Myth vs. reality on international climate negotiations

This analysis is from the Center for American Progress.   CAP statements on President Obama’s Speech and Chinese President Hu’s Speech at Today’s UN Climate Summit are here.  Photo above is U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon speaks during the opening of the World Climate Conference in Geneva on September 3.

Myth #1: The United States should not have to act if China and India are not doing anything.

Reality: Both China and India are now moving forward with ambitious plans for emissions reductions and low-carbon development.

China’s fuel economy standard for passenger cars is equivalent to 36.7 miles per gallon, and China is reportedly considering raising this to 42.2 mpg. The U.S. standard remained at 27.5 mpg for 20 years until President Obama recently announced a new standard in May of 35.5 mpg by 2016.

[We need to hear details about China’s new carbon intensity goal.]

India recently announced that it will quantify greenhouse gas emissions and take actions to reduce emissions through deployment of renewable energy and energy efficiency. India has announced the most ambitious solar energy goal in the world and is moving forward with a plan to radically improve home appliance efficiency.

The Bush administration signed on to the U.N. Bali Action Plan in December 2007, which is a commitment by developed countries to assist developing countries with technology and finance to transition to a low-carbon pathway in exchange for a commitment from those developing countries to make “measurable, reportable, and verifiable” emissions reductions. The United States and China signed an additional bilateral agreement this July that could help make this plan a reality. Such agreements will ensure that the major emerging economies will continue their efforts to reduce emissions.

Myth #2: China and India will not commit to an international agreement on climate change.

Reality: Both China and India have publically stated that they will sign a new climate agreement as long as it does not inhibit their economic growth.

Both China and India ratified the Kyoto Protocol, which was intended to bring developing countries into the fold as full partners in the global reduction of carbon pollution. Both countries are also part of other diplomatic processes that could help form the basis of an international agreement, such as the Major Economies Forum.

The MEF, which originated under the Bush administration, brings together a group of the 17 largest economies to develop concrete solutions on technology and finance to bring to the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen this December. Both China and India have already explicitly acknowledged, through the MEF process, “the scientific view that the increase in global average temperature above pre-industrial levels ought not to exceed 2 degrees C.” The United States and China are also engaged in bilateral negotiations that are integral to achieving a successful outcome.

Indeed, the United States and China have already moved forward with promising agreements. The U.S. Department of Energy and China joined in a partnership in June to improve building efficiency and create sustainable communities that are powered with renewable sources. The two countries then in July signed a Memorandum of Understanding agreeing to engage in policy dialogue on climate change, and to cooperate on capacity building, research, development, and deployment of low-carbon technology.

Myth #3: China, India, Brazil and other developing countries refuse to accept binding caps on greenhouse gas emissions.

Reality: The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change does not require developing countries to accept binding targets because they have different needs than the developed world.

Nearly 50 percent of Indians””half a billion people””do not have access to electricity. Hundreds of millions of Chinese live below the poverty line. Such nations should have different obligations than the United States or Europe. But this does not mean that these countries won’t eventually accept binding emissions cuts.

Chinese government officials have already made explicit statements that China will peak its emissions growth at some future date. South Korea and Mexico have also indicated a willingness to consider future caps. And these countries have already agreed in principle as part of the Bali Action Plan to reduce their emissions in a measurable, reportable, and verifiable way.

Myth #4: Emissions reductions in developing countries cannot be accounted for or verified.

Reality: Measuring, reporting, and verifying emissions reductions is an issue for both developed and developing countries.

For instance, although it continues to be a work in progress, China has developed a fairly detailed range of measurement, reporting, and verification mechanisms for their major energy and environmental policies. China’s statistics laws have been tightened to improve data quality and enhance accountability.

Developing countries are eager to improve their capacity for measurement, reporting, and verification. It is in their interest to measure the effectiveness of such policies as this is the only framework under which developed countries will ever provide assistance for clean economic development.

Myth #5: Joining an international agreement will leave the United States at a competitive disadvantage and jobs will go overseas.

Reality: Passing domestic climate legislation and investing in a clean energy economy will make the United States a leader in the clean energy race, boosting job creation and the economy.

