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Monday, December 21, 2009

BBC World Service: Who is to Blame at Copenhagen?

I just joined the BBC World Service for a live, hour-long program called "Copenhagen: Who is to Blame?" reflecting on the outcomes of the negotiations, including BBC's environmental analyst, a Chinese policy specialist, WWF's Campaign Director, India's Vandana Shiva, and other experts (the podcast is available here, and for a cliffnotes version, start at 39 minutes).

One of the central points I make is that we need to understand what happened at Copenhagen in order to move forward successfully. As I wrote on Saturday in an open letter to Bill McKibben, founder of 350, the failure to achieve "legally-binding" emissions targets is not the Obama administration's fault, but rather the result of a flawed UNFCCC framework. If anything, President Obama should be applauded for bringing together the major emerging economies and hitting the "reset button" on the mitigation negotiation framework.

Indeed, the writing is on the wall: the Kyoto Protocol failed, even with a "legally-binding" agreement among its signatories. As Obama noted in his press conference, "Kyoto was legally binding and everybody still fell short anyway." Copenhagen failed to produce a meaningful treaty, even with overwhelming pressure from the global climate movement and the G-77. If the world moves ahead under this framework yet again in Mexico next year, negotiations will again fail to produce a meaningful treaty.

As Newsweek's Sharon Begley concluded today: "The best chance of reining in emissions of greenhouse gases and avoiding dangerous climate change is to stamp a big green R.I.P. over the sprawling United Nations process that the Copenhagen talks were part of."

What's demanded now is a major departure from the mitigation framework of the past to a renewed focus on the biggest emitters and global investments in low-carbon technology development and deployment -- on the scale of $10.5 trillion the International Energy Agency has called for over the next twenty years -- without which we will fail to avoid the worst consequences of global warming.

David Victor, one of the world's leading energy experts, notes: "With a deal this complicated and difficult, the fewer countries you need to reach an agreement, the better the chances are... A well-managed disaster [at Copenhagen] could be as constructive as the collapse of the 1986 Reykjavik summit between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, which broke down in the final hours yet helped pave the way for later arms control."

President Obama succeeded at managing the collapse of the Copenhagen negotiations and pressing the reset button. The task now is to strengthen the Senate energy bill to invest at least $15 billion per year in clean energy R&D and around $30 billion per year in clean-tech demonstration and deployment, which can form the basis for a new investment and technology-centered global framework and make the United States a leader in what Thomas Friedman has declared the "Earth Race." Let's hope the administration sees the writing on the wall and advances with a new way forward.

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Newsweek: Copenhagen R.I.P

Originally at the Breakthrough Institute

Newsweek's senior science writer Sharon Begley doesn't mince words in her post-mortem on Copenhagen. Declaring "Good Riddance to Copenhagen," Begley writes:

That sound you'll hear in 2010 is a can being kicked down the road. Again. In the wake of the failure of the international negotiations in Copenhagen to reach a legally binding treaty to reduce greenhouse gases, you'll hear a lot of talk about how the world has two good chances in the new year to achieve what it failed to do at Copenhagen. Don't believe it. ...

The best chance of reining in emissions of greenhouse gases and avoiding dangerous climate change is to stamp a big green R.I.P. over the sprawling United Nations process that the Copenhagen talks were part of.

That's because developed countries are no more likely to work out their differences with developing countries before those 2010 meetings than they did before Copenhagen. Must China, India, and Brazil agree to legally binding, verifiable cuts in their carbon-dioxide emissions? How much will rich countries ante up to help poorer ones segue to noncarbon renewable-energy sources and adapt to rising seas, droughts, dwindling water supplies, and crop failures? Will countries have to accept international monitoring of their emissions, which drives China crazy? Rather than repeating the Copenhagen charade in 2010, then, it's time for creative destruction.

Accept that the 192 nations roped together by the U.N. will not agree on a meaningful climate treaty next year either. Drop the pretense that every country matters equally. Instead, set up bilateral talks and a "club" of the countries that do matter: a mere dozen account for almost all greenhouse emissions.
Sounds like another cogent call for a new Climate Realpolitik actually capable of bending the course of global emissions downwards and putting the world on a clean development path.

As the Breakthrough Institute's Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus write:
The death of the UNFCCC heralds the end of the delusion that nation-states will radically alter their energy, forestry, and agricultural paths through pollution regulations and a massive and extremely complicated global carbon market managed by Wall Street firms. It will mark the end of the belief that serious action on climate is better negotiated with representatives from 193 U.N. member nations in the room, rather than bilaterally or between a handful of large economies, which generate the bulk of emissions.

It should also land a death-blow to the dark fantasy that we'll solve global warming by restricting economic growth. ...

A more appropriate forum will allow major economies to more easily advance their collective self-interest through real actions, such as energy and agricultural technology development, rather than United Nations-certified acts of altruism, such as more development aid or purchasing fake emissions reductions in the form of offets. Climate realpolitik must function in a larger context of trade and technology innovation, both of which have historically created win-win opportunities between nations. ...

If we're lucky, the historians of the future will look back at Copenhagen as the beginning of the secularization of climate policy, a time when the religiosity, pomposity, and mania of efforts to reduce emissions were asked to take a back seat by serious nations who had left the simulacrum to do the hard and vital work of shaping a new, real world.
After the chaos in Copenhagen, Begley concludes, such a change in tact could not come a moment too soon:
With the emerging science on sea-level rise, it is becoming clearer that it isn't just the good people of the Maldives who will have to look for a new home. Even more reason to say good riddance to Copenhagen, and replace it with something that actually has a prayer of reining in dangerous climate change.

Begley's full column can be read here.

See Breakthrough's collected Copenhagen coverage here.

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Sunday, December 20, 2009

Earth to Thomas Friedman: Winning the “Earth Race” Requires Federal Investment

Cross-posted from Americans for Energy Leadership

In a major departure from conventional climate wisdom, Thomas Friedman argues in today’s New York Times that the UNFCCC framework is broken and should be replaced by a global competition in the clean-tech industry, which he says the United States can and should lead. “Let the Earth Race begin,” he declares, contrasting this with the long-dominant “Earth Day” strategy:

“This Copenhagen climate summit was based on the Earth Day strategy. It was not very impressive. This conference produced a series of limited, conditional, messy compromises, which it is not at all clear will get us any closer to mitigating climate change at the speed and scale we need…

Today, we need the Earth Race: who can be the first to invent the most clean technologies so men and women can live safely here on Earth… An Earth Race led by America — built on markets, economic competition, national self-interest and strategic advantage — is a much more self-sustaining way to reduce carbon emissions than a festival of voluntary, nonbinding commitments at a U.N. conference.”
Friedman is right. The race to develop competitive clean-tech industries is the critical element with the potential to motivate enough development and deployment of clean technologies – far more than any potential “legally-binding” global emissions treaty, as we’ve seen with the failure of the Kyoto Protocol and the inability of the UNFCCC framework to produce a meaningful treaty at Copenhagen. The International Energy Agency estimates that $10.5 trillion of global investment in clean technology and energy efficiency is necessary over the next 20 years to stay below 450ppm – an unimaginable sum under any UNFCCC treaty.

Moreover, building the long-term political support of a broad segment of the American public requires a national agenda centrally focused on competing in the clean-tech growth industries of the future. As Friedman explains, “If you start the conversation with “climate” you might get half of America to sign up for action. If you start the conversation with giving birth to a “whole new industry” — one that will make us more energy independent, prosperous, secure, innovative, respected and able to out-green China in the next great global industry — you get the country.”

Indeed, countries like China, Japan, and South Korea are already launching massive government investment programs to dominate this industry – not because their priority is reducing carbon emissions, but because they recognize the economic potential. In our recent report, “Rising Tigers, Sleeping Giant,” we found that China, Japan, and South Korea – Asia’s “clean technology tigers” – have already surpassed the United States in the production of virtually all clean energy technologies, an advantage they are solidifying and expanding with direct, large-scale government investment strategies.

