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Testimony Before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works

Getting to Yes on Climate Change

Executive Summary

TESTIMONY OF JONATHAN LASH
PRESIDENT, WORLD RESOURCES INSTITUTE

HEARING BEFORE THE UNITED STATES SENATE COMMITTEE ON ENVIRONMENT AND PUBLIC WORKS
“LEGISLATIVE HEARING ON S. 1733, CLEAN ENERGY JOBS AND AMERICAN POWER ACT”

Good afternoon and thank you for inviting me to testify today regarding the pending legislation, action of other countries to address climate change, and the implications of their action for the United States.

I am Jonathan Lash, president of the World Resources Institute. WRI is a non-profit, non-partisan environmental think tank that goes beyond research to provide practical solutions to the world’s most urgent environment and development challenges. We work in partnership with scientists, businesses, governments, and non-governmental organizations in more than seventy countries to provide information, tools and analysis to address problems like climate change, and the degradation of ecosystems and their capacity to provide for human well-being.

I have a single message to deliver today: The time is ripe for Congress to enact climate legislation to reduce emissions, establish energy security, and create new jobs in clean energy. Other nations are moving; the outcome depends on us.

We need global action to solve this global problem. Those who have worried that the United States might act alone need worry no more. The worry should be that without us, the rising global effort will falter. The worry should be that if we hesitate, we will miss the opportunity to lead the coming clean energy revolution.

With other nations acting, U.S. action now can make the critical difference.

Other countries across the globe are moving to take action to confront global warming. This has transformed the debate over this issue. The time is ripe for the United States to act and it is in our own interest to act promptly. In a nutshell, there are three reasons for this:

  • Action by other countries increases opportunities for the United States if we are prepared to seize these opportunities.
  • Steps by other countries help ensure that the United States will not be disadvantaged by taking action itself.
  • Action by the United States is essential to cement an agreement under which all countries commit to continue and increase the steps they are taking.

In order to take action, we need a better understanding of what we are facing. We need to understand the opportunities. We need to put aside old myths. We need to focus on the real problems and recognize the solutions to those problems. And we need to get busy so we do not miss this opportunity.

A changed landscape

As illustrated by Figure 1, almost 80 percent of global emissions are produced by fifteen countries (counting the European Union as a single country). A majority of these are developing countries, which, until recently, said they would not take action on emissions without clear action by wealthy countries. At the same time, all countries have recognized that the poorest would need assistance in deploying clean energy and preserving forests and also in adapting to minimize the damage from changes in the climate that are no longer avoidable. What has changed is that in the last couple of years, and even in the last few months, without waiting for rich nations to act, countries such as China, India, Brazil, Mexico, and South Africa are stepping forward with significant proposals and actions.

As explained below, China provides an important example among developing nations, but China is not alone. Mexico has pledged to halve its greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, employing a “cap-and-trade” policy like the one under consideration in the U.S. Congress. South Africa has presented a detailed plan to peak its national emissions by 2020. India has defined eight national missions in efficiency, renewable energy, and sustainable agriculture and ecosystems and is developing strategies in these areas. Recently, the Indian government announced it will offer new legislative proposals to tighten fuel efficiency standards and pursue other clean energy targets, and there have been indications of increased willingness to subject its actions to review. Deforestation accounts for about two thirds of Brazil’s greenhouse gas emissions. Brazil has said it would reduce its deforestation rate 70 percent from recent levels by 2017.

Among developed countries, a new government recently came to power in Japan, transforming that country from a laggard to a leader with an ambitious proposal to reduce emissions 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 if other major countries take ambitious action. The European Union position is that it will reduce its emissions by 20 percent regardless and by 30 percent if other developed countries take sufficient action. And Australia, heavily dependent on coal for consumption and exports, has said that it will cut its emissions by 25 percent below year 2000 levels if others take on similar actions.

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The ball is now in our court, and it is in our interest to act. In December, the nations of the world will meet in Copenhagen, Denmark to try to reach agreement on plans to confront climate change. In order to reap the benefits of an agreement, we need to bring something credible to the table. That something is what this committee and this Congress write into legislation.

Let me explain what is at stake by focusing on China. China is a country taking action and looking at China helps us understand the problems, solutions, and opportunities before us.

The case of China

Some people have worried that action by the United States on climate change could put us at a competitive disadvantage if countries like China do not also take action and produce at lower cost. In fact, China is taking action, which can help assure that there is a level playing field. As I will explain, they are doing this because it is in their own interest, which should give us confidence they will continue. Instead of more delay, we should get an agreement that helps further to ensure that Chinese action on climate will continue and increase. But there is more. Not only should we lock in a commitment; we should work with China to reap the benefits of the new economic future emerging in the worldwide shift to clean energy.

Here are the facts. In 2005, realizing its growth in energy consumption was unsustainable for energy and climate security reasons, China launched a plan to reduce energy intensity 20 percent from 2005 levels by 2010. This may be the largest greenhouse gas mitigation program of any country. China also plans an increase in renewable energy to 10 percent by 2010. In 2007, China was second in the world in funds invested in renewable energy.

China, like the United States, is a major user of coal. However, China is closing inefficient coal plants, deploying state-of-the-art or better technology, and exploring carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology. These efforts can help improve coal technology and bring down the costs. U.S. – China collaboration on development of CCS and other coal technologies is already underway and opens vast opportunities.