Clean-energy investments prompted by the American Clean Energy Security Act will generate around 1.7 million jobs. The American Clean Energy Security Act includes provisions to assist energy-intensive, trade-sensitive industries with competition from firms in nations without reduction plans. Steel, glass, cement, and other energy-intensive industries would receive pollution allowances that they can use or sell to keep them competitive with foreign firms. Companies in countries without emissions reductions programs would have to purchase allowances after 2020. A Pew Center on Global Climate Change study found that these provisions will ensure that industries would experience less than a 1 percent decline in overall production as a result of a cap on emissions.

An international agreement will catalyze public and private actors to capitalize on emerging clean-energy investment opportunities abroad. A recent report by the China Greentech Initiative found that China has enormous potential for a mass market in green technologies, reaching up to $1 trillion a year. U.S. companies are already hungry for investment opportunities in China, recognizing a growing desire among the Chinese to reduce environmental threats and be a leader in clean energy technology. Duke Energy signed an agreement in August with Huaneng, one of the biggest Chinese utilities, to cooperate on renewable energy and carbon capture and storage. And American company First Solar signed a deal with Chinese government officials in September to build the largest photovoltaic plant in the world””producing enough solar electricity to power 3 million Chinese homes.

Our economy will likely suffer if we do not move to capture these opportunities.

Myth #6: We must achieve a final international agreement on climate change at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, or international climate change negotiations will be a failure.

Reality: The meeting in Copenhagen is part of a process for structuring an international agreement, not the end of it. The same was true for the Kyoto Protocol. The Copenhagen meeting will be the 15th meeting of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change. Success at Copenhagen would be the adoption of architecture for a new treaty to replace the Kyoto Accord that commits countries to greenhouse gas reductions. Final numbers can come later through an extension process, as was the case with the July 2001 interim meeting in Bonn, Germany between the sixth and seventh UNFCCC meetings. Multilateral and bilateral negotiations continue outside of the UNFCCC process and will likely result in cooperation between developing and developed countries on financial and technological measures to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

Myth #7: The United States is doing little to curb emissions, falling out of step with other developed countries.

Reality: The present proposals for midterm emissions reductions in ACES in conjunction with complementary measures achieve strong midterm targets equal to those of developed countries.

The economy-wide cap proposed in ACES would reduce emissions by 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020. This target falls short of the demands of the European Union and will not trigger the EU’s commitment to lower their emissions from 20 to 30 percent below 1990 levels if the United States makes a comparable effort.

Yet a recent study by the World Resources Institute, however, calculates that this legislation could achieve emission reductions of 23 percent below 1990 levels if all complementary measures are taken into account, such as international forestry projects, industrial performance standards, energy efficiency measures, and international offsets. If this analysis can be verified, it will satisfy the EU’s requirement for a comparable effort and trigger their increase in emissions reductions. CAP proposes measuring “carbon cap equivalents,” or taking a full accounting of what countries are prepared to do in terms of emissions reductions that are not completely expressed under an economy-wide cap.

Myth #8: The U.S. Congress must pass climate change legislation before international negotiations begin in December 2009 to achieve a successful outcome in Copenhagen.

Reality: The United States has already undertaken steps to reduce its greenhouse gas pollution and these efforts can demonstrate our commitment to reducing emissions at the UNFCCC meeting in December.

The Obama administration set the first national limits on greenhouse gases from motor vehicles, which will reduce pollution by 900 million tons for model years 2012-2016. And the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act passed in February made a $90 billion down payment on the transition to a clean energy economy, including $20 billion in tax incentives for renewable energy and energy efficiency.

Efforts at the state level, including renewable energy standards in 28 states and the District of Columbia, have jumpstarted the growth of clean-energy jobs and leadership in new technologies with minimal rises in electric rates. States recognize the benefits of investing in clean energy and energy efficiency.

The imminent endangerment finding decision, in which the Environmental Protection Agency will determine that “global warming is endangering the public’s health and welfare,” will enable the EPA to set pollution limits on major industrial sources such as power plants.

The House passed American Clean Energy Security Act reduces greenhouse gas pollution by 17 percent by 2020. It is now pending in the Senate, with debate expected this fall. There is strong public support for a clean energy bill like ACES. The majority of voters support ACES and say they would be less likely to vote for a senator who opposes the bill.

Myth #9: The European Union Emissions Trading System is a failure.

Reality: The EU Emissions Trading System, a cap-and-trade program for carbon dioxide emissions, has a carbon market worth $56.6 billion annually and has reduced pollution by 50 to 100 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year.

