After Paris: Making Progress on Climate Protection
in the USA, Germany, and Worldwide
Potsdam Institute of Climate Impact Research
Potsdam, January 13, 2016
Ambassador John B. Emerson
Thank you, Dr. Schellnhuber.
The Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research is one of the world’s leading research institutions in the area of global environmental change. It is part of a global network of scientific and academic institutions working on these issues. Last October, Dr. John Holdren, Assistant to the President for Science and Technology, visited PIK. He was very impressed by your facilities and the quality of the research that is being done here. Dr. Holdren told me that I should not miss out on the opportunity to meet with you. And so here I am. It is a privilege to be here. Of course, the focus of your discussions with Dr. Holdren last fall was the lead-up to COP21. Clearly, the success we saw in Paris came on the back of many such discussions – and months of hard work. It is also clear, however, that the real work has just begun.
The COP21 agreement set forth an ambitious vision for a global approach to the challenge of climate change. It successfully navigated a range of difficult issues, by building in both flexibility, for Parties to take into account their national circumstances and capabilities, and a robust, common system of transparency. The Paris agreement is ambitious, durable, and universally applicable.
Recently, Paul Bodnar, the Senior Director for Energy and Climate Change on the National Security Council, described the Agreement as, and I quote, “a synchronized machine to ratchet down carbon emissions.” The fuel for that machine is the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, or INDCs. The machine operator is the COP. The lubricant is carbon finance. And the machine turns every five years, with a crank that can only move in one direction: forward.
One of the concerns going into Paris was that some developing countries would push for a minimalist outcome to the Agreement, in particular with respect to arrangements for reducing future emissions. There were also concerns that some emerging countries would insist on continued division between the obligations of developed and developing countries. The attitude of many in the developing world is that the leading economies enjoyed their growth and prosperity without regard to reducing carbon emissions, so why should they have to constrain their own growth by investing in more expensive forms of energy generation?
After Paris, however, the vintage 1992 division of the world is gone and has been replaced with a new regime for a universal approach to climate change. China and the U.S. broke the old north-south divide in their 2014 joint announcement. This unlocked the negotiations. The Agreement moves beyond dividing the world into outdated categories of developed and developing countries, and instead directs all parties to prepare, communicate, and maintain successive and ambitious nationally determined contributions.
Developed countries will continue to play the leading role in providing and mobilizing climate finance. In his speech on the opening day of the conference, President Obama said that the U.S. would pledge new money to the Least Developed Countries Fund – a fund that is specifically responsible for reducing vulnerability in the world’s poorest countries. And as a further indication of American commitment, Secretary Kerry announced that the U.S. would double grant-based, public climate finance for adaptation by 2020. The mitigation components of the Agreement, combined with a broad push on innovation and technology, are designed to steadily increase energy investments over the coming years – investments that will accelerate reductions in the cost of renewable energy and other low-carbon solutions.
In many emerging markets, clean energy is not only possible – it is actually the safest, most secure, and, yes, even the cheapest way to power a community. One recent study found that clean energy is growing twice as fast in many developing nations as in richer nations. There can only be one reason for that: renewable power makes sense – in terms of the economy, the environment, and also, by the way, in terms of global stability and security.
It may seem difficult to rationalize investing in clean energy when economies are strained; especially when sources like coal and oil appear cheaper and closer at hand, at least in the short term. But the fact is, over the long term, carbon-intensive energy is one of the costliest investments any government could possibly make. The invoice for carbon-based energy includes far more than the cost of building and operating a power plant. What is below the line on that balance sheet is the price of agriculture and environmental degradation; the cost of hospital bills for asthma and emphysema patients; and the expense of rebuilding after devastating storms and flooding. In just the last two years, the United States has spent nearly $160 billion in the wake of extreme weather events.
This is why, in the United States, we have stopped any public funding of certain kinds of carbon-based and coal-based power plants, as documented in our new Clean Power Plan, which was issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last August. That Plan creates the first-ever national U.S. carbon pollution standards for existing power plants, and is expected to cut U.S. power sector emissions 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.
It is encouraging to see that same sense of commitment in a global context. A year ago, India’s Prime Minister Modi called on all world leaders to initiate a ‘moon shot’ on clean energy technology. And on the first day of the COP meetings, India, alongside the United States, Germany, and 17 other countries, launched the Mission Innovation coalition, an ambitious public-private clean energy research development program. The 20 participating countries are collectively responsible for more than 80 percent of renewable energy R&D. They all pledged to double their budgets in this area over the next five years. For the United States, this involves increasing R&D investment by more than $5 billion per year.
