Academic journal article Energy Law Journal

The U.S. Role in Solving Climate Change: Green Growth Policies Can Enable Leadership despite the Economic Downturn

Academic journal article Energy Law Journal

The U.S. Role in Solving Climate Change: Green Growth Policies Can Enable Leadership despite the Economic Downturn

Article excerpt

Keynote Address to the Energy Bar Association

November 14, 2008

Washington, D.C.

There is no doubt that with incoming President-elect Obama and a Democratic majority in Congress, there will be a sea change in United States climate change policy. We are at a critical juncture, and the opportunities and challenges for the U.S. and the world are immense. The new administration has indicated its determination to show leadership on climate change, but faces competing demands and the resource constraints of an economy in recession and financial crisis.

I want to make several broad points this morning. The first is that the current financial and economic crisis clearly puts a cloud over climate change efforts, at home and abroad, but cannot be an excuse to avoid action. Much progress can be made on climate change in ways that create green jobs and energy security, starting with low cost ways to reduce emissions that also put us on the patii to a green economy. Achieving mese goals will have a huge impact on companies involved in the electricity, natural gas, hydro-electric, coal and nuclear power, oil pipeline, and alternative fuels industries among others.

The second point is that we must move on two simultaneous tracks: passing domestic cap and trade legislation, and engaging in post-Kyoto international negotiations. These must be mutually reinforcing. In both, we must do so with cost and competitiveness implications high on our agenda.

The third point is that the United States must show leadership if we are to deal with one of the greatest challenges of the twenty-first century, despite the economic crisis. The Obama-Biden Administration will be well-positioned to provide this leadership, given the strong stance taken by Senator Obama during the campaign.

We can do so by the following:

* Building on our history of innovation to promote jobcreating green growth;

* Passing U.S. legislation with significant targets for emissions reductions, but in ways that keep costs down;

* Recognizing that the international negotiations will be among the world's most complex, and will require a grand bargain, with contributions from developing countries, including major emitters, and even lesser developed countries, as well as from the developed countries. But, the U.S., and other developed countries, must show the way and help provide developing countries with the tools to achieve an accelerated transition to a lower carbon economy during their own growth phase.

The rest of the world is waiting to see what stance the United States will take at the upcoming high-level UN climate negotiations in December, in Poznan, Poland. Yvo de Boer, the UN's top climate change official, has said publicly that leadership from President-elect Obama, given his forward-leaning policy statements, "can have a huge impact on the dynamics of these negotiations."1 At the same time, de Boer sought to provide the new administration breathing room by reminding that no country had domestic legislation in place at the time they signed on to the Kyoto Protocol. "I don't see why we should have a much more difficult standard for the United States,"2 he told the press.

Projecting early leadership on climate change represents a major challenge to the new administration. They are not yet in office, and President-elect Obama has pointed out that there is only one President at a time. They face daunting economic problems and extremely high expectations - internationally as well as domestically - to set a bold new course, and time is very short. Just yesterday President-elect Obama' s senior energy advisor said this week to expect no major announcements on global warming before Inauguration Day. Yet, Presidentelect Obama is uniquely positioned to be credible on the issue of climate change, because he made clear during the campaign his commitment to act on climate change. He has made energy security and independence, and green jobs, early priorities for his new administration. …

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