Posts tagged: Waxman-Markey

Happy 40th? – Congress Says Bye, Bye Climate Change Legislation

By , April 27, 2010

HappyEarthDayWith the fortieth anniversary of Earth Day this past April, Americans celebrated with vigor and advocated saving the planet.  Well, most Americans did.  As China-observer Marcy Nicks Moody notes, recent breakdown between Democrats and Republicans in the Senate could forestall any hope of the U.S. moving forward on climate change legislation.  And could allow China to remain ahead of the green technology game for a long time.

Happy 40th? – Congress Says Bye, Bye Climate Change Legislation

By Marcy Nicks Moody

Last Thursday, Americans celebrated the fortieth anniversary of Earth Day, established by U.S. Senator Gaylord

Earth Day Founder, Sen. Gaylord Nelson

Earth Day Founder, Sen. Gaylord Nelson

Nelson in 1970 to raise awareness of environment-related issues. Last Sunday, thousands gathered on the National Mall in Washington, DC to participate in the Earth Day Climate Rally with the alleged goals to “stop protecting polluters,” “enact comprehensive climate legislation,” and “demand accountability from Washington.” There were exhortations to grow kitchen gardens along with clamorous chanting of the word ‘green.’ The weather was glorious, and spirits did not seem dampened by the blow dealt to climate legislation by the U.S. Senate just the day before.

Sandwiched between Earth Day and the Earth Day Climate Rally was the day on which another U.S. Senator, Republican Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, announced that he would no longer participate in negotiations on a Senate version of proposed climate legislation. In a letter to colleagues Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and Joseph I. Lieberman (I-CT), Senator Graham cited his disappointment over reports that the Democratic leadership of the Senate was planning to take up discussions of immigration before addressing climate change as a reason for his changed stance.

Senators Graham, Kerry, and Lieberman were the primary architects of this bill-to-be and had been planning to formally announce the bill with the White House last Monday. But any debate on immigration would make it impossible to deal with national energy and climate change policy, the South Carolina Senator said. So he won’t support the draft climate change bill, in spite of the fact that he helped create it. Senator Graham won’t support some legislation because talking about something else would just be too painful or distracting? This seems a bit irrational.

In Happier Times - Senators Graham, Kerry & Lieberman

In Happier Times - Senators Graham, Kerry & Lieberman

Setting aside speculation over why Senator Graham radically and suddenly changed positions, the simple fact that he did it is disappointing. To be sure, the Senator is not the only culpable party in this turn of events. He is likely under enormous pressure from fellow Republicans to stop negotiating with Democrats. And if reports are true that both the White House and the Democratic Senate leadership had been planning to take up immigration first not because it could pass (the House has not yet discussed the matter) or because it is more urgent (climate change is equally as urgent: the longer we wait to address climate change, the more expensive it will be), but because it could present a useful wedge issue for the Democrats in the coming election cycle, then Senator Graham has every right to be peeved.

But unless Graham’s strategy has the result of getting climate change legislation considered in this session of Congress, it is bad for Americans. The science demonstrating the negative and possibly catastrophic consequences of anthropogenic climate change is overwhelming. That emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) must decrease is flagrantly obvious. And that the United States, which prides itself on its innovative strength, global leadership, and remains the largest economy in the world, has still not acted on this evidence is disgraceful.

It is also bad for business. The clean technology market is big and growing, but without the passage of climate change legislation, signals to U.S. businesses as to the future prices of clean versus pollution-intensive energy remain unclear. A recent Pew report on clean energy in the G-20 economies notes that appropriate domestic policies—such as those aimed at reducing GHG emissions or incentivizing the use of renewable energy—have tended to positively affect a country’s competitive position in the clean-tech market. The winners in this race include Brazil, the United Kingdom, Germany, Spain, and—who else?—China. The United States does not make the shortlist of enlightened energy and environment policymakers of the rich world.

Lights out for the U.S. in the race for green tech?

Lights out for the U.S. in the race for green tech?

In fact, the Pew report finds that China has already overtaken the United States on several important measures (including, of course, its dubious distinction of being the largest emitter of greenhouse gasses for the past several years). In 2009, for instance, China overtook the United States for highest financing of and investment in clean energy. And it is likely to overtake the United States in installed renewable energy capacity soon. Though targets are not always met, Beijing has set ambitious targets for wind, biomass, and solar energy usage, and these targets do not exist solely not to be met. They may currently be aspirations, but that’s more than the United States currently has to go on.

Mitigating climate change and making U.S. clean-tech business better is accomplished by limiting greenhouse gas emissions. The best way to limit GHG emissions is to put a price on them. Indeed, the fact markets have not already done so has been described by climate expert Nicholas Stern as “the greatest market failure the world has ever seen.” The climate legislation which has been stalled and stalled and stalled again in the U.S. Senate is generally envisaged as a cap and trade system that would cap GHG emissions at a certain level, create a scheme in which licenses to emit GHGs could be traded, and eventually shrink gross amount of permissible emissions. This amounts to an indirect tax on GHG emissions, and though it is far from ideal, it would create a price for emissions at the margin and therefore makes strides in the right direction.

As the Senate continues to dawdle, the Earth Day Climate Change rally on the National Mall was far from unimportant. Especially in a democracy like the United States, it is important that citizens buy into ‘going green.’ It is important, frankly, that green be cool. But though considerations of how to green one’s lifestyle are admirable, they are not game changers. Coal is still cheap; Whole Foods is expensive, and “going green” remains largely the privilege of the wealthy in society.  Unless we change our laws.  The Senate should get to work. The alternative is to accept an outcome in which a hundred U.S. kitchen gardens bloom while a hundred Chinese companies compete for the top spots in clean-tech. In addition to, well, catastrophic climate change.

