Energy and Global Warming News for October 23: New poll finds climate action support; Chamber accelerates lobbying

New survey finds US and 37 others demand more aggressive climate action

The first-ever deliberative global survey of citizen opinion, World Wide Views on Global Warming (WWViews) has found that people from diverse backgrounds in the US and worldwide overwhelmingly want faster action, deeper GHG emissions cuts and stronger enforcement than either US climate legislation proposals or Copenhagen treaty conference preparations are currently contemplating. Among the survey’s findings:

  • 90% of U. S. participants say it is urgent to reach a tough, new agreement at the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December and not punt to subsequent meetings;
  • 89% said by 2020 emissions should be cut 25–40% below 1990 levels (the Kerry Boxer Senate bill would cut US emissions 20% below 2005 levels);
  • 71% want nations that fail to meet their obligations under a new agreement to be penalized severely or significantly;
  • 69% believe the price of fossil fuels should be increased.

These views were echoed across 37 other countries on six continents. Global results showed participants wanted more aggressive action than their delegates to Copenhagen envision, including:

  • strict targets for keeping global warming within 2 degrees Celsius (half of participants, especially in countries hardest hit by climate change, want measures to hold temperatures at the current level or even bring them down to pre-industrial levels);
  • fairer and more proportionate burden sharing, including 2020 emissions reduction targets for fast- growing economies like India, China and Brazil, and low-income developing countries;
  • sanctions against countries that do not live up to their emission reduction commmitments;
  • strong new international financial mechanisms and institutions to support these goals.

By contrast, in current policy negotiations these goals are either much less ambitious or absent altogether. Preparations for Copenhagen and Congressional debate on climate change legislation are both following a similar pattern of lowering ambitions and expectations, focusing on limited areas of current agreement and incremental steps, and deferring more contentious issues of targets, timetables, funding and enforcement until later.

“We are hearing from climate policymakers that it will take more time to do things right, that we have to meet people where they are instead of imposing radical reforms from above,” said Dr. Richard Sclove, the US advisor to WWViews. “But these results show the people are way ahead of the policymakers. If Congress and Copenhagen delegates want to act in accordance with citizen views, they have to do far more and go far faster, not scale back and slow down.”

As Chamber loses members, its lobbying accelerates

While a number of its members left because of its stance on climate change, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce was pouring record amounts into lobbying efforts.

The chamber spent more than $34 million on lobbying in the third quarter, with a portion of that money paying for advocacy on energy and climate legislation.

“This represents an increase of 260 percent above what it spent on lobbying during the second quarter, and an increase of 12 percent above what it spent during the first three quarters of 2008,” wrote Michael Beckel on a blog of the Center for Responsive Politics.

The release of the lobbying data came during a crazed week for the chamber, which witnessed an environmentalist activist group called the “Yes Men” holding a fake press conference on climate policy in its name (Greenwire, Oct. 19). That followed departures of companies like Apple Inc. and Exelon from the chamber in recent months because of their disagreements with the group’s stance on global warming.

In a statement earlier this week, Thomas Collamore, the chamber’s senior vice president for communications and strategy, said, “The U.S. Chamber believes that strong climate legislation is not incompatible with the goals of improving our economy and creating jobs.”

WaPo: We can afford to save the planet

Here is the good news on the climate front: The Europeans have ratcheted down their emissions targets, the Chinese are getting serious about solar power and energy efficiency, and Washington is lumbering toward a carbon cap.

These are steps toward the long-held goal: cutting global warming pollution 80 percent by 2050. Such cuts would stabilize the thickness of the heat-trapping carbon dioxide blanket surrounding the planet at 450 parts per million (ppm) and, we’ve been told, ensure that the global average temperature increase would not exceed 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) from 1990 levels.

The bad news? Turns out that 450 ppm is so 2005.

In the past four years, climate scientists, led by NASA’s James Hansen, have dramatically altered the goal. To avoid the collapse of the continental ice-sheets and a dangerous rise in sea levels, many scientists are now saying we have to get down to 350 ppm, and quickly.

This means what was already a heroic (and to many, impossible) target has become mind-boggling. Reaching 350 ppm would require a 97 percent reduction in emissions, entailing a complete conversion to renewable energy systems by mid-century, with the world economy virtually free of carbon emissions. Such a goal is far more demanding than any of the leading policy proposals under discussion.

