“How will the U.S. government tackle climate change? A recent report suggests that the intelligence community could benefit from the creation of an open and collaborative group to study and mitigate climate change.” (Source: Huffington Post)
American defence and intelligence circles are getting increasingly worried about the national and global security implications of the climate crisis. Could this change the Republicans views on the subject and lead in the longer run to more US mitigation action? I have my doubts as the American climate scepticism has little to do with being well informed but more with political ideology and the strong belief that the “American way of life” is non-negotiable. Any efforts to transform the Empire of Abundance into a champion of low-carbon living is likely to lead to internal security threats too as lots of Americans would not accept any constraints in their material consumption.
I have always maintained that it will be business and not policymakers nor civil society which will take leadership in our transition to sustainability and in the fight against climate change. Of course, even the most resource-enlightened businesses still have a long way to go in terms of changing their business models to the new economic and ecological reality of limits but there are encouraging signs that change is happening.
One of the interesting developments is the shifting of climate alliances in the US.
In recent weeks, several utilities have left trade associations because of the anti-climate-policy stance of these interest groups (see “Companies desert the climate deniosphere”).
It is tragic that this is happening at the same time when we start seeing a public backlash against the first feeble efforts of politicians to tax carbon or create new climate instruments (see the French debate on the carbon tax).
The world’s policies on tackling global warming should be based on science, not on “political realism”. The acceptance by the US House of the Climate Bill confirmed (once again) my worst fears that even our greenest political and NGO leaders are just not up to the challenge.
Compared to the Bush administration’s lack of any serious climate policy, the bill that was passed is certainly progress but in terms of really making a difference for the long-term future of the planet, the watered-down proposal is just one big disappointment. Is the glass half-full or have empty? The question is not even relevant as we will need more than a glass to extinguish this burning house.
It is also highly interesting to see some stakeholder reactions to the adopted bill. What about the following quote:
“To curb climate change, the world needs to cut carbon emissions. It needs US leadership on the issue too. But this bill is not the way. A bewildering combination of cap-and-trade, mandates, new regulation, and every kind of open and disguised subsidy, it is too complicated, too prone to subversion and in many ways downright self-defeating.
Learning nothing from Europe’s experience, the bill relies heavily on offsets, which let companies pay someone else to plant trees or cut emissions, so they do not have to. The still-unsolved problem is policing the system to ensure the offsets are real. The bill gives oversight of domestic offsets in farming to the Department of Agriculture – good news for farmers seeking a new trough of subsidy. To defend US competitiveness, it proposes subsidies for exporters and penalties on importers. In principle, cap-and-trade does require border adjustments, but the bill is careless and creates a gateway for protectionism.
In short, it is a mess. The key to a better plan is understanding that you cannot cut carbon without making carbon-based fuels more expensive – an obvious point, you would think. But it is one that US policymakers still cannot face.”
Subversive and frustrated reaction from some deep-green NGO, no?
Actually, no, these quotes come from business newspaper Financial Times.
And what did most green NGOs say, Well, they applauded, said this was a milestone, and hoped the Senate would maybe still strengthen the legislation. A case of false loyalty after they put so much hope in the Obama revolution? Wake up, guys, and face the inconvenient truth. As long as governments will be driven by “political realism”, the planet will remain en route to collapse. Better get ready to become a lot more radical and innovative than believing politics can help us out of this mess.
Climate negotiators in Poznan are starting to question whether the 2009 deadline for Copenhagen is realistic. Maybe there are good reasons to take a step back and reconsider the global climate diplomacy process.
This week, a few non-suspect climate experts have uttered doubts about the end-2009 deadline for a new global warming agreement.
As reported by Associated Press, Eileen Claussen of the Pew Center on Climate Change does not believe the Obama administration will be ready in time with a full negotiation package as it will have to deal with a difficult Congress. Former Clinton administration energy expert Joseph Romm is also convinced that Obama will not succeed in convincing 67 senators to vote for a new climate deal. The “only thing worse than no global climate treaty in 2009 is a treaty that Obama can’t get ratified”, says Romm and I fully agree.
