Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Hearing On International Aspects Of Global Climate Change

Nov 17: The Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee, Chaired by Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), held a hearing "to explore the international aspects of global climate change." Witnesses included representatives from the Council on Foreign Relations; Climate Advisers; Institute for 21st Century Energy, U.S. Chamber of Commerce; Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; and the National Foreign Trade Council.

Chairman Bingaman opened the meeting with a statement saying, “Much of the discussion of international climate policy revolves around the United Nations and negotiations to reach an international agreement to reduce emissions. This weekend at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, President Obama and other world leaders decided to delay the goal of reaching a climate change agreement at the next global climate conference in Copenhagen [
See WIMS 11/17/09]. Today we will hear from the witnesses on this issue and explore the realms of possibility for an international agreement. . .

“I was particularly pleased to see the U.S.-China Clean Energy Announcements from the White House this morning. The U.S. and China share many of the same energy and climate challenges and a strong bilateral partnership on clean energy, renewables and efficiency could benefit both countries. Finally, we will also hear about U.S. clean technology development and deployment. Effective programs to spur the development and deployment of clean energy technologies abroad -- especially in rapidly developing countries -- are vital to our national goals of mitigating climate change through global action and promoting U.S. competitiveness in future energy technologies.

"Moreover, despite the establishment of multiple interagency coordinating groups -- in laws passed in 1992, 2005, and 2007 – our international energy programs are still inhibited by structural and budgetary obstacles. The result is a duplication of capacity across agencies, under-resourced programs where they do exist, and less-than-optimal outcomes from the nation's international energy technology portfolio. I hope we can develop a better approach to international energy cooperation than simply creating more interagency coordinating groups, if we are to seriously address not only reducing global emissions, but also building robust American energy industries that can compete globally in the 21st century.”

Ranking Member of the Committee, Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) stressed that action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions "must be international in scope to truly address climate change." She said, “Climate change mitigation must be a global effort to be effective, but progress on the international front has been slow and difficult. Those who assume that others will follow if America acts first are ignoring that our actions on civil rights, worker protections and environmental stewardship have often failed to inspire similar progress in many other nations.”

Senator Murkowski said she remains committed to working toward climate change legislation, but cautioned that any solution must not harm the economy or put the United States at a competitive disadvantage with countries whose emissions remain unchecked. She said, “Congress shouldn’t try to pass just any bill to prove that we’re serious about climate change. Until we show the world that it’s possible to reduce emissions and maintain economic growth, I believe it will remain difficult to secure the international commitments that matter most in this effort. Climate change is, quite clearly, a global challenge that demands nothing short of a global solution. As focused as our committee has been on the nuts and bolts of domestic policy, we can’t forget that our actions will make little difference unless the rest of the world is working with us.”

The Council on Foreign Relations testified that, "There is an emerging international political consensus that global emissions should be cut at least in half by midcentury. The International Energy Agency estimates that the United States, Europe,
China, and India will each need to cut their energy-related emissions by 12-15% below business as usual by 2020 and by 34-42% below business as usual by 2030 to get the world on this path." They said, India has been wrongly lumped together with China in climate discussions. Total Indian emissions were, as of 2005, about one quarter of total Chinese emissions. Indian GDP is about 30% of Chinese GDP, and its foreign exchange reserves are barely 10% of those held by China. About 40% of Indians have no access to electricity; almost all Chinese have at least some. And while both countries are vulnerably to climate change, the danger to India is particularly acute."

The Climate Advisers testified that, "The Kyoto negotiations took a decade from start to finish. The Copenhagen process will not require that long, but it will take some months or possibly years more. Second, the negotiations have been affected by significant uncertainty surrounding the shape of future U.S. climate and energy policies. The world learned from the Kyoto negotiations that the United States cannot deliver on new climate commitments unless the president and Congress see eye-to-eye. . . a high-profile outcome from Copenhagen would be politically binding in the sense that nations would commit publicly to specific outcomes. A solid political agreement would send a clear signal about where the international community is heading while also providing concrete guidance to negotiators as they continue the work of crafting a complete international agreement. . ."

The U.S. Chamber testified that, "As this year’s negotiations wind their way to a conclusion in Copenhagen, Denmark, the prospect of a new international deal is not very bright, and it is not hard to see why. Consider that the starting point for discussion is a 50% reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Endorsed by G8 leaders, this “50-by-50” goal is among the most aggressive of the 177 emissions reduction scenarios examined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Meeting such a goal would require large and expensive emissions reductions and avoidances, most of which would have to occur in developing countries. Though ultimately non-binding and unenforceable, the long-term vision nonetheless drives expectations about technology readiness and commercial adoption, short-term goals, burden sharing by developing countries, finance and wealth transfers, and technology transfer, issues that are among the most contentious in the international negotiations."

The Chamber said that "Developing countries are pressing the United States and other developed countries to transfer anywhere from 0.5% to 2.0% of their gross domestic product each year to bankroll climate change programs in developing countries. . . At that rate, in 2008 the cost to American taxpayers alone would have been $72 billion to $289 billion."

The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace focused its remarks on China and its role in managing climate change. They indicated that President Hu announced to the world China’s climate change goals, notably: Reducing energy intensity by 20% between 2005 and 2010. China has reduced its energy used per unit of GDP by 1.8% in 2006, 4% in 2007, and 4.6% in 2008. In the first half of 2009, China reduced energy intensity by 3.35%. Analysts predict that if China is able to continue at this pace, it will reach its 2010 goal. China’s internal goal is to have 15% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020. Carnegie said, "The question of how to evaluate the data provided by the Chinese government especially in light of the Chinese climate change negotiators clearly stating that China will not accept a carbon cap (which they see as limiting their economic growth potential) and instead will focus on carbon intensity targets."

They said, "The U.S. can have confidence that China is going to do what it says it is going to do because its motivations are internal. And, China is continually improving its ability to enforce its own policies. Improving the process by which Beijing monitors how well it reaches its national goals requires continued technical support. While it is unlikely that China will allow international inspectors, a process that puts its reputation at stake could be helpful. Most important is the recognition of reciprocity. China will push back hard against any policy or initiative that appears to set it in a special category."

The National Foreign Trade Council said it, "does not take a position on specific legislative approaches to climate change. While we broadly support targets to reduce U.S. emissions and an international framework agreement to put countries on low emissions pathways, comprehensive climate legislation addresses issues beyond our mandate and expertise." The Council represents Business Council for Sustainable Energy; Coalition of Service Industries; Emergency Committee for American Trade; Information Technology Industry Council; National Association of Manufacturers; National Foreign Trade Council; Organization for International Investment; Retail Industry Leaders Association; and United States Chamber of Commerce.

Access the hearing website for links to the testimony and a webcast (
click here). Access a release from Sen. Bingaman (click here). Access a release from Sen. Murkowski (click here).