Game over?

No. It’s just time to rethink what is possible.

Climate bill crunch time

A climate change bill will get top billing Friday with a critical meeting among Democratic leaders to set a timeline for debate, a major speech by President Barack Obama and release of a crucial impact study by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Massachusetts Democratic Sen. John Kerry, the lead sponsor of a Senate climate bill, plans to meet with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Monday to set a timeline for committees to finish work on the legislation — possibly as soon as Thanksgiving. And Environment and Public Works Chairwomen Sen. Barbara Boxer said she plans to release new sections of the climate bill that she co-authored with Kerry on Friday. The release of her bill comes as the EPA is set to release a study of the economic impact of the Senate version of the global warming legislation.

While Democratic senators make their push in Washington, Obama will deliver a speech on clean energy and climate change at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The flurry of activity around a bill that has suffered on the back burner during the health care debate gives environmentalists hope that the Senate could make substantial progress on a bill before international climate talks scheduled for December in Copenhagen.

White House encouraged by climate bill status

The White House is encouraged by progress on a climate change bill in the Senate and is working to advance it even if a December deadline passes, an aide to President Barack Obama said on Thursday.

Carol Browner, Obama’s top adviser on climate and energy issues, told Reuters that White House officials were reaching out to Democratic and Republican senators in an aggressive push to move the bill forward.

“There have been some bipartisan conversations that we find very encouraging,” Browner said in an interview. “We are going to continue to do everything in our power to keep this moving.”

If a law is not passed by the time U.N. talks on a global warming pact begin in December in Copenhagen, the United States would still have a strong position on the issue in the negotiations, she said.

“Wherever we are in the process, we will be able to manage in Copenhagen.”

Browner, who has expressed doubts that a bill would become law by December, said U.S. negotiators would stress Obama’s domestic initiatives on climate change and renewable energy since coming into office.

“We’ll have been in office by the time we get there, what, 10 months? And yet if you look at what we’ve accomplished, its quite significant,” she said.

European countries and environmentalists want Washington to do more to encourage the Copenhagen talks.

Obama’s presence at the talks would help. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has said he would go and called on other world leaders to attend, too.

But Browner said the time was not right to make that call. “As the president himself has said, it’s just too early to make that decision,” she said.

UK Foreign Secretary accuses public of climate change apathy

The Foreign Secretary accused the public yesterday of lacking a sense of urgency in the face of the potentially devastating consequences of climate change.

David Miliband said that people had grown apathetic about the issue when they needed to be galvanised into action before the Copenhagen climate change summit in December.

“For a lot of people the penny hasn’t dropped that this climate change challenge is real and is happening now,” he said. “There isn’t yet that feeling of urgency and drive and animation about the Copenhagen conference.”

Mr Miliband and his brother, Ed Miliband, the Climate Change Secretary, were opening an exhibition at the Science Museum in South Kensington designed to illustrate the potential impact of world temperatures increasing by 4C. Current models predict that this could happen by 2060 if no action is taken.

He stood by the Government’s hard-hitting public information broadcast to promote the Government’s Act on CO2 initiative.

The Greening of China

China and India agreed Oct. 22 to coordinate their efforts on climate change. The two countries are at one in holding developed countries responsible for taking the lead in cutting emissions. As the largest carbon emitter, China is being watched particularly closely in the approach to the December Copenhagen summit on climate change to see what position it will adopt.

Common Position

China’s carbon emissions are said to have surpassed those of the U.S. in 2007, making it the world’s largest contributing country and a key participant at the U.N. Climate Summit in Copenhagen this December:

— On Sept. 22, President Hu Jintao said China would cut carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions per unit of GDP by a “notable margin” by 2020. This has raised expectations that China might make a commitment to mandatory emissions cuts.

— On Oct. 14, Vice Premier Li Keqiang stressed the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities,” which replicated the standard position on climate change from the mid-1990s.

Entering into a five-year agreement yesterday, China and India are making common cause on climate change, which will add to the weight developing countries will have at Copenhagen. The two sides maintain that:

— developed countries carry primary responsibility for cutting emissions;

— caps should not be imposed, because development is their priority; and

— developed countries should provide financial and technological resources to industrializing countries to help them control emissions.