This week and next political representatives from all over the world are gathering in Bali, Indonesia to open dialogue on how to combat global warming once the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012. There is just one problem: The world’s largest historic emitter, the United States, has not signed any binding agreement to reduce emissions, and it has no intention of doing so as long as President George W. Bush is in office.
Still, the stakes have never been higher. This is a historic opportunity for the United States to assume global leadership, engage with the world’s developing countries and energy markets, and transform our own economy to a low-carbon engine of growth.
The primary objective of this year’s meeting of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is to draft a timeline to discuss the global emission reduction policy that will succeed the Kyoto Protocol. In 2001, the Bush administration rejected the Kyoto Protocol, and it has not taken any of the UNFCCC negotiations seriously since.
The Bush administration’s absence from the negotiating table has left an opening for Congress to take action on reducing global warming emissions. Two measures that would significantly reduce our greenhouse gas emissions are currently under consideration.
First, Chairwoman Barbara Boxer of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is working to move America’s Climate Security Act (S. 2191) out of committee before she travels to Bali for the UNFCCC discussions. The bill—introduced by Sens. Joe Lieberman and John Warner—would ensure a 15 percent reduction in global warming pollution by 2020, and a 63 percent cut from 2005 levels of emissions by 2050.
Second, Speaker Nancy Pelosi will bring the energy bill back to the floor of the House of Representatives for a vote. That legislation includes a 40 percent increase in vehicle fuel efficiency standards to a fleet-wide average of 35 miles per gallon; a renewable electricity standard that would require renewable low-carbon power such as solar and wind to provide 15 percent of our nation’s power; and a renewable fuels standard to increase the production of low-carbon alternative fuels.
All of these measures, along with many others in the bill, would serve as a significant “down payment” on global warming, and a good start to reducing our nation’s emissions by signaling to the rest of the world that we are serious partners in addressing this global problem. Despite the carefully negotiated bipartisan support for this bill and its environmental benefits, the White House has threatened to veto it.
The Bush administration’s reluctance to seriously address global warming puts it in the extreme minority in this country. Significant action at the local, state, regional, and even national levels is mounting evidence that the American people and many government leaders are ready to take action:
- In April, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency has the authority to regulate carbon dioxide.
- Three regional initiatives have formed to reduce greenhouse gases in the absence of federal regulation: The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, or RGGI, in the Northeast; the Western Climate Initiative along the West Coast; and the Midwestern Greenhouse Gas Accord (of Governors).
- Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R), current head of the National Governors Association, declared energy and energy security as his top priority.
- California passed and will soon enact the country’s first global warming legislation, known as AB32. The state, backed by at least 15 others, filed suit against the Environmental Protection Agency in order to reduce tailpipe emissions through stringent fuel economy standards.
- Several states joined with international actors to form the International Carbon Action Partnership to reduce emissions.
- And finally, several states, including Washington, Maine, Florida, and Kansas, have denied permits to build traditional, pulverized coal-fired power plants, enormous emissions offenders.
Despite the Bush administration’s poor record on this issue, there is reason to hope for constructive U.S. action at the UNFCCC meeting: James Connaughton, Chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality and the highest-level official to have attended a UNFCCC meeting since President George W. Bush took office, is accompanying the usual U.S. representative to Bali this year.
Adding to the pressure on the United States, the Bush administration recently received a blow when Australia’s new Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, as his first act in office, ratified Kyoto on the eve of the UNFCCC meeting. The United States is now the only major industrialized country not to have ratified Kyoto. Thus the United States is alone, obstructing progress and missing a grand historic opportunity.
The timing has never been better for the Bush administration to change its course, and that should be the message Chairman Connaughton conveys to the conference attendees in Bali. It is not too late.