As his competitive solution, Friedman repeats his call for a price on carbon. “The goal of Earth Racers is to focus on getting the U.S. Senate to pass an energy bill, with a long-term price on carbon that will really stimulate America to become the world leader in clean-tech,” he writes. “All [Obama] needed to do in his speech was to look China’s prime minister in the eye and say: “I am going to get our Senate to pass an energy bill with a price on carbon so we can clean your clock in clean-tech. This is my moon shot. Game on.”

The Chinese prime minister might just have laughed in Obama’s face. Why? Because a modest carbon price is far too weak to regain American competitiveness in the face of Asia’s massive investment projects. These governments are set to out-invest the United States by three to one in these industries over the next five years – about $509 billion compared to $172 billion in the U.S., assuming passage of the proposed American Clean Energy and Security Act and including current appropriations and stimulus measures.

No wonder Deutsche Bank recently concluded that “generous and well-targeted [clean-tech] incentives” backed by “comprehensive and integrated government plans” in China and Japan will create a low-risk environment for investors and stimulate high levels of private investment. In contrast, Deutsche Bank concluded, the U.S. is a “moderate-risk” country compared to the lower-risk environment of China and Japan, because we rely on “a more volatile market incentive approach that has suffered from a start-stop approach in some areas.” According to another recent report by the China Greentech Initiative, China’s national clean-tech market could eventually grow to $1 trillion annually.

Earth to Thomas Friedman! Winning the “Earth Race” requires major federal investments in clean technology development and deployment. “If the United States hopes to compete for new clean energy industries,” we conclude in “Rising Tigers, Sleeping Giant,” “it must close the widening gap between U.S. and Asian government investments in research and innovation, manufacturing, and domestic market demand. Small, indirect and uncoordinated incentives are not sufficient to outcompete Asia’s clean tech tigers. To regain economic leadership in the global clean energy industry, U.S. energy policy must include large, direct and coordinated investments in clean technology R&D, manufacturing, deployment, and infrastructure.”

Winning the “Earth Race” also requires a national effort in high-tech energy education, and President Obama’s RE-ENERGYSE proposal is a critical first step, especially in the realm of higher education. As my colleague and I wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle, “To win today's clean-energy race, the United States must respond with the same vigorous commitment to education and innovation that won the space race four decades ago. If America does not take immediate action to bridge its energy education gap – and if we fail to make substantially larger investments in our own clean-energy economy – we will effectively cede the clean-energy race to Asia.”

Yet instead of calling for an effort to actually strengthen the Senate bill to match what energy innovation experts say is necessary (including dozens of Nobel Laureates, Brookings Institution, Association of American Universities, Google, and others) – at least $15 billion per year for clean energy R&D, compared to $1.2 billion in the current proposal – Friedman simply calls for passing the bill in its current form. Indeed, he doesn't seem to care whether the bill is strong enough to accomplish much of anything besides a modest price on carbon, as he explained in an op-ed after the passage of Waxman-Markey:
"It is pathetic that we couldn’t do better [than Waxman-Markey]. It is appalling that so much had to be given away to polluters. It stinks. It’s a mess. I detest it. Now let’s get it passed in the Senate and make it law."
That is no strategy to win the "Earth Race." Reflecting on the surge in Afghanistan, Friedman recently wrote, “China, Russia and Al Qaeda all love the idea of America doing a long, slow bleed in Afghanistan.” His point extends here as well: China, Japan, South Korea, and the rest of our competitors would love the idea of America settling on a “pathetic” bill with modest clean-tech investment and pricing.

The United States did not win the space race with a tax on airplanes. We did not invent the Internet by enforcing a cap and trade system on fax machines, nor did we create the personal computer by taxing typewriters. Those who suggest we can simply rely on indirect, market-based mechanisms to achieve a clean energy revolution – including Thomas Friedman – fail to understand the history of technology innovation and competitiveness, and they risk relegating our clean-tech industry to second-class status or worse.

Fifty years ago, in the wake of the launch of Sputnik, the United States launched a massive national effort to lead the space race and win the Cold War. Today, the clean energy race represents one of the greatest opportunities and challenges for American leadership in a generation. If we do not take immediate action to launch a national energy competitiveness project based on large, direct, and coordinated innovation policies, we will effectively cede the clean-energy industry to Asia and other competitors. The mass majority of exports, jobs, tax revenues, and other economic benefits will accrue to foreign countries, and we will miss a historic opportunity to achieve a new era of American leadership. The choice should be clear.

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Friday, December 18, 2009

Copenhagen: Obama Announces Climate Deal, UNFCCC Crumbles?

By Jesse Jenkins, Devon Swezey and Yael Borofsky, originally at the Breakthrough Institute

In a late night press conference at the close of the international climate negotiations in Copenhagen, President Obama declared that a "meaningful deal" had been reached with major emitting nations moments before boarding Air Force One and returning to the United States. While the final structure of "the Copenhagen Accord" is still in question, the content and reverberations of President Obama's speech today leave little doubt that the UNFCCC process, for all intents and purposes, is dead. Whether it continues to shamble on like a zombie through sheer force of inertia is yet to be determined...

Breaking free from the auspices of the UN's 190+ nation negotiating framework, major emitters, including the U.S., China, India, Brazil, and South Africa, appear poised to move forward with or without the rest of the UNFCCC nations.

According to a flurry of tweets and reports from observers on the ground in Copenhagen, the leader of the "G77," a large group of developing nations, are crying bloody murder, declaring that the deal "locks countries into a cycle of poverty forever" and saying "Obama has eliminated any difference between him and Bush." The EU is grudgingly signing on to the accord "as better than no accord." And protestors, led by radical activist Bill McKibben, are gathering outside the Bella Center crying "shame on our leaders."

"The President has wrecked the UN (and the planet)," declared a press release from McKibben's

Despite the backlash he left behind in Copenhagen, President Obama's remarks at a press conference earlier today appeared firmly rooted in the political and economic realities of climate policy and seemed to embrace many of the tenets of an emerging Climate Realpolitik that could finally spell a new way forward for effective international action on climate change.

In his remarks, Obama succinctly outlined the fundamental tension that has impeded progress on addressing climate change under the UNFCCC process for 17 years.

"Essentially you have a situation where the Kyoto Protocol and some of the subsequent accords called on the developed countries who were signatories to engage in some significant mitigation actions and also to help developing countries. And there were very few, if any, obligations on the part of the developing countries.
Now, in some cases, for countries that are extremely poor, still agrarian and so forth, they're just not significant contributors to greenhouse gases. But what's happened obviously since 1992 is that you've got emerging countries like China and India and Brazil that have seen enormous economic growth and industrialization. So we know that moving forward it's going to be necessary if we're going to meet those targets for some changes to take place among those countries. It's not enough just for the developed countries to make changes. Those countries are going to have to make some changes, as well -- not of the same pace, not in the same way, but they're going to have to do something to assure that whatever carbon we're taking out of the environment is not just simply dumped in by other parties.

On the other hand, from the perspective of the developing countries like China and India, they're saying to themselves, per capita our carbon footprint remains very small, and we have hundreds of millions of people who don't even have electricity yet, so for us to get bound by a set of legal obligations could potentially curtail our ability to develop, and that's not fair."
Under the new pending agreement, a timeline to achieve a "legally binding" international treaty has been dropped and the President said that reaching such an agreement "is going to be very hard and it's going to take some time."

