How ironic that China will have cap-and-trade to address climate change before the United States. It was an American idea- in fact, a Republican idea (they were for it until they were against it, typically preferring market-based solutions over regulation or government enterprise). I suspect the Chinese plan is being designed and implemented by George Bush’s own Treasury Secretary, Henry Paulsen, who now advises China on climate action strategy and was at the Clinton Global Initiative last year saying that businesses ignore climate change at their peril.
“We need a national policy to unleash the markets, unleash innovation that will lead to new technologies and change behavior – business and consumer behavior. The only way, and the best way, to get there is by putting a price on carbon.”
China’s declaration to address climate change is key – the most populous country in the world (1.3 billion people) and the second largest economy, it is the biggest polluter in the world, while the United States, the biggest economy in the world, is the biggest polluter per capita, with just 5% of the world’s population but responsible for 25% of the carbon emissions. China soundly on board removes another absurd argument that the boosters of the fossil-Fuel-based energy system have used: that the problem is global and must be solved globally, so until China and India come on board, there is no point for the United States to act.
At this year’s Clinton Global Initiative, Jim Yong Kim, President of World Bank Group, reiterated the need to put a price on carbon.
“What is absolutely critical, is to put a price on carbon….There is a cost of putting carbon in the air, and if we properly reflect that (then will develop alternatives.”
Indeed, the cost of clean renewables is coming down precipitously and will inevitably fall further with technological breakthroughs and mass acceptance (while the cost of fossil fuels has to keep rising because of dwindling supply and extraction costs). The cost of generating a kw/hour of solar power, for example, has fallen from 15c to 5c (and an American company, Silicor Materials, is building the largest silicon factory in the world in Iceland to produce solar collectors and I’ll bet they will employ some of the Syrian refugees welcomed by Iceland), while Oklahoma will have to pay for the environmental destruction caused by 5,000 earthquakes in 2014 and 4,000 so far this year, and whole communities will have to pay for treatment of contaminated water.
“When I first came to CGI, we talked of climate change as the ‘future’,” said Judith Rodin, president of the Rockefeller foundation. “Today we know there is no ‘later,’ the future is now, climate change already is impacting our lives, businesses, our health, our society.”
People who live in small island nations, like the Seychelles, the Philippines, the Pacific Islanders, are already seeing their entire world at risk.
“Small island developing states contribute little to greenhouse gas emissions but stand to suffer the greatest and most immediate impacts of climate change, President Clinton said. “I’ll never forget when I was working in the aftermath of the tsunami how vulnerable the little island states seem to be and how I often wondered if I was just buying them a few years time before something far more profound and irreversible than a tsunami would approach them. The recent estimate [that predicts a four degree Celsius rise in the average temperature] means that sea levels could rise so much some of these nations could become uninhabitable.”
That’s already happening on a tiny Pacific island of Kiribati, where people are first being presented with the prospect of needing to migrate.
“We’ve been talking about climate change – even Kiribati people question – but in February, on a clear day, no storm, water came up to homes. This is climate change,” said Pelenise Alofa, National Coordinator and Country Manager, Kiribati Climate Action Network and Live & Learn Environmental Education.
Now her islanders are talking about the “m” word – migration.
“They say it will be migration with dignity but that is a last resort if we can’t remain here. The land is important to us – it is our identity, where we belong – there is no other place on earth that will make me feel like Kiribati. Every piece of land is owned by somebody – title belongs to a person, and that title makes you a Kiribati person. When you talk about poverty in Kiribati, it is a person who doesn’t own land. Where would we go? Would we become second-class citizens in another country? So when they say ‘migration’ it means we would be poor people. To leave our country and go somewhere else, what are we then?”
Consider the current crisis in Europe with the flow of some 4 million refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq – the largest migration since World War II. But there are 200 million people who live along coastlines, at risk of becoming climate refugees.
Last week, Pope Francis made climate action a central theme during his historic speech to the White House and Congress.
“Accepting the urgency, it seems clear to me also that climate change is a problem which can no longer be left to a future generation. When it comes to the care of our ‘common home,’ we are living at a critical moment of history. We still have time to make the changes needed to bring about ‘a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change. Such change demands on our part a serious and responsible recognition not only of the kind of world we may be leaving to our children, but also to the millions of people living under a system which has overlooked them. Our common home has been part of this group of the excluded which cries out to heaven and which today powerfully strikes our homes, our cities and our societies. To use a telling phrase of the Reverend Martin Luther King, we can say that we have defaulted on a promissory note and now is the time to honor it…
“Humanity still has the ability to work together in building our common home,” Pope Francis said. “As Christians inspired by this certainty, we wish to commit ourselves to the conscious and responsible care of our common home.”