At the Major Economies Forum in July, China and India for the first time agreed at the international level to a declaration to take action to meaningfully reduce emissions below business as usual, peaking as soon as possible. Also, they recognized the scientific view that temperatures should not exceed 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

In the first-ever speech by a Chinese President to the UN General Assembly in September, 2009, President Hu Jintao said China will reduce its carbon intensity by “a notable margin” by 2020.

Why are they doing this? “All politics is local.”

China’s aggressive action to improve energy efficiency and reduce emissions is not an act of global charity. China’s leadership realizes they cannot maintain growth and reduce poverty without conservation of resources. Pollution is choking off growth and producing social unrest. Adverse impacts from climate change are projected to undermine agricultural productivity and cause flooding in south China and along the coasts.

Qi Ye, deputy director of the China Sustainable Energy Program in Beijing says you have to “address the global issue in terms of local need” because people act on what they care about. Similar sentiments can be heard in other developing countries. In describing India’s new initiatives on clean energy, the Indian environmental minister said recently, “I want to be aggressive, because, frankly, we are a country that is climate dependent” because of rising seas and monsoons. “We may not have caused the problem, but we have to be part of the solution.”

How do we know they’re doing what they say? “Trust but verify.”

Self interest in taking action to confront climate change affords us some confidence that countries like China will follow through. Still, challenges remain. Reliable data are not always available and standards of enforcement, governance and transparency are variable. This is one of the reasons it is in our own interest to establish an international climate agreement. A key element in the negotiations is creation of a system for measuring, reporting, and verifying actions to give confidence that promises are being kept and action taken.

Just as President Reagan suggested to Soviet leader Gorbachev in signing the nuclear arms reduction treaty and quoting the Russian proverb “trust but verify,” trust is fine, but real confidence depends on verification.

Verification of China’s action to reduce emissions will be feasible. China participates in peer review and verification already under international agreements like the WTO and the Montreal Protocol to address ozone. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has worked with China in successful efforts to improve its control of sulfur dioxide emissions. China has already begun collecting and verifying energy data. Moreover, the United States could invest in satellite tracking as an additional way to help check up on whether China is meeting its commitments.

China and the United States – solving problems, seizing opportunities.

Some people have worried that China would steal American jobs by competing using dirty production processes. The reality is China is pulling ahead of us by being innovative and clean. If doubts remain, a global climate agreement can allay them by ensuring action by all that will help level the playing field. As a fallback, the House-passed climate bill protects energy-intensive U.S. industry by providing free allowances to comply with cap-and-trade, in the form of output-based rebates. When the rebates phase out a decade from now, the president is authorized to impose border duties if action by China and other countries has not done enough to level the playing field.

In September 2009, The Wall Street Journal said that a group of Western firms published a report anticipating a $500 billion to $1 trillion market annually in China for clean technology. In August and September, America’s third largest coal fired electric utility, Duke Energy Corp., announced agreements to explore clean energy and carbon capture projects with Chinese companies. In July, the U.S. and Chinese governments signed an MOU for joint research collaboration.

The opportunities are there in the vast Chinese and global markets and in collaboration with the Chinese and others in the private and public sectors. But to take advantage of the opportunities, the United States will have to get its act together to promote clean energy. We risk falling behind if we don’t move forward. Climate legislation is key because, by putting a price on carbon, it shifts investment into clean energy. The pending legislation also contains important new financial support for clean energy development, clean technology exports, and carbon capture and storage technology. Additionally, it creates economic opportunities in international carbon trading.

Getting it in writing – U.S. legislation and a global agreement.

Now what we need is a global agreement, confirming and strengthening the new trajectory of China, India and others. To realize the benefits of a global agreement, the United States needs to take action – better yet, take action and take the lead – to make the global agreement possible.

Both warming and the emissions that cause it are global. The economy, trade, and competition are global. A global agreement provides a basis on which countries can act with some confidence that others will do so as well. It can address issues of verification, competitiveness, and fairness, and it can create new opportunities for collaboration on clean energy.

In order to get that global agreement, Congress needs to take action on climate legislation so our negotiators can go to the negotiating table with what the United States will do – what emissions reductions we will achieve and what assistance we will provide to help less developed countries shift to clean energy and adapt to climate change.

U.S. negotiators have made clear that they will not commit the United States to greenhouse gas reductions and other critical points without a clear expression of political will by Congress. At the same time, other countries have expressed understandable reluctance to complete an agreement without a commitment from the United States. Thus, until Congress acts on U.S. legislation, the world cannot reach final agreement.

Only if all nations come forward with what they propose to do is agreement possible. The question is no longer whether others will act. They are acting. The question is whether we will act. The point is no longer that global warming cannot be addressed without those other countries. The point is that it cannot be addressed without this country and that we cannot gain the benefits of leadership unless we enact climate legislation.

Then we can not only avert the threat of dangerous global warming; we can reap the benefits of new jobs, economic growth, and energy security in the age of clean energy.

The United States has led the world through great economic and social changes and has thrived by doing so. This is an occasion and an issue on which the world again needs that leadership.

Additional Resources

Comparative Analysis of National Climate Change Strategies in Developing Countries. This matrix helps policymakers compare the National Climate Change plans of five developing countries: India, Brazil, China, Mexico and South Africa.

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