Article

The United Nations
New York, NY
February 17, 2005

As prepared for delivery

John Podesta
John Podesta

Long before he became America’s first internationalist president, Woodrow Wilson observed that, to be a leader, “you must lead your own generation, not the next.”

That is the kind of leadership the International Climate Change Taskforce has put forward. More than a year ago, when we first started the Taskforce, it was unclear whether the milestone of the Kyoto Protocol’s implementation would ever be reached. Today, the day after Kyoto, we know that even more needs to be done if we are to prevent dangerous climate change in the future.

The Taskforce brought together leading figures from politics and government, the scientific community, business, and non-governmental organizations from industrialized and developing countries under the direction of Co-Chairs Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine, and the Rt. Hon. Stephen Byers, MP from the British Labor Party.

The Taskforce was truly a global effort, with significant participation from developing countries with representatives from China and Malaysia, as well as the scientific advisor to the Taskforce, Dr. Rajendra Pachauri of India, head of the IPCc= In addition to Senator Snowe, our host today, Tim Wirth, and Professor John Holdren of Harvard University rounded out the representatives from the United States.

When the Institute for Public Policy Research, the Australia Institute and the Center for American Progress came together to launch this initiative, it was to craft a pragmatic agenda that leaders can embrace now – and begin to implement today.

Earlier this month, an international conference of scientists held at the Hadley Center in the United Kingdom warned that a delay of even five years could be significant and harm our chances of stabilizing greenhouse gas concentrations at a safe level.

Denial and delay are no longer an option.

We must take action now.

The recommendations we’ve developed represent a series of reforms and investments which are as achievable as they are necessary. They fall into five main categories: setting a long-term objective; mitigation initiatives aimed at the G8; investments in low- and zero-carbon energy; a flexible global framework for international negotiations beyond the first commitment period of Kyoto; and, measures designed to facilitate adaptation to the impacts of climate change.

Let me briefly outline them for you.

The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), ratified by 188 countries including the United States, calls on governments to prevent dangerous climate change. But there has been no agreement on what that is.What is needed is a long-term target that can guide further international negotiations on climate change and inform decisions at the national level.

We believe that in order to limit the extent and magnitude of the impacts of climate-change, our objective must be to prevent the global average temperature from rising more than 2°C (3.6°F) above pre-industrial levels.

According to the latest measurements, the average temperature has already risen 0.8°C (1.4°F), and is expected to rise still further as a result of climatic inertia. Clearly, if this goal is to be met, we must take immediate steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

So how do we make 2°C a reality?

This year, British Prime Minister Tony Blair will chair the G8 and the EU, and he will make climate change the centerpiece of his agenda for his leadership of those two bodies. To assist Prime Minister Blair, the Taskforce has recommended a series of initiatives aimed at G8 governments.

First, the Taskforce recommends the establishment of a “G8+ Climate Group” comprised of the G8 and other major economies, including from the developing world, such as China, India and Brazil. The world’s six largest developed countries (counting the EU as a single entity) and the six largest developing countries represent 80% of world GDP, 70% of global emissions and 60% of world population. Yet this group might be small enough to develop “win-win” agreements that would lead to significant emission reductions.

This G8+ Climate Group should be tasked to reallocate their agricultural subsidies from food crops to biofuels, especially those derived from cellulosic materials.

Increased use of biofuels will not only enhance global climate security but will also enhance each nation’s energy security.

China and India, among other nations, are planning to add large amounts of coal-fired power capacity over coming decades. The G8+ Climate Group should support the construction of Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) power that offer the best prospects for capturing carbon in a cost-effective manner for sequestration away from the atmosphere. This can be accomplished through loan guarantees from its industrialized members’ export credit agencies (ECAs).

G8 governments must establish national renewable portfolio standards to generate at least 25% of electricity from renewable energy sources by 2025. Clearly, this would be a significant challenge, but it is an achievable one, as some G8 countries are already on track to surpass this goal.

In order to achieve this objective by 2025, G8 governments today must dramatically expand their investments in research, development, and demonstration of advanced technologies for energy-efficient and low- and zero-carbon energy supply.

Our estimate is that this investment must increases by a factor of two or more by 2010.

Simultaneous with this the G8 governments must be tasked with implementing near-term strategies for the large-scale deployment of existing low- and zero-carbon technologies.

The Taskforce recommended that developed countries must act now to introduce national mandatory cap-and-trade systems for carbon emissions.

As we have seen in the Acid Rain program in the United States, cap and trade systems can be highly effective for achieving emission reductions earlier and cheaper than predicted.

Beyond the immediate steps that can be taken through the G8, the Taskforce recommend the adoption of a new, flexible framework that encompasses all countries and enables them to take part in concerted action on climate change at the global level in the post-2012 period. We believe that this framework must build upon the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol and be equitable and grounded in a commitment to common but differentiated responsibilities.

For the United States and Australia, integration with the global effort post-2012 would require making commitments to domestic action under binding domestic emissions caps and adopting domestic cap-and-trade schemes for emissions. The U.S. and Australia would need to negotiate terms under which the transitional parallel track is integrated fully into the global framework.

Under this proposal, other developed countries take on deeper legally binding emission reduction commitments that extend beyond 2012 and which would be periodically negotiated. Developing countries are placed in a three-stage process and are enabled to progressively reduce the carbon intensity of their economies while ensuring their right to economic development.

We believe that developed countries must fulfill their responsibility to the developing world by both honoring their existing commitments to help vulnerable countries adapt to climate change — this includes the commitments made in Marrakech at the seventh conference of the parties to the UNFCCC in 2001 – and by creating an international compensation fund for disaster mitigation and preparedness.

Speaking as someone who served in the White House, I do not underestimate the scale of the political challenge enacting these recommendations poses in my country and others.

As Senator Snowe and Senator Hagel know only too well, it is now almost second nature for many elected leaders to say: “we cannot afford to do it.”

However, once citizens are educated on this issue and mobilized for action, I think even the most reluctant will be forced to ask: “how can we afford not to.”

Thank you.

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