President Obama also reminded the world that a "legally binding" international climate agreement is not, in the end, legally binding anyway, while repudiating the notion that "Science" can dictate and bind national economic and political decision-making.
"And the second point that I'd make is that Kyoto was legally binding and everybody still fell short anyway...And so I think that it's important for us, instead of setting up a bunch of goals that end up just being words on a page and are not met, that we get moving--everybody is taking as aggressive a set of actions as they can....I think that as people step back, I guarantee you there are going to be a lot of people who immediately say, the science says you got to do X, Y, Z; in the absence of some sort of legal enforcement, it's not going to happen. Well, we don't have international government, and even treaties, as we saw in Kyoto, are only as strong as the countries' commitments to participate."
The framework of the deal appears to essentially be an agreement amongst major emitters to move forward with verifiable domestic actions to reduce carbon emissions and spur clean development, rejecting the abstract emissions targets and timetables that were the hallmark of the Kyoto protocol.

Noting that the deal falls short of many expectations, Obama recognized that technology is our last best hope to bridge the gap between what actions nations are willing (or able) to take today and what climate scientists argue is necessary to avoid the worst consequences of climate change:
"Our hope is that by investing in clean energy, in research, in development, in innovation, that in the same way that the Clean Air Act ended up spurring all kinds of innovations that solved the acid rain problem at a much cheaper and much more rapid pace than we expected, that by beginning to make progress and getting the wheels of innovation moving, that we are in fact going to be in a position to solve this problem. But we're going to need technological breakthroughs to get to the goals that we're looking for."
Hopefully, it was only President Obama's visible exhaustion that led him to confuse investments in research and innovation with regulations like the Clean Air Act, that, while successful for their limited purpose, offer no real insight or viable strategy for solving a technology innovation challenge as complex as climate change. If President Obama is serious about embracing technology innovation as a means of accelerating the creation of a clean energy economy and fueling sustainable global development, we hope the President and his advisers will take a fresh look at the kind of strategy necessary to jump-start a clean energy revolution and make clean energy cheap.

Ultimately, we will have to wait and see as the dust settles in Copenhagen whether the first sprouts of a new Climate Realpolitik, focused on the clean technology innovation capable of achieving real climate progress, have emerged. Mainstream green groups like the League of Conservation Voters are already spinning the deal as "a breakthrough" that "provides a path forward towards a binding global treaty in 2010," raising the specter that the UNFCCC may shamble onwards... Stay tuned.

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Thursday, December 17, 2009

A CLEAR Look at the Cantwell-Collins Climate Bill, Part 1: Climate Goals

Originally at the Breakthrough Institute

A new climate bill, introduced Friday by Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Susan Collins (R-ME), would invest only a tiny fraction of the bill's revenues to catalyze clean energy technology innovation while implementing an emissions cap that requires CO2 emissions to fall roughly 5% below 2012 levels.

[Note: post updated 12/17/09 with a correction and additional information]

At least $15 billion must be invested annually to boost federal R&D budgets and jumpstart clean energy innovation to improve the price and performance of clean technologies, according to a wide consensus of energy experts, along with additional investments in clean energy demonstration, deployment, manufacturing and infrastructure.

All told, direct public investment of an estimated $30-80 billion annually is necessary to make clean energy cheap, accelerate clean tech adoption, and ensure climate objectives can be met in an affordable and timely manner.

In contrast, the Cantwell-Collins bill would initially direct just $2.5-8 billion annually to support U.S. clean energy technologies and industries, the Breakthrough Institute estimates based on the bill's supporting documents.

The Carbon Limits and Energy for America's Renewal, or CLEAR Act proposes to limit U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases through a simplified cap and trade system that auctions permits to polluters and rebates the majority of revenues directly to households through monthly, per capita dividend checks.

The legislation targets a 20 percent, economy-wide cut in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, relative to a 2005 benchmark.

To achieve this target, the bill sets an upstream cap on importers and producers of fossil fuels that would require CO2 emissions to fall just over 5 percent relative to 2012 levels. If the most recent EIA projections of depressed emissions levels due to the economic recession prove accurate, those cuts could be in the range of 9% below the 2005 benchmark. [Note: post updated with correction on 12/17/09; rate at which emissions cap declines was misreported in prior version.]

That falls short of the bill's 20% by 2020 target and the CLEAR Act's emissions cap covers CO2 only, which is responsible for roughly 85 percent of U.S. greenhouse gases when each gas is weighted by their impact on global warming.

To fill this gap, the legislation directs the President to achieve additional emissions reductions in non-capped sectors of the U.S. economy by directly funding programs to encourage land-use changes that sequester carbon in forestry and agriculture or reduce emissions of non-CO2 greenhouse gases such as methane. The bill sets aside a portion of the cap and auction revenues in a trust fund that prioritizes spending on these additional reductions, but precise uses of that fund is subject to Congressional appropriations.

While it offers several structural advantages over competing cap and trade proposals (discussed in Part 2, forthcoming), CLEAR is principally focused on pollution reduction and does not implement a clean economy strategy sufficient to keep the U.S. competitive in the global clean energy race (see forthcoming Part 3).

Clean technology investments far short of expert recommendations

The CLEAR Act will raise an estimated $42-126 billion annually by auctioning 100 percent of the emissions permits created under the bill's upstream carbon cap.

Carbon auction prices will fall between both a floor and a ceiling, initially set at $7 and $21 respectively. The floor would rise gradually at 6.5 percent above inflation annually while the ceiling rises at 5.5 percent each year.

The legislation devotes three-quarters of the carbon auction revenue to sending monthly rebate checks to households on an equal, per-capita basis, which the bill's authors claim will be sufficient to fully compensate roughly 80% of American households for any increase in energy bills caused by the implementation of carbon regulations.

That leaves just one quarter of the bill's revenue that is set aside in a "Clean Energy Reinvestment Trust Fund." The value of the CERT fund would total an estimated $10-32 billion annually at the outset of the cap and auction program, increasing over time as carbon prices rise to roughly $16-46 billion by 2020.

CERT Fund.gifSource: Senator Cantwell's office

The bill does not specify a clear strategy for utilizing the CERT funds and hands those decisions to future Presidential budget requests and Congressional appropriations cycles.

CERT funds would be prioritized to capture additional reductions of non-CO2 greenhouse gases and enhance carbon sequestration in the agriculture and forestry sectors to enable the legislation to hit its 20% by 2020 emissions reduction target. Senators Cantwell and Collins say they envision 42 percent of the CERT funds used to pursue these additional emissions reductions outside the emissions cap on the energy sector.

In addition to these efforts, the bill names a long list of other competing uses for the CERT funds (see p. 20-21), including transition assistance for heavy industry, home weatherization and energy efficiency funding, compensation for early retirement of fossil energy infrastructure, and international climate adaptation aid.

Given the variety of competing uses and the relative priority the bill places on funding land use changes and the abatement of non-CO2 gases, the CLEAR Act could easily devote as little as a quarter of the CERT revenues to investments in clean energy technology and infrastructure.

That would leave the Cantwell-Collins bill investing only slightly more than six percent of the bill's total revenues, a sum totaling $2.5-8 billion annually at the range of initial carbon prices, to catalyze clean technology innovation, directly support clean energy manufacturing capabilities and domestic market growth, and spur the construction of critical enabling infrastructure, such as long-distance transmissions lines, smart grid technologies and electric vehicle charging stations. That level of investment in clean technology could grow to $4-11.5 billion by 2020 but falls far short of expert recommendations.