Government leaders were joined in Paris by a group of 28 billionaire investors, including Microsoft’s Bill Gates, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos – all committed to a private-public investment on joint clean energy R&D. Their new Breakthrough Energy Coalition will provide support for early stage technologies, helping entrepreneurs and inventors to get their ideas off the ground at a time when other investors might be put off by the high risk factor involved.
These initiatives were conceived and created to complement the Agreement. They are not part of the Agreement; but they send an important message to the marketplace. They also underline the importance of using every available opportunity to create partnerships – both domestically and globally – to reduce emissions and increase resilience.
Consider the progress that has been made in green technology over the last decade –and just imagine the possibilities ten or twenty years down the road. In the 1990s, the emerging Internet economy drew the investment of over one trillion dollars for a projected one billion users. The energy economy that we’re looking at today already involves multiple trillions of dollars and an estimated four to five billions users, projected to grow to nine billion users over the next 30 years. The global energy market of the future is poised to be the largest market the world has ever known.
Between now and 2035, investment in the energy sector is expected to reach nearly $17 trillion. Imagine the opportunities for clean energy – and the businesses that could be launched and the jobs that could be created in every corner of the globe. The energy economy is one of the greatest economic opportunities the world has ever seen. If we continue to make smart choices, businesses and workers around the world stand to gain enormously. Clean energy is not only the solution to climate change; it also represents an enormous economic opportunity.
It won’t be governments, however, that actually find the product or the new technology. It will be the power of business unleashed when186 nations say, as they did in Paris, with one loud voice: We need to move in this direction. And so, obviously, the private sector has a critical role to play, not only in the design of products and services, but also through corporate citizenship. The sustainable paths that companies forge today will drive us closer and faster toward a low-carbon global economy tomorrow. One of the most ignored components of the transformation to clean energy choices is the fact that you can do well and do good at the same time.
This is the kind of corporate citizenship that over 150 companies demonstrated by signing up to the White House’s American Business Act on Climate Pledge. These companies, with operations in all 50 states and nearly 11 million employees, expressed support for an ambitious Paris Agreement and announced significant pledges to reduce their emissions, increase low-carbon investments, deploy more clean energy and take other actions to build more sustainable businesses and tackle climate change.
This illustrates how the Paris agreement has and will continue to leverage ambitious climate action, not only by participating countries, and enterprising businesses, investors and entrepreneurs, but also by sub-national governments and an enlightened global public. As part of these global efforts, Americans have demonstrated their dedication to climate action through a wide variety of commitments.
For example, over 100 mayors, including many Republicans, such as Mayor Jim Brainard of Carmel, Indiana, who recently travelled to Germany to discuss sustainability initiatives in his town, have signed onto the Compact of Mayors pledge, which establishes a common platform to capture the impact of cities’ collective actions through standardized measurement of emissions and climate risk, and consistent, public reporting of their efforts.
Over 300 colleges and universities, representing over 4 million students, have demonstrated their commitment to climate action by joining the American Campuses Act on Climate Pledge.
Individual states, including California, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, Minnesota, New Hampshire, and New York, have signed onto the Under-2 MOU, which commits signatories to cut greenhouse gas emissions 80-95% below 1990 levels, to share technology and scientific research, to expand zero-emission vehicles, to improve air quality by reducing short-lived climate pollutants, and to assess projected impacts of climate change on communities.
Of course, states and cities will never fully displace nations in the global fight against climate change, but in many cases, they are the laboratories for policy innovations which are then adopted at the federal and even international level. Moreover, their regulatory changes impact industry and manufacturing. Automobile emission standards in my home state of California, the largest auto market in the United States, drive the entire industry to change, resulting in lower emitting cars throughout America. Hopefully, other nations will implement this approach through their state and local governments.
Regional, national or even cross-national exchanges and markets are also an increasingly important element of future strategies to meet climate goals. The provincial government of Quebec in Canada was one of the first to impose a price on carbon. It is a founding member, together with California, of the largest carbon market in North America. Through this green growth market mechanism, governments help companies, municipalities and citizens make the transition towards a low-carbon world.