That means that we also need to have the courage to question the UNFCCC process. The “UNFCCC process as we now know it is essentially a Dead Man Walking, even if nobody knows it yet”, according to Romm.
Of course, I am fully convinced about the need for an urgent climate “surge”, but I am also realistic. Without leadership from the US (including the Congress), there will be no REAL progress on fighting climate change. This is the first good reason to postpone Copenhagen and wait (one more year?) for the new American President and his other “first lady (yes Hillary ) to get their act together.
But there is a second reason which I think is even more important. Copenhagen and the whole UNFCCC deals only with one dimension of our current systemic sustainability crisis. Where is the international diplomatic dialogue on resource scarcity (“peak everything”), biodiversity, water or inequality? Maybe it is time to create a new global governance platform where all the sustainability issues (including also the current economic crisis which is just one side-effect of the sustainability crisis) can be discussed? Maybe putting all the issues on the table could make the process more efficient.
So let’s postpone Copenhagen and start talking about how to best tackle the biggest challenge of the 21st century: provide quality lives for all our 6 billion citizens within the ecological limits of our one Planet.
Could Arnold Schwarzenegger become the future energy and climate czar for the new Obama administration? If that were to be the case, the European Commission would have no other choice than to nominate Al Gore as our European “climate emperor” after 2009 .
The “energy and climate czar” would be heading the Energy Security Council which has been proposed by one of Obama’s closest advisors. Next to the name of Mr Schwarzenegger, other potential candidates for this post might be Al Gore himself or Google director for climate change and energy initiatives Dan Reicher. Other news sources in the US have reported that Al Gore does not have any plans to accept this job.
For more on this fascinating story, read Fox News’ Transition Tracker.
The Grist blog has an excellent background article on the Energy Security Council.
For how long will the EU’s self-acclaimed “climate leadership” survive the Obama revolution? Could a “green” Obama administration pose a bigger challenge to the EU’s climate credentials than the temporary backlash of the financial crisis? Who will win the race for the new “eco-competitiveness”?
These questions are hard to answer for the moment but there are two trends which might tell us where the future of green policies is heading. On the one hand, there is the climate “counterrevolution” which we can now observe in the European Union against the Commission’s climate and energy package, led by the new EU member states (who never had a green revolution in the first place or strong environmental movements). On the other hand, the momentum for change in the US which could lead to a new “Green Deal” which would see the US take over the climate/energy leadership banner from the EU.
One example: one of the most interesting developments coming out of the Obama transition news in the US, is the likelihood of a new Energy Security Council or a Climate and Energy Council.
The EU commission officials who are these days starting to prepare the blueprint for the post-2009 EU commission should keep their eyes on these developments. The EU post-2009 could do with an integration of the three portfolios of energy-environment-economy (the 3Es). The Lisbon agenda should be shelved and replaced with a new project: to prepare Europe for the hard transition from a world without limits to the future resource-constrained one-Planet global economy. Yes, we can.
I sincerely hope Barack Obama will become the next US President but his acceptance speech at the Democratic Convention last night did not convince me that he will be the One solving our global climate and energy crisis.
Obama’s keynote address was big on changing the political culture in Washington and rescuing the American Dream (topics which might have big electoral appeal with the American voters), but had little or nothing to say about the huge sustainability challenges our world is facing. Compared to Al Gore earlier in the evening, Obama does not seem aware of the global crises facing him once in power.
Paraphrasing what he said about John McCain, Obama might care about climate change, but does he really get it? Does he understand that “energy independence” is just a pipedream and that in this globalised “one-planet economy” the only real solution will come from the awareness of “energy interdependence” and a new international governance of sustainability? Clearly, Obama’s belief in “clean coal” and second-generation biofuels does not bode well for his future actions on climate change. For a more detailed critique of Obama’s climate and energy positions, read the excellent article “Is Obama’s energy plan change we can believe in?” published recently on the Gristmill blog.