Ensuring climate objectives are met in a timely and affordable manner requires strategic public investments to improve the price and performance of clean energy sources and remove key barriers to the adoption of clean technologies. Establishing a price on carbon alone is far from sufficient to overcome each obstacle and a number of energy experts estimate that targeted public investments on the scale of tens of billions annually are necessary to catalyze an affordable and rapid transition to a clean energy system. [For more on the limits of carbon prices and the need for strategic public investments, see the chapter "Barriers to Widespread Clean Energy Adoption and the Public Investment Imperative" in this Breakthrough Institute and ITIF report]

CLEAR_CleanTech_Investment.jpgClick graphic to enlarge

Sources and notes:
[1] Energy innovation consensus includes 34 Nobel Laureates, two organizations representing the nation's leading universities, business leaders such as Google, and think tanks including Third Way, the Brookings Institution and the Breakthrough Institute; [2] Source:, "Energy and Environment"; [3] See series of letters here and here signed by dozens of energy experts; [4] For more, see here; [5] Source: "Rising Tigers, Sleeping Giant" report.

2020 emissions target is aspirational, not required by carbon cap

The CLEAR Act would establish a simplified "upstream" cap on the few thousand fossil fuel importers and producers that first bring carbon-laden fuels into the U.S. economy.

Fuel importers and producers would be required to purchase emissions permits from the federal government at regular auctions and could then trade these permits amongst themselves in secondary markets. In a departure from other cap and trade proposals, which create large Wall Street-run carbon markets replete with complex derivatives and futures products, the CLEAR bill prohibits anyone but regulated polluters and those sequestering CO2 downstream in the fuel cycle from participating in the carbon trading market.

The initial cap level would be set by the President in 2011 and would go into effect from 2012-2014, freezing emissions from capped sources at 2012 levels, after which the cap would decline at a steadily accelerating rate each year. The annual rate at which the cap falls grows at 0.25% per year, such that the cap falls 0.25% in 2015 from the prior year's level; 0.5% in 2016 from the prior year's level; 0.75% in 2017 from the prior year's level; and so on. [Note: the bill's explanatory documents are not entirely consistent, but the bill language itself is clear and the above interpretation has been confirmed by staff to Sen. Cantwell familiar with the legislation's development].

Thus, the carbon cap itself does not decline at a sufficient pace to achieve the bill's 20% by 2020 economy-wide emissions target. The CLEAR bill's carbon cap would fall just 5.14% below 2012 emissions levels by 2020 and does not cover the non-CO2 greenhouse gases responsible for roughly 15 percent of U.S. emissions, when weighted by their impact on global warming. The bill directs the President to fund additional emissions reductions outside of the capped energy sector to meet the bill's more ambitious emissions reduction targets, as discussed above.


The accelerating decline of the emissions cap requires more stringent CO2 reductions in the mid- to long-term. Given the long lead times required for many clean technology investments, staff to Senator Cantwell argue that this long-term certainty will provide a clearer incentive for private sector investments in clean energy in the shorter term. This is an advantage over competing cap and trade bills, they argue, which allow extensive use of emissions offsets, creating long-term uncertainty about required emissions reductions in the capped energy sector.

CLEAR does not allow the use of emissions offsets, which competing climate bills heavily rely on for compliance, and Senator's Cantwell and Collins claim CLEAR will achieve emissions reductions comparable to those projected under the House's Waxman-Markey bill. That bill would allow enough offset usage to permit U.S. emissions in sectors of the economy regulated by the emissions cap to grow at business-as-usual rates through 2017 or beyond, depending on offset availability, according to Breakthrough Institute analysis of the House-passed bill.

However, with Cantwell-Collins relying on additional emissions reductions in land use and non-CO2 gases to supplement the bill's modest carbon cap and Waxman-Markey depending on large amounts of offsets to affordably meet emissions goals, both bill's 2020 emissions objectives should be considered aspirational targets, not firm limits on U.S. emissions.

Furthermore, neither bill's emissions cap will require a significant near-term transformation of the U.S. energy sector, while both devote little revenue to direct public investments to accelerate clean technology innovation and adoption.

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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Financing a Real Deal in Copenhagen.

At the international climate talks going on right now in Copenhagen, Denmark, we have a once in a lifetime opportunity to launch a major assault on global warming. Besides deciding emission targets and the legal structure of an agreement, commitments for long-term financing for developing countries to help green their economies and cope with climate change impacts is one of the most important element of a real deal. The chasm between what's being offered by developed countries ($10 billion a year for 3 years) and what basically the entire developing world is asking for (a long-term commitment of $400-500 billion a year by 2020) must be bridged.

When you consider the enormous need for green economic development for the billions of people in these countries and the projections of the massive costs of climate change adaptation, these numbers are justified. The International Energy Agency's 2009 World Energy Outlook says that investments in low-carbon energy technologies and energy efficiency on the order of $500 billion a year for the next 20 years will be required to reach 450ppm of carbon in the atmosphere. But if we want to avoid "certain death for island nations and certain devastation for Africa" that Sudan's ambassador and the chair of the G77 and China block here says 450ppm would entail, then we'll need substantially more than that.

But this is the same U.S. government that mobilized $11 trillion in a little over a month to combat the global financial crisis, that has committed $3 trillion for war in Iraq. When the US decides to make something a priority, it finds ways to fund it. So when the U.S. delegation here says it can't come up with more money, the whole world hears that it just isn't that big a priority.

But in addition to the commitments developed countries can appropriate through annual budgets and the auctioning of emissions credits, shifting the subsidies that currently go to fossil fuels to clean energy and vulnerable communities is one particularly elegant solution: Stop harming, and start helping.

In 2004, Jonathan Pershing (now the chief US climate negotiator) wrote a paper for WRI estimating that Annex 1 countries spent $57 billion annually on fossil fuel subsidies. In the U.S. alone, $10 billion of taxpayer's dollars still go to support fossil fuels. At the G20 meeting in Pittsburgh, President Obama made an historic pledge to end fossil fuel subsidies. In Copenhagen, he can commit to a date for that phaseout and pledge to redirect those subsidies into climate finance. Developed country fossil fuel Is there a better source for climate finance than shifting corporate giveaways to big oil and coal?

There are at least three other large potential sources of funding available:

  • Revenues from regulation on international aviation and shipping, the fastest-growing sector of global emissions, which the chair of the negotiations in Copenhagen says is possible to get done here. This could generate an estimated25-37 billion a year.
  • "Special Drawing Rights", the same mechanism that was used to create new money internationally to save the banking system. George Soros has proposed that100 billion in pre-existing SDRs be used to provide about7 billion annually for climate finance, and the World Future Council has another proposal to create a1 trillion dollar fund using new SDRs with likely much higher annual figures.
  • A Global Financial Transaction Tax, small taxes on all foreign exchange transactions of major currencies could generate an estimated at60-100 billion annually according to Project Catalyst and are gaining traction in the negotiations.

President Nicolas Sarkozy and Prime Minister Gordon Brown have committed to working together on these innovative mechanisms, particularly revenues from regulating international aviation and shipping and the global financial transactions taxes. But they will not be able to get it done alone.

Our elected representatives and their appointees have only days to get this right and agree to a well-designed, public funded effort to prevent catastrophe. If the US took leadership on this issues, it could be the game-changer that breaks the climate deadlock and unleashes a clean-energy future, not just for us, but for the whole world. Feel free to let the President know how you feel here.

This entry is cross-posted at The Huffington Post.

Billy Parish is the Founder of the Energy Action Coalition, a national student clean energy coalition, and lives with his family in Flagstaff, AZ.

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China's Crash Program for Clean Energy

Originally posted at the Breakthrough Institute

In a forthcoming edition of the New Yorker, journalist Evan Osnos has written a great long essay on the role of the Chinese government in clean energy innovation in China.