The next day, in his unprecedented speech to Congress, knowing his audience, he diplomatically avoided using the term “climate change.” But his exaltation was clear – and he managed to draw the line of causality between degradation of earth and its resources and societal ills:
“I call for a courageous and responsible effort to ‘redirect our steps’, and to avert the most serious effects of the environmental deterioration caused by human activity. I am convinced that we can make a difference and I have no doubt that the United States – and this Congress – have an important role to play. Now is the time for courageous actions and strategies, aimed at implementing a ‘culture of care’ and ‘an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature’. ‘We have the freedom needed to limit and direct technology’ ‘to devise intelligent ways of… developing and limiting our power’; and to put technology ‘at the service of another type of progress, one which is healthier, more human, more social, more integral’. In this regard, I am confident that America’s outstanding academic and research institutions can make a vital contribution in the years ahead.”
It was a not-so-gentle prodding to an institution that – unlike China, India and most of the rest of the world which has followed President Obama’s lead in committing to climate action – has thrown every obstacle, ranging from lawsuits, to defunding the EPA’s ability to implement or enforce climate actions, to threatening impeachment of EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy.
Despite the obstruction, there has been a crescendo of positive developments in climate action, at the federal and state levels, causing climate activists to call this the Summer of Action.
“We’re seeing momentum on climate action like never before,” Heather Shelby of the Environmental Defense Fund wrote.
This summer, the Obama Administration finalized America’s first-ever national limits on carbon pollution from fossil-fuel-fired power plants. The EPA also proposed new limits on climate pollution from the oil and gas industry, as well as limits on climate pollution spewing from heavy-duty trucks and buses. And Obama’s climate action focus was climaxed this summer when he became the first sitting president to visit Alaska where he could showcase the effects of global warming first-hand (and that Shell Oil rig that was licensed to drill in the Arctic that got progressives so miffed, has just been shut down by Shell.)
Further progress came when Republican Congressman Gibson (NY) introduced a bill acknowledging the basic science of climate change and that humans are causing it, calling on the House of representatives to work on economically viable solutions, and 10 other House Republicans actually signed on as cosponsors.
And Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) introduced the American Energy Innovation Act of 2015 which she calls “a technology driven pathway to a clean energy future.” If passed, it would reduce greenhouse gases and save consumers money. If not, the United States will simply fall behind the rest of the world, especially the developing world, which are (to coin Donald Trump’s) “eating our lunch” when it comes to sustainable development.
There’s action at the state-level as well.
This summer (the hottest on record), Governor Andrew Cuomo announced $175 million in awards for five large-scale clean energy projects that will help the State meet its Reforming the Energy Vision goals to increase the amount of electricity generation from renewable energy sources. The projects will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve the resiliency of New York’s electric grid and energy infrastructure while decreasing the state’s reliance on fossil fuels leading to a cleaner, healthier environment.
The announcement came during Climate Week, which Governor Cuomo proclaimed from September 22-29 to raise awareness about the challenges we face with a changing climate and to highlight New York’s efforts to increase resiliency and curb emissions as global leaders meet in New York City this week.
“Climate Week is a reminder that we must continue our investment to create a sustainable energy future for New York State,” Governor Cuomo said. “Through these projects, we are developing a world-class technology infrastructure while using the renewable energy necessary to reduce our carbon footprint and create a greener New York.”
Once operational, the five projects will add 116 megawatts (MW) of new renewable capacity, which will provide about 356,000 megawatt-hours per year of clean renewable energy to New York – enough energy to supply over 54,000 average-sized homes per year.
Projects include a 100 MW wind farm in Chautauqua County; a 9.l6 MW anaerobic digestion biogas-to-electricity facility in Staten Island that will use food waste and other organic materials provided by area restaurants, supermarkets and food manufacturers (why not Nassau County?), 5.2 MW more capacity to an existing hydroelectric facility in Lewis County, for a total of more than 11 MW; 790 kilowatt fuel cell being installed at Morgan Stanley HQ in New York City; and a new 560 KW flow turbine at a hydroelectric facility in Oswego County.
“These five projects will bring clean energy and economic development to both upstate and downstate, growing the state’s energy economy and supporting Governor Cuomo’s vision for a more diverse power delivery system,” said John B. Rhodes, President and CEO, NYSERDA. “Under the State’s 2015 Energy Plan, New York now has a clear path to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase the use of renewable energy resources, and these projects help advance the plan’s goals.”