45 years after Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream”, it is time for a new dream, one Barack Obama is still not ready for: the dream of a global new energy-economy which has learned to live within the physical and ecological boundaries set by this unique Blue Planet Earth. Let’s hope a future President Barack Obama will learn quickly that saving the American Dream will mean starting to dream the One Planet Dream.
Contrary to global warming which is barely an issue in the presidential campaign, energy policy and the dream of weaning America off its “addiction” to foreign oil has become one of the main battlegrounds between candidates Obama and McCain. But do they really understand what is at stake?
High oil prices and a 4 dollar per gallon gasoline price (ridiculously low for us, Europeans, BTW) have made both Presidential hopefuls refine (some would say “flip-flop”) their views on future energy policies. Of course, the energy independence issue is not new in American politics, just ask anyone who remembers President Jimmy Carter. According to the Washington Post, no less than 24 of the 34 State of the Union speeches since 1973 mentioned independence of energy supply as one of the major objectives. Nonetheless, since that same year 1973, America’s oil imports went from 35 to 60 percent.
Here is in a nutshell what both senators have been proposing in recent weeks:
- Within ten years, saving more oil than US currently imports from Middle East and Venezuela;
- Boosting renewable energy (10% of electricity to come from renewables by 2012, 25% by 2025);
- Increasing fuel economy standards and put 1 million plug-in-hybrid cars on the road by 2015;
- Dropped opposition to new oil drilling but only under certain conditions;
- Releasing light oil stocks from the US Strategic Petroleum Reserve to bring down high gasoline prices and replace them with heavy oil;
- Introducing windfall profit taxes on Big Oil to pay for energy cash rebates for working families;
- Creating a cap-and-trade system for climate change with a reduction target for greenhouse gases of 80% by 2050;
- Developing clean coal technologies;
- Introducing “aggressive” energy efficiency targets to reduce electricity demand 15% by 2020;
- Does not exclude nuclear power but points to issues of waste storage and proliferation;
For more details, read Obama’s most recent proposals’ factsheet and the critical annotated version of the Obama energy plan published by Andrew Rivkin on the NY Times Dot Earth blog
- Reforming the transportation sector through the development of cleaner cars (with tax credits for zero carbon cars);
- Giving a big push to nuclear: 45 new nuclear plants by 2030;
- Spending 2 billion dollars annually for the development of “clean coal”;
- Supporting offshore exploration of oil and gas and lifting the moratorium on domestic oil drilling (something he opposed in the past);
- No windfall profit taxes for Big Oil;
- Introducing a cap-and trade system to fight climate change (targets for greenhouse gas reductions of 22% by 2030 and 60% by 2050 – compared to 1990);
- Promoting energy efficiency.
For more details, see John McCain’s energy policy page on his campaign website
Of course, a lot of their current proposals are meant to win over voters. Whoever wins the elections in November will have to find REAL policy solutions (and not just campaign rhetoric) to solve the global sustainability crisis (which includes a lot of other challenges not addressed in the campaign such as biodiversity loss, water scarcity, food security etc.)
I am also rather skeptical about the energy independence dream. In a globalised world, energy self-sufficiency is as much a pipedream as food self-sufficiency. What we need is “energy interdependence”, more international cooperation instead of a return to energy nationalism and therefore new global governance structures where the world as a whole can learn to live within the ecological limits of our One Planet Earth.
The energy revolution which this world needs will not come from technology developments and innovation alone (although these will play a major part) but will need a rethinking of our current Western lifestyles and their model function for developing countries such as China and India. What we urgently need are new human development models which can bring life security and human happiness (not more material consumption) to this beautiful planet we are over-exploiting in an unsustainable way. No American presidential candidate (nor European political leader for that matter) dares to take the lead on this.
This blog was very silent last week because I was in Washington DC participating in a fascinating two-day climate and energy conference organised by the Transatlantic Platform for Action on the Global Environment (T-PAGE). This dialogue forum was created to facilitate debate among members of EU and US civil society on climate and energy policies on both sides of the Atlantic.
The conference focused in a first-day expert workshop on the question how to reduce emissions from the transport sector and on the controversial US and EU biofuels policies. On the second day, a public event highlighted the lessons drawn from the EU’s emissions trading scheme (ETS) and US Congress plans for a similar cap-and-trade system and looked at public perceptions in the US and the EU about the global warming challenge.
Overall, the European participants painted a less rosy picture than EU institutions want to make believe. Not only was there the growing disappointment with the global effects of biofuels policies (one of the EU’s own environmental institutions now pleads for suspending the 10% target), but the evaluation of Europe’s climate flagship, the emissions trading scheme or ETS, was also rather bleak. It is obvious that up to now the ETS has not lived up to its expectations. Very few real technological investments as a result of pricing CO2 have taken place and the only ones who seem to have won from ETS are the financial traders (who therefore write very positive reports about ETS). It is doubtful whether the Commission’s new proposals will turn things around. Not only has the energy-intensive industry hijacked the debate with its “carbon leakage” panic but even the better parts of the Commission’s ETS review drew heavy fire at the conference. “When Europe’s power producers (who have made big windfall profits in the first phase of ETS) applaud the auctioning proposals of the new Commission package, you have to smell a rat” was the justified and smart observation of an ex-Commission official.
The US participants (mainly from environmental groups, academics and one representative of the Californian lawmakers) were quite optimistic that the wind in the US is changing and that a future administration will endorse stricter global warming targets. One of the doubts raised was whether this will happen fast enough so as to influence the outcome of the Copenhagen climate top of 2009. I also have my own personal doubts in case of a surprise win of John McCain in November. Will the US senator, when President, be able to turn his climate-sceptical party around or will he water down his own positions?
US as well as EU particpants agreed that we need to move to more sustainable transport modes but there was a lot of confusion in the debate on what would be the right approach (some went for CNG, others underlined the need for a breakthrough in electrification technologies, others again highlighted the need for serious transport demand reduction).
On biofuels, the general feeling was that it is time to “take the foot of the accelerator” and “rethink” our biofuels policies in view of rising food prices as well as negative effects on land use and the direct and indirect repercussions for the environment and global warming.
That said, the conference confirmed to me once more that our exclusive focus on climate change makes us lose sight of the bigger sustainability challenge. Climate change is just one symptom of a bigger system crisis with lots of other dimensions (peak oil, gas and coal, high commodity prices, water shortages, biodiversity loss, population growth). Policymakers’ overemphasis on one dimension of this sustainability crisis might lead to effects which aggravate the other crises (see the link between biofuels, population and high oil prices on the one hand and the new hunger issue on the other). If policymakers do not connect the dots and see climate change as part of this huge overarching sustainability challenge, chances are that we will just sink deeper and deeper into the mud as exemplified by the flight into coal and tar sands as a result of the growing energy crunch. It is time to develop a transatlantic and global agenda on sustainability and create the governance structures needed for this system transformation.
Here is another proof that Europe’s climate “leadership” could quickly be eclipsed once the United States has fully woken up to the climate/energy challenge. A new report published yesterday by New Carbon Finance, one of the world’s leading carbon market analysts, shows that an American cap-and-trade system based on current proposals in the US Congress could be in place by 2012-2013 and could reach a market value of 1 trillion dollar by 2020, twice the size of the EU’s emissions trading system.
The interesting White Paper of New Carbon Finance also provides an excellent overview of the emerging US carbon politics. More than half of all US states (60% of GDP) have already committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and no less than 13 federal bills are circulating in the Congress to address global warming through domestic action. All three remaining candidates for the Presidency have expressed their support for a future cap-and-trade system.