Osnos documents how, beginning with the 863 program in 1986, Chinese government officials made a conscious effort to "join the new technological revolution" and make investments in science and technology a priority. Nowhere is this decision more evident today than in the rapid development of clean energy technology in China. In 2001, driven by increasing pollution and concerns over energy security, the Chinese government expanded their investment in energy technology. In 2006, the government expanded their commitment even further, and announced targets for the development of a suite of clean energy technologies:

"In 2006, Chinese leaders redoubled their commitment to new energy technology; they boosted funding for research and set targets for installing wind turbines, solar panels, hydroelectric dams, and other renewable sources of energy that were higher than goals in the United States. China doubled its wind-power capacity that year, then doubled it again the next year, and the year after. The country had virtually no solar industry in 2003; five years later, it was manufacturing more solar cells than any other country, winning customers from foreign companies that had invented the technology in the first place. As President Hu Jintao, a political heir of Deng Xiaoping, put it in October of this year, China must "seize preemptive opportunities in the new round of the global energy revolution."

China's 863 program was modeled in part after the American research system used by NIH and the Department of Defense, the latter of which was instrumental in making early investments in technology that enabled the personal computing and information technology revolutions. And Chinese government investments in research and development (R&D) have been rising dramatically each year:

"R. & D. expenditures have grown faster in China than in any other big country--climbing about twenty per cent each year for two decades, to seventy billion dollars last year. Investment in energy research under the 863 Program has grown far faster: between 1991 and 2005, the most recent year on record, the amount increased nearly fifty-fold."

At the same time, in America, investments in energy innovation were moving in the opposite direction--down:

"In America, things have gone differently. In April of 1977, President Jimmy Carter warned that the hunt for new energy sources, triggered by the second Arab oil embargo, would be the "moral equivalent of war." He nearly quadrupled public investment in energy research, and by the mid-nineteen-eighties the U.S. was the unchallenged leader in clean technology, manufacturing more than fifty per cent of the world's solar cells and installing ninety per cent of the wind power.

Ronald Reagan, however, campaigned on a pledge to abolish the Department of Energy, and, once in office, he reduced investment in research, beginning a slide that would continue for a quarter century. "We were working on a whole slate of very innovative and interesting technologies," Friedmann, of the Lawrence Livermore lab, said. "And, basically, when the price of oil dropped in 1986, we rolled up the carpet and said, 'This isn't interesting anymore.' " By 2006, according to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the U.S. government was investing $1.4 billion a year--less than one-sixth the level at its peak, in 1979, with adjustments for inflation. (Federal spending on medical research, by contrast, nearly quadrupled during that time, to more than twenty-nine billion dollars.)"

Years of growing energy technology investment have enabled China to catch up with the rest of the world and even exert technological leadership in some clean tech industries, such as carbon capture and storage (CCS):

"When Albert Lin, an American energy entrepreneur on the board of Future Fuels, a Texas-based power-plant developer, set out to find a gasifier for a pioneering new plant that is designed to spew less greenhouse gas, he figured that he would buy one from G.E. or Shell. Then his engineers tested the Xi'an version. It was "the absolute best we've seen," Lin told me. (Lin said that the "secret sauce" in the Chinese design is a clever bit of engineering that recycles the heat created by the gasifier to convert yet more coal into gas.) His company licensed the Chinese design, marking one of the first instances of Chinese coal technology's coming to America. "Fifteen or twenty years ago, anyone you asked would have said that Western technologies in coal gasification were superior to anything in China," Lin said. "Now, I think, that claim is not true."

How do China's scientific advancements affect international efforts to deal with climate change? For all of China's advances, it is still a country with immense poverty and clean energy technologies are still much more expensive than their fossil-fuel equivalents. Until there are cheaper alternatives to coal or oil, solutions to climate change may prove elusive:

"As long as a Chinese citizen earns less than one-seventh what his counterpart in America earns, China is unlikely to back down on the demand that it should be paid to slow down its economy and invest even more in energy technology. And on that point the sides remain far apart."

China's technological advancements, as well as a recent uptick in U.S. energy research funding, may spell a way out of the impasse. Large investments in energy innovation to make clean energy cheap will be necessary to achieve long-term climate objectives and power sustainable global development. One cheap, clean technology that China has pioneered is the electric bike, which Chinese citizens have come to rely on for urban transportation. Osnos ends his piece by describing the simplicity of this new clean tech innovation:

"And yet, for all its imperfections, the Turtle King [e-bike] was so much more practical than sitting in a stopped taxi or crowding onto a Beijing bus that it had become what all new-energy technology is somehow supposed to be: cheap, simple, and unobtrusive enough so that using it is no longer a matter of sacrifice but one of self-interest."

The whole article is well worth a read, and can be accessed here.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

DIY Solar Part 6: Planning the System Install

Ok, we've got solar panels, we've got tools, now we're ready to start putting them up! Woohoo! Well hold on there partner, the better we plan this out the smoother the install will be. So let's take a minute and a piece of paper to figure out how we're going to do this.

Simple Roof Diagram
Most building departments will require a sketch of where your panels are going anyway, so this is not a wasted effort. If you can do a scale drawing your install will go that much faster. Make a basic sketch of the roof area in question. Then do some reconnaissance and figure out where the rafters are and their spacing. The roof mounts, which will hold the rails, will attach to rafters. Mark the rafter locations on your drawing.

Panel Strings
Solar power systems are laid out in strings to achieve certain voltages and amperages required by the inverter. So if you have 10 panels, you may have two strings of five panels. The panels will be wired in series (positive to negative) generally in that string, to get the voltage up to a level acceptable to the inverter. Refer to your inverter specifications or your kit drawings to make sure you get this right, its critical. You'll want one string in a row, with the next row/string adjacent to it since that one will likely be wired in parallel (positive to positive). Layout the strings and rows on your drawing and make sure its all going to work. Your local building code will probably tell you what the spacing on supports should be.

In this picture, each row is its own string. So the panels in that row are wired together in series.
Then each row is wired together in parallel. This is how most systems are wired, yours may be

Equipment Check
Ok you have a drawing of the system, now check with your equipment again to make sure you've got everything. Nothing like getting everything on the roof only to find out you're missing some mounts. Also, if you're getting permits, its worth a call to the building department to see what stages they want to inspect the system at. Some just want to see the final install, other want to see the roof penetrations, which means you will have to call them before you actually put the panels up.

Roof Specifications
One final note before we get to the actual install. Certain roof materials have requirements for sealing up penetrations and temperature during roof work. If its too cold your roof materials may crack or chip. If you can take a sample of your roof material to a local supply house and have them tell you about minimum temperature requirements and sealants. This ensure that you are not damaging your roof and shortening its life.

Next up, mounting panels. Kriss Bergethon lives off the grid with his wife in Colorado for more information visit his website at Solar Panel Kits.

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COP15 Week 2: Emotions running high!

Guest Post by Lindsey Berger, FTN COP15 Delegation Team Leader

"Ten billion dollars will neither buy food nor coffins.”
-Lumumba Di-Aping, Sudanese chairman of the G77

It's week two, and a certain level of intensity has coated the city joining the fog- this is what we've been preparing for. Last week we focused our efforts on identifying the role that the U.S. would play at COP15. The results are in- we have overwhelmingly found efforts to be sub-par. There are two critical areas where increased commitments are crucial to human survival:

1. Immediate emission reductions
2. Financial aid for vulnerable nations.

Based on recent meetings between US youth and our leading climate negotiators, we are able to say (sadly) that there is about a 0.01% chance of increasing our existing mitigation targets, which stand at a whopping 4% cut in 1990 emissions by 2020. However, IF (and only if) we show the Administration that the American people support the financial "bail out" of our island and African nations, then maybe Obama would be willing to put more than a lousy $10 billion/year for three years on the table at COP15.

As young people (many of us without steady income), it may be difficult to reason that $30 billion is not sufficient aid; with that in mind, let me share something that I heard on Friday from Sudanese chairman of the G77 Lumumba Di-Aping: "Ten billion dollars will neither buy food nor coffins [for the African people most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change]." After noting this, let's think of our most recent MASSIVE government generated funding: the wars, and my personal favorite- the $3 trillion bailout of US banks and bankers! I would like to think that the government would assist in bailing out our nearly doomed developing nations, as well as our future, if it can muster up the finances to secure the safety of bankers.