Too many emissions allowances were given away to polluting industries during the initial test phase, which led to windfall profits for polluters while prices spiked for consumers. But the program became successful following revisions in the second and third phases. The United States can learn from that experience in shaping its own trading system.

12 Responses to Myth vs. reality on international climate negotiations

  1. This is a very informative article and identifies much of the misinformation being used by opponents fighting against efforts at stopping climate change. I remain skeptical that many governments will take real steps move toward meaningful change that will protect the health and welfare of both the human population and the other creatures on the planet, but some of the ongoing activities that have been highlighted at least offer a glimmer of hope.

  2. Phil Eisner says:

    This article, “Myth vs. reality on international climate negotiations” is a good effort at putting a good face on a series of political policies and words that may or may not work. Nevertheless, I am encouraged – progress is being made. As long as countries make progress both in words and actions, a bandwagon effect is possible. We will all discover that clean energy works economically. As the bad effects of global warming become more obvious, the people of the world and their leaders will panic, but the basis and the beginnings of a solution will at least have been made. Let us hope that the massive CO2 emission reductions that will come about from that panic will not be too late!

  3. oxnardprof says:

    Good post. At first I was confused, thinking that you were discussing myths in President Obama’s speech. However, the brief discussion linked at the header indicates some positive discussion by the President.

  4. DB says:

    “China is also making steady progress toward reducing energy intensity—energy consumption per unit of GDP—by 20 percent from 2005 levels by 2010.”

    [JR: I cut that out. Carbon intensity goal is now key.]

  5. Stephan says:

    Nice article indeed. I totally agree that the countries in the world should make their own decisions instead of only acting when a different country acts as well. Everyone should make an efford in reducing their impact on the climate.

    Making ambitious goals is a very good thing. This will stimulate other countries to achieve higher goals themselves as well. Furthermore, the good news is as well that more and more news is being published regarding countries making a serious commitment and efford towards acting against climate change.

    For more info on the environment, have a look at this Green News.

  6. DB says:

    “Carbon intensity goal is now key.”

    So the Bush administration was right about that after all?

    [JR: For China, not us! Jeez, that the best you can do?]

  7. DB says:

    “For China, not us! Jeez, that the best you can do?”

    I’m not sure what you mean, but isn’t the concept of decarbonization (less carbon intensity) the same throughout the world?

    [JR: No. Rich countries did sharp, fast absolution reductions. Developing ones need to sharply change trend line, hence intensity.]

  8. K. Nockels says:

    Thank you Joe, I get tired of repeating to people that you can not blame/use China and India in the old “Well if they don’t cut Co2 why should we” line. And they never want to hear that the majority of what is up there now is from the developed nations, that means US. It is a question of being fair, we spent a lot of years using fossel fuels to get where we are today and that means we need to cut more to help make up for it. If we don’t lead this fight we will lose the planet, than no one wins. What is so hard to understand about that?

  9. Tim R. says:

    You cannot give Democrats credit for the Clean Air Act endangerment finding, leading to limits on major industrial sources like power plants, and then in the next paragraph give credit to ACES cutting GHGs by 17%. That is creating a new misleading myth. ACES guts the CAA and prevents the EPA from using its current powers to cut GHGs. It is one or the other.

    It might also be helpful to be a little critical of the US Copenhagen position. The US position abandons the Kyoto Protocol with its hard economy-wide targets and its international compliance process and substitutes a toothless climate regime that only ratifies those actions already enacted as domestic law. We could use some real international leadership from Obama on the climate issue.

  10. Has anyone researched the increase in earthquake activity? Has anyone noticed that as the sea waters are rising they are changing the weight and pressure on the tectonic plates under the sea? I have been observing this for over 3 years now. I have noticed an increase in earthquake and volcanic activity and I do believe it is directly related to the melting of the ice and rising sea waters.

  11. Dan Badger says:

    I invite the participants in this discussion to read my piece entitled “Facts in the Air: Should the Early Bird Get the Worm on the Global Carbon Commons” and let me know what they think of it.

    Dan Badger

  12. Sumanta Ganguli says:

    If we look around, we’ll see hardly any species other than humans modify their surroundings so much, so fast. Turns out this is a boon with 10 times hidden bane. So the basic idea about preventing climate change is to ensure continual of human prosperity without forcing nature through detrimental, sudden change. Isn’t it?