As you all well know, the science tells us we can only succeed in combating climate change if we are joined in this effort by every nation. Climate change is not only a threat to the environment; it is also a threat to the stability and security of nations around the world. The impacts of climate change can intensify resource competition, threaten livelihoods, and increase the risk of instability and conflict, especially in places already suffering from economic, political, and social stress. And because today’s world is so extraordinarily interconnected, instability anywhere can be a threat to security everywhere. Moreover, climate change is a ‘threat multiplier,’ making worse the problems that already exist.
The refugee situation we’re facing today will pale in comparison to the mass migrations that intense droughts, sea-level rise and other impacts of climate change are likely to bring about. In other words, we have to integrate climate considerations into every aspect of our foreign policy – from development and humanitarian aid to peace-building and diplomacy.
The Paris agreement, the most ambitious climate agreement to fight climate change in history, will not only help vulnerable countries, it will also protect our children.
And so, although I have focused this afternoon on a number of economic and market issues in support of a strong climate control strategy, climate change is, without a doubt, also a major strategic, national security,and political issue.
Here in Germany, the reaction to the outcome of the Paris Agreement was enthusiastic and optimistic. Domestically, however, the challenge of reducing Germany’s dependence on coal, while still supporting Germany’s energy-intensive manufacturing base, represents both a technical and a political challenge. Moreover, according to a recent study, 49 out of 52 coal-fired power plants in Germany would fail to meet current US mercury standards. In addition, like the United States, Germany is a country where people love their cars. To meet Germany’s emissions targets, rising emissions from the transportation sector must also be addressed. Fortunately, with the exception of some industries, Germany’s ambitious climate targets enjoy widespread political support, helping to motivate the German government to make what may be difficult political decisions. As scientists, it will be up to you to continue making the case and educating the public about the questions and the options involved.
In the United States, there are other political issues. COP 21 is being called a “hybrid legal agreement” whereby the binding aspects are procedural aspects already covered under the existing obligations of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, and therefore do not require congressional approval. To withdraw American commitment to the Paris Agreement, a new Administration would have to go through formal efforts to withdraw the U.S. from the UNFCCC framework, of which it has been a party since 1992. And while there are climate deniers in Congress, even running for President, this would be a very unlikely and difficult course of action for a new Administration to undertake.
And as President Obama said yesterday in his final State of the Union address, if anybody still wants to dispute the science around climate change, they will have to debate our military, most of America’s business leaders, the majority of the American people, almost the entire scientific community, and 200 nations around the world who agree it’s a problem and intend to solve it.
Since the President took office, the United States has taken historic steps to sharply reduce its emissions. The President’s Climate Action Plan has put us on track to meet our 2020 goal of reducing emissions in the range of 17 percent below 2005 levels in 2020. Our 2025 target is grounded under existing laws that have already been passed by Congress. The legal authority of the EPA to issue such guidelines was established under the Clean Air Act – and has been repeatedly recognized and upheld in U.S. Courts. To undo these rules, one would have to go through a rigorous and time consuming process that is consistent with the law and aligned with the approach that Congress and EPA have always taken to regulate emissions – setting source-level, source-category-wide standards that can be met through a variety of technologies and measures.
For example, the final regulations for the Clean Power Plan were based on more than two years of unprecedented outreach and public engagement, hundreds of meetings with stakeholders, and 4.3 million comments received on the draft regulations. States and utility companies are now in the process of developing their plans to comply with the guidelines. These decisions require long-term infrastructure investments. In other words, the impact of the plan is already in motion.
In President Obama’s first inaugural address, he committed the United States to the task of combating climate change and protecting this planet for future generations. Over the past seven years, the United States has become a global leader in fighting climate change. And it has done its part to secure the most ambitious global agreement ever to combat climate change.
The President is convinced that this moment can be a turning point for the world. The world has both the will and the ability to take on the challenge of climate change. It won’t be easy. Progress won’t always come quickly. Our generation will see some of the benefits of building a clean energy economy. But what matters is that today we can be more confident that this planet is going to be in better shape for the next generation. The Paris Agreement establishes a long term, durable global framework to set the world on a course to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions and leave the planet a better place for our children and grandchildren.
And finally, again as President Obama pointed out yesterday evening, one of the big questions that countries around the world have to answer is how do we make technology work for us, and not against us – especially when it comes to solving urgent challenges like climate change? And I am certain that PIK, working in close collaboration with partner organizations, will be at the forefront of that challenge.
Thank you. I welcome your questions and observations.