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Monday, December 14, 2009

COP15: From the streets to the meeting room with Todd Stern and Jonathan Pershing

Guest Post by Garett Brennan, Executive Director- Focus the Nation

The other morning, the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) released their AOSIS Text. The first proposal in the negotiations so far that is actually responding to what the science is demanding:

1. Fair – securing at least $200 billion by 2020 in climate financing to support poor countries to bear costs associated with Mitigation, Adaptation and Insurance in the event of disasters

2. Ambitious – peaking global carbon emissions by 2015, and returning atmospheric carbon dioxide levels below 350 parts per million

3. Binding – a legally binding agreement that can be enforceable.

“We are not negotiating economics or science here, we are negotiating our survival,” said Antonio Lima, ambassador of Cape Verde and the vice-chair of AOSIS. “We are the ones on the front lines. Sea levels are already rising. If we leave Copenhagen without a legally binding outcome, without a strong Finance commitment for adaptation, mitigation and insurance from largest emitting nations, how do you expect me to go home and tell my children that we failed and we are going to die?”

On Saturday, we marched with more than 50,000 people from all over the world from Parliament Square to the Bella Center. I helped hoist and carry a huge 15 ft flag for about a mile in the wind, passing it back and forth with two guys from Lebanon. It was exhausting and exhilarating to march in solidarity with so many cultures all calling for the same shared future.

This morning when I arrived at the Bella Center and bumped into our friends from the Will Steger Foundation (see interview here), the G77 walked out of negotiations and completely stalled the entire process. Then on a positive note, we did a joint press conference with US and Chinese youth, announcing the clear need (and enthusiasm) for youth movements to collaborate across borders and set an example for their leaders on the issue.

Shortly after that session, myself, Billy Parish, Jessy Tolkan, Ben Wessel and several other young leaders had a closed-door, private meeting with Todd Stern (Obama’s special envoy) and the US lead negotiator, Jonathan Pershing. As soon as we found out that our request to meet with them had been granted, we quickly gathered to chart out specific questions targeting areas with a lack of leadership from the US (Finance) and pushing to establish a basic trust from other nations toward the US being actually committed to a real deal. On one hand, the US is not putting anything of real significance on the table—at least at the level that countries who are on the front lines of climate change are demanding. On the other hand, there is NO WAY that 12 months ago, the former administration would have ever reached out to the youth climate movement and wanted a face-to-face meeting. I don’t envy Jonathan Pershing’s position at all.

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Senators Introduce Bill to Boost Clean Tech Manufacturing

Originally Posted at the Breakthrough Institute

Last Thursday, U.S. Senators Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), and Richard Lugar (R-IN) introduced bipartisan legislation aimed at accelerating the growth of clean technology manufacturing industries in the United States.

The American Clean Technology Manufacturing Leadership Act would extend a tax credit first introduced in the short-term American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) to allow companies to write-off 30 percent of the cost of creating, expanding or re-tooling domestic clean tech manufacturing facilities.

The ARRA program--called the Advanced Energy Manufacturing Tax Credit--provides $2.3 billion in tax credits and has spurred new investments in U.S. clean tech manufacturing facilities. Funding for the popular program is expected to dry up in mid-January but the new legislation would provide an additional $2.5 billion to extend the life of the program.

In a statement on the release of the bill, Senator Stabenow proclaimed that the legislation is critical to boost economic growth, job creation, and U.S. competitiveness in the global clean energy race:

"In order to turn our economy around and create jobs, we need to build the clean energy technology of the future here in America. Otherwise, we will lose the race with other countries and see those jobs go overseas."

Senator Bingaman added some perspective about the current challenge facing the United States:

"Currently, the United States runs an annual 'green trade deficit' of almost $9 billion. But the United States should be the world's No. 1 manufacturer of clean energy technology. This tax incentive will help us move toward that goal."

Indeed, as the Breakthrough Institute and ITIF note in "Rising Tigers, Sleeping Giant," a recent survey of clean energy competitiveness in the U.S. and Asia, the U.S has fallen behind its international competitors in the capability to manufacture and produce clean energy technologies on a large scale:

"With no domestic manufacturers of high-speed rail technology, the United States will rely on companies in Japan or other foreign countries to provide rolling stock for any planned high-speed rail lines. And all three Asian nations lead the United States in the deployment of new nuclear power plants. The United States relies on foreign-owned companies to manufacture the majority of its wind turbines, produces less than 10 percent of the world's solar cells, and is losing ground on hybrid and electric vehicle technology and manufacturing."

The three Asian nations examined in the report--China, Japan, and South Korea--are also investing aggressively in clean tech sectors and will out-invest the United States three-to-one in these sectors in a bid to gain a first-mover advantage in rapidly growing clean energy markets.

If the United States does not strengthen its competitive position vis-a-vis its Asian competitors, the jobs, tax revenues, and other benefits of clean tech growth will overwhelmingly accrue to our competitors. The report also notes that the climate and energy legislation working its way through Congress, as currently formulated, will not be sufficient to close the clean tech investment gap and put the United States back in contention in the race to dominate future clean tech industries.

Toward a Clean Energy Economy Strategy

Simply attempting to limit emissions and put a low price on carbon--the primary mechanism of both the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACESA) and the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act (CEJAPA)--will not forestall America's decline in the global clean tech industry. These are both pollution reduction bills, not clean energy economy bills, and should not be confused.

An effective clean energy economy strategy would have at its center large, direct and long-term public investments in domestic clean tech industries. Not all clean technologies are created equal and these investments should be optimized to address the hurdles of individual clean technologies in order to improve their performance and drive down their costs. In short, a clean energy economy strategy would invest in American clean energy to make clean energy cheap, driving U.S. clean tech exports and creating U.S. clean tech jobs.

The bi-partisan American Clean Technology Manufacturing Leadership Act announced by Senators Bingaman, Hatch, Stabenow, and Lugar is laudable because it recognizes that simply pricing carbon is not a clean energy economy strategy, and thus will not keep the United States competitive in the clean energy race.

This legislation is one step in what must be a comprehensive and robust clean energy economy strategy that prioritizes large public investments in clean energy innovation, manufacturing, deployment, and infrastructure. In the absence of such a strategy, the U.S. will continue to cede economic leadership in the global clean tech industry to its international competitors and sit passively by as the new clean tech industries of the future take root beyond our shores.

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Friday, December 11, 2009

Thoughts on Ending Energy Poverty and Copenhagen's Zero-Sum Game

Some food for thought here: Nathan Wyeth pens a very thoughtful column on the Copenhagen climate summit focused on the key challenges of fueling sustainable global development and expanded energy-access to the billions of energy poor worldwide, via the new WRI-affiliated blog,

Excerpts below with emphasis added:

Copenhagen Climate Summit: The Missing Billions


But although they are often discussed here as the first and worst victims of climate change, the base of the pyramid is, at first glance, invisible in the negotiations in the shape of solutions to climate change. Except in the context of avoiding tropical deforestation, carbon finance relevant to the base of the pyramid is at best a niche conversation. If intensive energy use and land development equal carbon emissions, the base of the pyramid would by definition not appear to be terribly relevant.

This means I have less to blog about except for maybe some side events, but plenty to say. I would argue that there's is a huge amount wrong with the orientation of these negotiations and the fact that the base of the pyramid is absent gets to the heart of the issue. In a vicious cycle, the weakening of the negotiations will lead to failure in their intended impact, simply hurting the poor even more.

The G77 bloc is angling to increase the $10 billion in annual aid that developed nations are promising to provide in funding for climate change adaptation and mitigation. But it seems likely that there will be plenty of double-counting of that aid money and it's not enough to begin with to address either mitigation (i.e. low-carbon development) or adaptation. And it's unclear what this will go towards, who will manage it, what it will truly be intended to do.