Support for these projects is from the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), an initiative that promotes the development of new large-scale renewable energy resources in New York State. NYSERDA plans to issue one more RPS Main Tier solicitation for larger renewable projects in 2016, expected to be funded through the Clean Energy Fund. (Could there be hope for the long-sought off-shore wind farm, south of Long Island’s south shore?)
Under a newly established large-scale renewables proceeding before the Public Service Commission, NYSERDA has proposed a long-term commitment to the next generation of large-scale renewables. The proposal calls for a $1.5 billion public investment over ten years, which is comparable to the level of investment made over the past decade through the existing RPS.
For every $1 invested in RPS Main Tier projects, New York realizes $3 in economic benefits. More than $3 billion of direct investment in New York State is expected as a result of existing Main Tier projects in the form of jobs, payments to public entities, in-state purchase of goods and services, and land leases.
In all, NYSERDA’s 10 RPS Main Tier solicitations have funded 69 projects, generating more than 5.3 million megawatt-hours of renewable energy annually.
These are just examples of what is possible.
For years now, Republicans have been actively campaigning to block climate action, first with a disinformation campaign denying climate change altogether, scoffing at the “uncertainty” of the science (Donald Trump just last week said that climate change is really nothing more than the preoccupation the “media” has reporting the weather), then took the “I am not a scientist” sidestep. Lately, they are taking the odd stance that regardless of whether there is climate change (and totally discounting the disruptive impacts, the cost of climate catastrophes, drought, famine, floods, and the health impacts), the shift to clean renewable energy is inexplicably not worth the cost to the economy or jobs (even though clean energy enterprises have become leading job creators. “Renewables have continued to explode, with an acceptance rate that is rivaling cell phones in many parts of renewable business,,” Theresa Jester, CEO, Silicor Materials, said at the Clinton Global Initiative. (Meanwhile, the coal mines haven’t seen peak employment since 1920 and peak production since 1950 – they’ve been declining ever since.)
But scientists are now saying that even with the pledges countries are making to combat climate change, the earth will still heat up by more than 6 degrees by the end of the century, producing ‘catastrophes ranging from food shortages to widespread extinctions of plant and animal life.” (New York Times, September 28).
So now the Republicans excuse will likely be, “Why bother to do anything at all?”
The question that should be asked is, if the earth would still heat up 6 degrees with climate mitigation, how much would it heat up in the century and beyond without it, and what measurable increases in assorted catastrophes would that have?
Obama used his meetings at the United Nations this week to generate momentum for the Climate Summit in Paris in December and the United Nations has made acting on climate change one of its new Sustainable Development Goals (#13), the agenda that is the successor to the Millennium Development Goals that expired this year. He planned to meet with India’s Prime Minister Modi to discuss ways that India can act, now that China is on board, which would bring together the major actors.
“The historic climate change announcements that we made last year in Beijing have encouraged other countries to step up, as well, increasing the prospects for a stronger global agreement this year,” President Obama said in a joint press conference with China President Xi Jinping.
“I’m pleased that we’re building on last year’s climate commitments. Last month, I issued our Clean Power Plan to help reduce America’s carbon emissions. Today, I want to commend China for announcing that it will begin a national market-based cap-and-trade system to limit emissions from some of its largest sectors. Last year, I announced our pledge of $3 billion to the Green Climate Fund to help developing nations deal with climate change. Today, I welcome China’s major commitment of climate finance for the most vulnerable countries as well.
“Our two countries are also putting forward our common vision for the ambitious climate change agreements that we seek in Paris. When the world’s two largest economies, energy consumers and carbon emitters come together like this, then there’s no reason for other countries — whether developed or developing — to not do so as well. And so this is another major step towards the global agreement the world needs to reach in two months’ time…..
“We have decided to continue to work together to tackle global challenges and provide more public good for the international community. We, again, issued a joint announcement on climate change. We have agreed to expand bilateral practical cooperation, strengthen coordination in multilateral negotiation, and work together to push the Paris climate change conference to produce important progress.”
Republicans like to chide (unfairly) that Obama is not a world leader, and yet, he has been the singular leader in marshaling the world.
It will be truly ironic – in the most tragic way – if the Republican Congress stands out in the world as rejecting action needed to save “our common home.”
News & Photo Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. Tweet @KarenBRubin, ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures