying clean technologies, eliminating tropical deforestation, and making their communities and economies more resilient to the mounting impacts of climate change.
For its part, civil society must step up the pressure, remind leaders of the commitments they’ve made to limit the damage from climate change, and borrowing a page from Lady Thatcher, warn them in no uncertain terms, ‘This is no time to go wobbly!’
NOTE: This post was originally published at Responding to Climate Change, rtcc.org.
Co-author Kelly Rigg is the Executive Director of GCCA. She has been leading international campaigns for 30 years on climate, energy, oceans, Antarctica and other issues.]]>
For the record, scientists don’t have enough historical data about tornadoes to say whether or not climate change is influencing them. By contrast, scientists can say with a great degree of certainty that climate change is making some extreme weather worse, including coastal flooding and heat waves. It’s also shifting precipitation away from lighter and toward heavier downpours.
Regardless, the Oklahoma tornado response is still instructive. I’d wager very few folks in Moore are concerned about climate change and tornadoes. Those resilient Americans are quite rightly focused on picking up the pieces and talking about how to be better prepared in the future. Right now, climate science doesn’t have much to tell them. By contrast, Americans who saw their homes and properties destroyed by Sandy can use science to better prepare for future storms. Scientists know sea levels in New Jersey and New York will be much higher in the future because of climate change. That information should absolutely inform decisions about how to rebuild and prepare.
What citizens expect from their government in dealing with disasters – whether entirely natural or made more extreme due to human-induced climate change – is to help them respond, prepare and rebuild. So while we’ve been dealing with coastal floods, heat waves and droughts for centuries, how we deal with them is changing because our climate is changing. We’re seeing more and more local officials – water engineers, coastal planners and wildfire first responders – grappling with human-induced climate change. As they look for more information and more cooperation from the federal government, it will become increasingly difficult to deny the reality of the science or favor inaction.
Further, we see a powerful new constituency arising in the climate debate: towns, cities and states that are adapting, whether it’s to longer wildfire seasons in Western forests or accelerating sea level rise on the East Coast. Talking about these visible impacts of our changing climate is not polarizing, because they are challenges we face together in places we know and love. Smart politicians understand they need to get out ahead of our changing climate and make sure their constituents know they are part of the solution.
In his first post-election press conference, President Obama called for convening local officials, scientists, and engineers to address this pressing issue. He should follow up on that publicly and tell us how the federal government can help the country prepare for more climate change. He could have done that earlier this week in Asbury Park, New Jersey, as he was looking at the rising sea and discussing the state’s recovery efforts. He talked about the boardwalk and Bruce Springsteen and reminded the country that the iconic Jersey Shore is open for business. We need to hear more. We need to hear that there’s a plan to make sure the Jersey Shore will remain open for business not just this summer, but 40 summers from now, when Rutgers University scientists estimate local sea levels will be more than a foot higher than they are today. Given the stark realities of a changing climate, politicians can’t be afraid to discuss climate change. They should be comfortable with it because it is increasingly becoming a fact of life, just like changes in the economy and foreign policy.
Finally, we need to hear more about pending Environmental Protection Agency rules that could dramatically reduce coal-fired power plant carbon pollution, along with other steps the administration can take to help cut emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases. After all, it’s the human-induced build-up of these gases in the atmosphere that is helping drive these local changes in the first place. And as the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.]]>
The missing past president — for obvious reasons — was John Holdren, President Obama’s science adviser and director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. (Full disclosure: the letter’s organizer, Dr. James McCarthy, is not only Alexander Agassiz Professor of Biological Oceanography at Harvard University, but chairman of the UCS board of directors.)
The letter praises Gina’s “candor, pragmatism, and fidelity to science as the foundation for public policy decisions, as well as her openness to diverse stakeholders,” and notes her leadership in developing the first-ever air emission standards for mercury and air toxics and the standards nearly doubling fuel economy for new cars by 2025. The letter will complicate any efforts at tomorrow’s Environment Committee confirmation hearing by opponents of McCarthy’s nomination to portray her record and approach to environmental regulation as somehow disconnected from the best available science.
Opposition to Gina’s confirmation as EPA administrator is also made more difficult by the fact that she served as a state regulator under six governors — all but one of them Republicans — and that she is widely acknowledged to be fair, a good listener, and well, just hard not to like — even by those in industry who may often disagree with her stance on particular issues.
As Gloria Berquist, vice president of the Alliance of American Automakers, told the National Journal, Gina is “a pragmatic policymaker. She has aspirational environmental goals, but she accepts real-world economics.” John McManus, American Electric Power’s vice president of environmental services, reinforced this point in the same article, saying “My sense is that Gina is listening, has an open mind, she wants to hear the concerns of the regulated sector.” And Donna Harman, president and chief executive of the American Forest and Paper Association, told the Washington Post that Gina is “very data- and fact-driven, and that’s been helpful for us as well as the entire business community.
As UCS President Kevin Knobloch put it in his letter to Senators supporting Gina’s nomination, Gina McCarthy “is uniquely qualified to be the next Administrator of EPA. In her 30 year career she has repeatedly demonstrated her ability to use sound science and thoughtful stakeholder collaboration to craft effective, yet flexible, public policy responses to pressing public health and environmental problems.”
In 2009, the Senate, on a bipartisan basis, confirmed Gina McCarthy to serve as Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation. Given the plaudits for Gina’s record and character from leaders in both the business and scientific communities, one can only hope the outcome will be the same this time around.]]>