As they have in previous years, the negotiations pit the world's wealthiest 1 billion people against the 3-4 billion who have gained a some level of prosperity and are rising quickly. Who will cut back on carbon - those who already emit a lot, or those who are emitting some and want to emit more in the future? With the negotiations set up like this, it quickly becomes a zero-sum game. Since the UN process relies on the commitment of the nations that constitute it, as a zero-sum game it becomes useless as a force to raise the bar towards clean and sustainable development.

Left out of this picture are the 2-3 billion people who are essentially not using modern energy - at best a little bit of electricity from an unreliable grid, a little bit of kerosene for lighting, diesel to operate machinery or transport, and maybe charcoal or LPG for cooking. But likely using firewood or other biomass for cooking and as likely as not having no access to electricity at all.

These are the people this blog concerns itself with. It seems counterintuitive that those who use the least energy currently are critical to an international agreement on reshaping our energy industries and ending deforestation as quickly as possible. But I believe they actually lie at the heart of any global deal to address climate change.

Where does this third of humanity actually show up in the negotiations?

They are the anonymous presence assumed to be within the growth curves in projected energy demand in Asia and Africa. They imbue these growth curves with moral force because basic services, health care, education and more must reach these billions in the decades that are in question in the negotiations.

These growth curves of energy demand in Asia, and to a lesser extent Africa, are the mountains that the negotiators must climb to reach an agreement. It is assumed that this demand will be met with fossil energy unless otherwise subsidized, by the West or at the expense of the poor. And these curves are steep.

They would probably be insurmountable except for a few things.

The biggest thing that the developed nations could do to flip this zero-sum mentality and unstick climate negotiations would be to act like they truly cared about access to energy in the developing world - particularly for those whose lack of access is most severe.

Most of the growth in energy demand in Asia and Africa will come from industry but the moral imperative of that growth comes from the people who are in energy poverty and need to get out of it. Yet this is a relatively small amount of energy demand - it is not the first kilowatt of electricity demand by households at the base of the pyramid that is going to push us beyond the safe levels of carbon in the atmosphere.

The truth is that it is quite likely that even with no climate treaty at all limiting carbon-intensive development, very few of the 1.6 billion people who are off the grid right now would get on the grid any time soon. From India to South Africa, electricity grids are going into blackouts straining to provide power to industrial customers, let alone people without access to electricity. When oil prices rise, try as they might by cutting other services and going into debt, developing country governments will not be able to subsidize fuels indefinitely. There is no imminent or clear path, under current patterns of fossil fuel and power sector development, for those living in energy poverty to smoothly emerge from this.

If the Copenhagen summit prioritized access to electricity and efficient, low-carbon cooking and heating to the 2-3 billion people it is currently ignoring, it would be a very different summit. Both developed and developing countries would be united in confronting the dual moral imperatives of addressing climate and development, rather than appearing to pit one against the other.

And the reality is that providing modern energy to these 2-3 billion people could be done with clean energy about as quickly as could be done with dirty energy - over the next 20 years - for about the same price or perhaps a minor subsidy from developed countries. Solar lighting and similar renewables are now basically at price parity with kerosene and diesel generators, and the variety of price-competitive renewables, such as small wind turbines, will only increase in coming years. The businesses that Next Billion covers regularly are demonstrating that these technologies can be commercially deployed. With greater investment and prioritization by the global community, they could start replicating, franchising and scaling dramatically.

This would not only be a development success, but a climate success, because three billion people cooking and heating with fuelwood and biomass is a significant contributor to climate change. There could be a billion households that don't need to transition off of fossil fuels because their first electricity comes from solar.

Addressing the pockets - gaping holes really - of the deepest energy poverty would not only shave down the projected energy demand from fossil fuels. It would make negotiating between the wealthiest 1 billion and the 3-4 middle billion a more surmountable task. Not easy - but much more straightforward, dealing with a set of maybe fifteen major industrial economies that need to be brought into parity on carbon in the coming decades. In doing so they will create the utility-scale clean energy technology that can be deployed globally.

One of the key insights behind market-oriented development at the base of the pyramid is recognizing that there is a not a "First World" with one set of economic rules and a "Third World" with a different set. An extrapolation of this is seeing the world in terms of economic gradations rather than borders - there are "Third World" economic conditions in the poorest parts of the U.S. and "First World" conditions in Rio, Mumbai, and Shanghai. Seeing the gradation of needs that exist between the wealthy, the emerging middle classes, and the global poor in these climate negotiations would help move them beyond the impasse they have currently reached.
One might argue that global treaty negotiations should be explicitly focused on shared support for sustainable global development, rather than on emissions cuts.

Global energy demand will rise fast in the coming decades as billions of global citizens climb out of energy poverty. That's a good thing, a force of improved lives, greater health, opportunity and security. The challenge for the global community then is two-fold: 1) extending access to affordable energy to as many of the world's energy poor as possible - including many of the nearly three billion more expected to be added to the global population by mid-century; and 2) ensuring that such access to affordable energy is provided by sustainable sources.

The International Energy Agency made all that quite clear in their World Energy Outlook last year.

Clean AND cheap energy sources are needed to power sustainable global development and open access to energy for billions of global citizens. Developing and deploying the technologies and tools needed to fuel sustainable development at a global scale is the task of the 21st century. It's time the international community focused squarely on that task, for without solutions to this key challenge, no effort to stabilize the climate will succeed.

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COP15 Friday- Youth voices, US leadership, exhaustion and excitement

Guest post by Garett Brennan, Executive Director- Focus the Nation

Hey folks, I wanted to share how things are going over here from our perspective at the COP15 climate negotiations in Copenhagen. On the day I arrived, I found it very reassuring that back at home, our country’s longest serving Senator, Robert Byrd from West Virginia, posted a piece denouncing mountain top removal and honestly acknowledging the need to phase out coal.

We’ve been here for a week now and it’s some sort of wild combination that energizes and exhausts you all at the same time. Just to set the stage a little first, the weather is gray, cold and rainy—a lot like our headquarters in sunny Portland. Throughout the city, the street corners are filled with photo exhibits and banners and almost everyone I meet thanks me for “fighting for the climate.” Inside the Bella Center, it’s crazy and almost impossible to follow everything that’s happening. Our awesome Focus Organizer from Missouri, Lindsey Berger, has been helping the core Rapid Response strategy team so we can let all of you know how you can help from home.

Yesterday we had more than 1000 young people in orange T-shirts that say “How old will you be in 2050?” and we’ve also handed out 1000 orange scarf’s to the “older” delegates that say “survival is not negotiable.” It has created an awesome visual solidarity between generations and cultures throughout the entire Bella Center. I also thought you’d like to know that there about 500 young people here from the US Youth movement. Our presence is large and involved. Last night, we organized a wonderful event with 50 American youth and 50 Chinese youth to talk about our shared future together.

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

New "Tri-Partisan" Climate Framework Aims to Clear High Senate Hurdle

Originally at the Breakthrough Institute

Promising "we can and will pass climate change and energy independence legislation this Congress," Senators John Kerry (D-MA), Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) unveiled a new framework intended to form the core of a "compromise" climate and energy bill capable of clearing the 60-vote hurdle needed to secure passage.

The framework aims to cut U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases by 17% below 2005 levels in the "near-term," by which the senators apparently mean the year 2020. The three senators brand such a target "achievable and reasonable" and also declare their support for "a long term target of approximately 80 percent below 2005 levels," presumably by 2050.

Los Tres Amigos in action

According to the five-page summary document circulated today on Capitol Hill and published online by, the "tripartisan" framework is meant to "build upon the significant work already completed in Congress" -- a nod to climate and energy bills already crafted by the Senate Committees on Energy and Natural Resources and Environment and Public Works earlier this year as well as the House's Waxman-Markey climate bill, narrowly passed in June.