Marcy writes about China. In 2007-08, she was a Fulbright Scholar in China, where she was also a Research Fellow with the U.S.-Asia Law Institute. She received an M.A. in East Asian Studies from Columbia University and graduated from Brown University.

Something Rotten in Denmark: What the U.S. & China Need to Do to Make the Most of Copenhagen

By , November 25, 2009
The Copenhagen Conference on Climate Change is set to start in less than two weeks.  Guest blogger Marcy Nicks Moody offers her assessment of what’s left of the road to Copenhagen and the necessary role the U.S. and China must play to move discussions forward.

Something Rotten in Denmark: What the United States & China Need to Do to Make the Most of Copenhagen

By Marcy Nicks Moody

Earlier this month, Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen flew to Singapore to meet with President Obama and

Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen, trying to save the Copenhagen Conference

Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen, trying to save the Copenhagen Conference

other leaders on the sidelines of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders Summit. With less than one month until the United Nations Climate Change Conference opens in Copenhagen on December 7 and little in the way progress on the negotiations, the APEC leaders and Danish Prime Minister discussed metrics for the success of the talks. APEC, an organization widely known for accomplishing little, served as an all too fitting forum for an announcement that a legally binding agreement is not going to emerge from the Copenhagen conference.

Though the announcement simply confirmed the writing already on the wall for those familiar with the negotiations, it was nonetheless disappointing. The terms of the Kyoto Protocol will expire in 2012, and a ‘Copenhagen Protocol’ to replace Kyoto has been a key goal for some time.

Indeed, the history leading up to Copenhagen is far from short. The aforementioned Kyoto Protocol is a legally binding protocol to the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). And the UNFCCC, in turn, is a non-binding treaty aimed at stabilizing greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations in the atmosphere in order to prevent severe changes in the world’s climate. It is, so to speak, the fountainhead of global climate change negotiations.

Moreover, though 182 countries (with the notable exception of the United States) are signatories to Kyoto, only 37 of these are bound to limit GHG emissions. Since Kyoto, climate science has become more precise, the price tag associated with the consequences of climate change has become more daunting, and the need for a broader global agreement has become more pressing. To that end, during the 2007 UN Climate Change Conference, an accord called the Bali Action Plan called for a new legally binding climate change agreement to be finalized by the 2009 conference in Copenhagen, with the aim of it going into force in 2013. Since the administration of George W. Bush proved generally unfriendly to restrictions on carbon emissions, it was hoped that 2009 would be the earliest point at which a broader global agreement could be reached.

The lack of a successor to Kyoto is not just disappointing, it will also be costly. The International Energy Agency’s 2009 World Energy Outlook estimates that each year of delay before moving to an emissions path consistent with the agreed level of a 2° C temperature increase will add $500 billion to the global incremental investment cost of $10.5 trillion for the period between 2010 and 2030. A new global climate change agreement is not simply necessary, it’s urgent.

Though the Obama administration is much more serious about climate change than the Bush administration was, U.S. negotiators have nonetheless had little to offer their foreign counterparts. In particular, the Senate does not plan to begin debating Waxman-Markey, the relatively stringent climate change bill passed by the House of Representatives, until next year. With the world’s strongest economy and largest historic emitter of greenhouse gases currently uncommitted to binding emissions targets, why would the rest of the world possibly want to offer up pledges of its own?

On Monday, Danish Ambassador to the United States Friis Arne Petersen published an article in The New York Times arguing that “Yes we can reach a strong, comprehensive and global agreement next month.” His letter, likely an attempt to control the reputational damage done to Copenhagen during APEC, makes the case for a ‘political agreement,’ with the goal of really, actually deciding upon a timeline for a successor to Kyoto this time. On the one hand, locking in progress made seems like a reasonable way to salvage failed dreams for Copenhagen. On the other, however, a “politically binding” agreement – as opposed to a legal one – will likely lack the teeth to be enforceable. Whatever emissions targets emerge from Copenhagen may thus evolve into nothing more than numbers on pieces of paper.

Can the U.S. & China Save Copenhagen?

Can the U.S. & China Save Copenhagen?

In spite of Senate sluggishness, however, officials in the Obama administration have been hinting that they will try to provide momentum by bringing something to the table in Copenhagen next month, and the other elephant in the global climate room—China—did agree to language in a joint statement during Obama’s Asia trip indicating that a comprehensive agreement would “include emission reduction targets of developed countries and nationally appropriate mitigation actions of developing countries.” Some may scoff, but it’s better than nothing. And though it is currently the world’s largest GHG emitter, China is far from ignorant about the dangers of local pollution and global climate change.

One way in which the United States and China could reinvigorate climate change negotiations is by articulating a broad agreement (one which has not yet been reached) on the differentiation of financial responsibilities for mitigation and adaptation. The United States and China are, of course, the world’s most prominent emitters from the developed and developing worlds. How they plan to account for these very different roles would be a useful outcome of Copenhagen.

A legally binding agreement is, tragically (and expensively), out of the question, but Copenhagen is still not a foregone conclusion. China Law & Policy will keep its fingers crossed that the United States and China will give some momentum to the process, and that we can really, actually have an agreement in Mexico in 2010.

Marcy writes about China. In 2007-08, she was a Fulbright Scholar in China, where she was also a Research Fellow with the U.S.-Asia Law Institute. She received an M.A. in East Asian Studies from Columbia University and graduated from Brown University.

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