Climate Committee Update

Climate Committee Update 05/08/2009

We have had a busy ten days or so in the Climate Committee, mostly because the  Waxman-Markey bill is up before Markey’s Energy and Environment Subcommittee.  I will be posting three things:  a report on an event I attended on international climate change policy, a report on the work our Climate Committee has done so far, and an attempt to summarize useful things people have been saying in hearings before the Energy and Environment subcommittee of the Energy and Commerce committee.

Kermit the Reporter

Installment I

I kicked my Carrots and Sticks climate work off with an event at the Center for American Progress Action Fund on April 29th.  It was billed as a dialogue between Senator Kerry and Sigmar Gabriel, the German Environment Minister. Sigmar Gabriel was here to attend the Major Economies Forum, which Obama convened in D.C. to help pave the way toward the Climate Conference in Copenhagen (December 6-18, 2009). I attended in the hopes that Kerry would say something new about the work that was being done on climate in the 111th Congress, or that I would learn something about the international dimensions of this issue.

Minister Gabriel spoke first.  Gabriel seemed happy and optimistic, but I think that was only because he was so relieved to be dealing with the new Administration.  He said that the difference between now and the last time he was here, two years ago, was like day and night.  He said that the most progressive proposals in Europe and the most progressive legislation in Congress still differed from each other, but that now Europe and America could finally get down to the meat of substantive debate on climate change policy.  However, he said the major precondition for that debate is that we must all convince our citizens to get behind climate change legislation.  To do that, we must present the transition to a clean energy economy as a set of opportunities rather than sacrifices.

What followed was a discussion of how to frame the issue of climate that felt very familiar to me.  Apparently, the debate in Germany breaks down about the same as it does here, with industry on one side shouting about the monetary cost of climate change policy and policy folks on the other side pointing out that we must take action now or it will cost us all a great deal more in the long run.

Gabriel believes that the evidence of Europe’s experience since the Kyoto Treaty is that climate change policy creates new jobs and creates a sustainable society.  They have created 280,000 new green jobs in Germany in just the past few years.  He advocated for energy efficiency.  He stated that with efficient enough systems, people’s bills will fall relative to what they were in the old, fossil-fuel based economy even if the price of electricity goes up, because they will be using (and wasting) so much less energy.  He sees the shift to a clean economy as the story of the third or fourth industrial revolution, and says that we are giving industry a new foundation.  He sounded more or less like a German Van Jones with less charisma.  (That is not intended as a criticism of Minister Gabriel; few people have as much charisma as Van Jones).

When Kerry got his turn, he said, “God, those are all things I say, that’s wonderful.”  He spoke a bit about the context of the issue, to put it in perspective:  climate change is an issue with a generational impact, comparable to the impact nuclear power and the possibility of nuclear war had on the past generation.  He said that only a few flat-earthers were still debating the science of global warming, and that now the debate is on what we’re going to do

According to Kerry, economic common sense dictates that the people opposing climate change policy are wrong, because job growth is going to come from technological advances.  Transitioning to the green economy will encourage technological advances and create jobs.  He also described the economic uses of advances in energy efficiency.  Texas Instruments was convinced to stay in Texas rather than moving to China because the workers there got Amory Lovins to redesign their buildings in an energy-efficient way.  It saved them 3 million dollars and made them competitive.  He said he believed 4 or 5 Google-equivalent businesses were going to emerge in the clean energy sector over the next few years.  In other words, clean energy policy is the road to new technology and greater economic success.

The most interesting points came at the end with a question asked about China’s role in global climate change policy.  Both Kerry and Gabriel agreed that China is critical to any solution to this problem (they recently outstripped us as the world’s #1 emitter of greenhouse gases).  Kerry said that China is not well understood globally on this issue.  For years, they would not talk about it, but then they quietly began to do work on it internally.  Now they are fully engaged in a dialogue about climate change in every forum from Davos to Bali.  Kerry said: “We’ll be pushing China [to do the environmentally right thing] for the next few years, but then we’ll find that they’re in the lead environmentally, and we’ll be chasing them.  They’ve got better building codes, stricter standards on their vehicles and are very anxious to join with us on clean coal technology. They’re making bold leaps in solar, and they’re setting up to be the world’s largest producer of electric cars.  They set a goal for 20% reduction of electricity use in their country by 2012.  They are going to exceed their goals.”  Kerry wants a bi-lateral agreement with China before the UN Climate Negotiations, but he seems to want it primarily around coal and carbon sequestration.

Gabriel wants China to be a partner, but wants all agreements to be done under the auspices of the UN (not surprising).  He said the Major Economies Forum and the G20 meetings can lead up to an agreement by the UN, but he didn’t seem to favor the idea of U.S. and China entering separately into agreements with each other.  The MEF meeting should prepare for the G20 meeting, and that should prepare for the UN general assembly.

I thought I was going to get more substantive, meaty discussion out of these guys, and more new information, but there was some new information (new to me, at least) and a handful of talking points and anecdotes I’ve repeated here because we might find them useful.

-Bronwyn

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2 comments so far

  1. quake22 on

    That’s a really interesting event, the Chinese and India responding to climate change will be a really interesting development in the next few years.

    The possibility of reaching an agreement with China and other developing countries is dependent on the US having a strong climate policy.

    -Chris

    • bronwyn41 on

      Yes–there’s no reason for them to listen to us if we don’t ante up with our own strong domestic policy for GHG reduction.


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