Details of the new proposal are still scant, in an apparent nod to several Senate committee chairs -- and the numerous swing votes -- who will no doubt shape the final legislation.

Sen. Liberman told reporters today "there are well over 60 votes in play in the Senate, not that we have 60 votes yet." He'll have a steep hill to climb by all accounts.

Will details still vague, we can only get a sense of where the new Kerry-Graham-Lieberman framework is headed, but here's a run-down of notable passages...

The policy is framed around "better jobs [and] cleaner air," with an effort to center the rhetoric around clean energy job creation and pollution reduction, with the latter appearing to be a deliberate effort to blur the boundaries between greenhouse gases and traditional air pollutants. Both economic concerns and traditional environmental pollutants routinely rank as more salient to voters than concern for climate change.

While greenhouse gas emissions reductions have moved out of the rhetoric, they remain squarely at the heart of the policy framework, however, which like all other major Congressional climate proposals, centers around a cap and trade program that aims to limit the output of global warming pollution.

Here's how the three senators summarize their framework:

Our legislation will contain comprehensive pollution reduction targets that are both environmentally significant and achievable. It is our belief that a market-based system [aka cap and trade], rather than a labyrinth of command-and-control regulations, will allow us to reduce pollution economically and avoid the worst impacts of global climate change. It will also provide significant transition assistance to companies and consumers without using taxpayer dollars or driving up the national debt. We believe a near term pollution reduction target in the range of 17 percent below 2005 emissions levels is achievable and reasonable, as is a long term target of approximately 80 percent below 2005 levels. Finally, we believe a robust investment in the development and deployment of clean energy technologies will ensure that as pollution reduction targets become more rigorous, companies will be better equipped to meet their obligations in a cost effective manner. [emph. added]
The senators will have our agreement on that last part of course. But we'll have to wait and see how central a role Kerry, Graham and Lieberman envision for the direct public investments necessary to accelerate the development and deployment of clean technologies and the innovation necessary to make clean energy cheap. If public investment in clean technology and innovation plays the same tertiary role it does in the House-passed Waxman-Markey bill or the Senate EPW Committee's "Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act" (also partly crafted by Senator Kerry), America will be hard pressed to meet the climate and energy objectives the senators outline above.

The framework provides little detail as to how the senators hope to drive the development and deployment of a suite of improved clean technologies, beyond nods to both nuclear power and carbon capture and storage for coal.

More robust support for nuclear power is central to the new framework and a core priority for Sen. Graham. Support to re-start the U.S. nuclear industry is also considered critical to wooing other key fence-sitters, including a handful of Sen. Graham's potentially interested Republican colleagues. Here's the relevant passage, which, as I read it, seems to mirror many of the policy "asks" outlined by the Nuclear Energy Institute:
Encouraging nuclear power. Additional nuclear power is an essential component of our strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We strongly support incentives for renewable energy sources such as wind and solar, but successful legislation must also recognize the important role for clean nuclear power in our low-emissions future. America has lost its nuclear technology manufacturing base, and we must rebuild it in order to compete in the global marketplace. Our legislation will encourage the construction of new nuclear power plants and provide funding to train the next generation of nuclear workers. We will make it easier to finance the construction of new nuclear power plants and improve the efficiency of the licensing process for traditional as well as small modular reactors, while fully respecting safety and environmental concerns. In addition, we support the research and development of new, safe ways to minimize nuclear waste. We are working with our colleagues to create incentives for low-carbon power sources, including nuclear, that will complement the Energy and Natural Resource Committee's work to incentivize renewable electricity.
On "ensuring a future for coal," they write:
Coal's future as part of the energy mix is inseparable from the passage of comprehensive climate change and energy legislation. We will commit significant resources to the rapid development and deployment of clean coal technology, and dedicated support for early deployment of carbon capture and sequestration.
These two passages should be no surprise. In the October NY Times op ed announcing their bi-partisan effort to craft a new climate framework, Senators Kerry and Graham wrote that they intended to restart America's stalled nuclear industry and help "America... become the Saudi Arabia of clean coal."

On manufacturing, a touchstone issue for many swing Senators, including a bloc of increasingly well-organized Senate Democrats frequently led by Senators Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, the framework states:
Manufacturing is the backbone of our nation's economy, and we refuse to believe that the days of American leadership are behind us. Despite some initial success stories, such as North Dakota's 30 percent growth in clean energy jobs in the last decade, the United States is falling behind. Successful climate legislation will not send existing jobs overseas. Rather, pricing carbon will drive innovation - creating new opportunities for those who develop clean energy technologies, as well as those who build, install, and maintain them. We plan to provide significant assistance to manufacturers to avoid carbon leakage and ensure the continued competitiveness of American-made goods. Our legislation will also provide financial incentives to both large and small manufacturers to improve the efficiency of their processes, which will mean even more new jobs. In addition to employing thousands in the building trades, our envisioned development of nuclear and wind power will also mean jobs and growth for our steel industry. It is time to regain our leadership and create the jobs of the future here in America.
It doesn't appear that Kerry, Graham and Lieberman plan any significant direct support for U.S. clean energy manufacturing capacity, as most of this language seems to focus simply on transition assistance for today's manufacturing base (most likely free allowances and help cutting energy use in manufacturing). While it's clearly important to protect the manufacturing jobs of today, if the Senators rely on "pricing carbon" alone to "drive innovation," we'll see little of those "jobs of the future" appear in America's manufacturing heartland.

Without robust, direct support, America's manufacturers will be hard pressed to compete with the massive direct investments provided by the governments of Asia's "rising clean tech tigers" to aid their domestic clean energy manufacturers. China alone is poised to invest nearly $400 billion in the nation's clean energy technologies and industries over the next five years, with a particular emphasis on the nation's rapidly growing clean energy manufacturing base.

As we make very clear in our recent report, "Rising Tigers," the U.S. will need a significantly more robust clean energy economy strategy to compete with aggressive Asian (and European) competitors. Pricing carbon, quite simply, is not enough. We'll see what Senators Brown and Stabenow think of this framework...

On offsets (and how there will be lots of them, of course), the framework states:
While we are still discussing the details of the offset program with our colleagues, we have reached agreement that we will include significant amounts of real, monitored and verified domestic and international offsets and other incentives in our system in order to contain costs and create opportunities for farmers, ranchers and forest owners to benefit from climate change legislation.
Finally, on an international climate agreement and protecting American competitiveness, the framework states:
Ultimately, climate change must be addressed through a strong international agreement that includes real, measurable, reportable, verifiable and enforceable actions by all nations. American leadership is essential, but action by the developing world is necessary to maximize the benefits of our effort. ... [W]e will include strong measures that are compatible with our obligations under the World Trade Organization to prevent our economic competitors from exploiting the American market if they shirk their responsibility to minimize carbon pollution.
This language mirrors a recent letter from nine swing Senate Democrats released last week demanding similar provisions in any final Senate climate bill.

That last statement appears to opens the door for carbon border tariffs, which will all-but-certianly prove critical to securing the support of key swing Senators, but simultaneously place the U.S. in the middle of an international climate conundrum.

Major developing nations, including China, India, Brazil and South Africa, have vehemently opposed using climate change as a pretext for restricting international trade, and in international climate negotiations now underway in Copenhagen, Denmark, have remained insistent that their pledges to reduce their output of greenhouse gases are strictly non-binding in an international context.

Despite the clear hurdles ahead, the three senators conclude by declaring:
We intend to continue to engage our Senate colleagues in the weeks ahead to develop sensible, effective climate change legislation that will create jobs, ensure our energy independence, restore America to a position of leadership in the clean energy economy and reduce pollution. ... Together, we can and will pass climate change and energy independence legislation this Congress.

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