Center for American Progress

PODESTA: The Great Transformation: Climate Change as Cultural Change
Press Release

PODESTA: The Great Transformation: Climate Change as Cultural Change

Below are excerpts from John Podesta’a speech “The Great Transformation: Climate Change as Cultural Change” in Essen, Germany on June 9, 2009.

Download this speech (pdf)

The Obama Administration will be ready to negotiate in Copenhagen regardless of the status of the legislative debate in the US Congress over our domestic cap and trade program.

“. . . the United States is ready, willing, and able to negotiate an aggressive international climate treaty at Copenhagen, in 2009. I want to be clear – we are not tied, and the outcome of Copenhagen is not tied, to the timeline on any single piece of domestic U.S. legislation. The Administration has a variety of tools at its disposable and, as I have demonstrated, is clearly keen to use them. Those that try to pin a successful outcome in Copenhagen to the U.S. legislative process are mistaken, and should focus on ways to move forward and find solutions rather than focus on ways to hang up the debate.”

“Although full passage [of the current US climate bill] is a tall order, passage in the House this summer is likely and the bill can be on the president’s desk before the Congressional session ends.

“. . . an administration that was hesitant to take a leadership role at Copenhagen because of the unsure state of domestic legislation on cap and trade would not lay down such a strong marker by organizing the Major Economies Forum. [. . .] Mitigation of greenhouse gases requires a much smaller consensus than is represented at the UNFCCC. [President Obama] has thus focused significant attention to forging an agreement among the major emitters.”

Our diplomatic efforts to forge an international agreement should focus on a full accounting of what each country is doing to reduce emissions (the Center for American Progress’ “carbon cap equivalents proposal”) and not just our targeted emissions caps. This is how we can break the current stale mate between the US and the EU over the 2020 emission goals.

“At the Center for American Progress, we propose the idea of “Carbon Cap Equivalents” as a way of profiling a country’s commitment to meeting emissions reductions. This would entail adding up the full range of supplemental and complimentary proposals to each country’s carbon cap, and converting this into one comparable figure of what these emissions reductions would effectively amount to if they had been the result of a carbon cap alone. While the modeling will be complex, the hope for Copenhagen treaty needs to create the mechanism through measureable, verifiable, and reportable carbon cap equivalents) – representing the full range of their policy profile to reduce greenhouse gas emissions – above and beyond their formal cap. I’d like to underline that this is not an attempt to sidestep the goals of the UNFCCC process. The United States must take on ambitions midterm and mid-century caps that are measurable and verifiable. President Obama is taking actionable steps that will commit the United States to cutting emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. I raise this approach rather to provide a more honest comparison of what we are all doing in ways that are not only appropriate for our particular economic histories, but also are compatible with the restrictions and opportunities provided by our individual policy frameworks.”

“It is important to keep our broader goals in mind and avoid getting lost in the weeds, so to speak – especially at this crucial juncture in the negotiating process. That’s why I strongly support the development of a comprehensive gauge of emissions reduction progress – so measures ranging from efficiency improvements to fuel economy standards to cap and trade programs are all included in a country’s overall emissions profile. I support the idea of “Carbon Cap Equivalents” – a proposal recently put forward by my organization, the Center for American Progress – which builds on a similar approach to one put forward by the Australian government. We need to find a way to organize and account for a variety of emissions reductions actions to which a country could commit. Just as a cap and trade makes sense because it allows the market to identify the most efficient means of emissions reductions, quantifying all greenhouse gas reduction measures allow countries to make meaningful progress within the unique confines of their political and economic situations. I think this idea could hold the key to unlocking the standoff between developing and developed countries as we all move towards an increasingly carbon constrained world.”

“Although the cap [in the Waxman-Markey (ACES) legislation] will bring U.S. emissions down to 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 [which is not enough to trigger the EU midterm targets of 30% below 1990 levels by 2020], if we include all the complementary requirements in the legislation . . . the cap plus other Waxman-Markey provisions bring emissions down to 17 percent below the 1990 rate. This is significant, and should be taken into account. The US profile at Copenhagen should not simply be assessed only from cap and trade-related reductions, but should include all complimentary requirements, from renewable energy standards to building and appliance efficiency improvements and if Congress fails to enact comprehensive cap and trade legislation, from the direct regulation of CO2 emissions by the EPA that would result, particularly from coal fired power plants.”

We need a direct reach out to China. CAP’s Carbon Cap Equivalent proposal can help make this happen.

“I believe we could take this one step further and craft bilateral and multilateral agreements with China and other major emitters in the developing world. As you all are well aware, one of the longstanding problems in reaching a comprehensive international agreement is the sequencing dilemma between developing and developed countries, especially when it comes to the two largest emitters: China and the U.S.”

“These attempts to make progress on our relationship with China must not be seen as antagonistic to the framework convention process, but complimentary to it, and this dialogue with China should include Europe as well. If we arrive in Copenhagen with a handful of in-principle agreements with other major emitters then we may be able to achieve a better outcome in Copenhagen than could be achieved otherwise.”

“We should approach our negotiating position with the major emitters in the developing world with a similar [carbon cap equivalents approach]. China, by way of example, is already ahead of schedule to achieve a 20-percent improvement in energy intensity by 2010 using 2005 levels as a benchmark. Chinese stimulus spending is the equivalent of 12 million U.S. dollars an hour on clean energy. They are doubling wind production year over year and have just made a massive commitment to expanding solar power. When members of the U.S. Congress or the media claim that China is doing nothing to solve this problem, they are simply wrong – although China still must do much more. Yet, because we have framed the solutions to global warming almost exclusively in terms of national carbon caps, we don’t generally count other improvements in a country’s carbon profile in our assessment of their commitment to the process or of their real improvements. This needs to be changed in order to get a fair comparison of what everyone is doing.”

Download this speech (pdf)