Originally published at The Jacobin.
At the beginning of August, President Obama unveiled with great fanfare the “Clean Power Plan,” a “Landmark Action to Protect Public Health, Reduce Energy Bills for Households and Businesses, Create American Jobs, and Bring Clean Power to Communities across the Country.”
Stripping away the poll-tested language, the president was announcing — after epic delays — EPA regulations for carbon-dioxide pollution from existing power plants, finally fulfilling a 2000 George W. Bush campaign pledge. The proposed rule’s compliance period will begin in 2022.
From a policy perspective, the proposed rule is a perfect distillation of the Obama administration’s approach to governance: politically rational incrementalism that reinforces the existing power structures and is grossly insufficient given the scope of the problem.
The information necessary to understand the rule is impressively buried on the EPA website amid “fact sheets” that list out-of-context factoids and fail to cite references from the one-hundred-plus-page technical documents or ZIP files of modeling runs. The structure of the plan is complex (for example, states can choose to comply with “rate-based” pollution-intensity targets or “mass-based” total-pollution targets) and carefully designed to satisfy a wide range of stakeholders.
With sufficient inspection, the plan’s impact on climate pollution — its entire purpose — emerges: the rule locks in the rate of coal-plant retirement that has been ongoing since 2008, and that’s about it.
Under both the rate-based and mass-based approaches, the projected rate of change in coal-fired generation is consistent with recent historical declines in coal-fired generation. Additionally, under both of these approaches, the trends for all other types will remain consistent with what their trends would be in the absence of this rule.
Now, that’s a pretty good accomplishment in political terms. The administration is seizing on the ascendant power of the natural-gas industry to codify an existing economic trend at the expense of the presently weak coal industry. Coal-plant pollution has been protected from air-pollution regulation for generations; some of the plants in operation today were built during the Great Depression. These plants — immensely profitable for their owners — are not only climate killers, but destroyers of the lives of anyone who lives downwind of their poisonous effluvia. These rules were crafted in the face of the sociopathic opposition of the Republican Party to any climate policy, let alone one administered by the Environmental Protection Agency.
From the perspective of actual reality, however, the proposed rule is so weak as to be potentially destructive. It is built around the premise that the United States will extend its commitment to fracked gas for decades to come, even as the climate targets Obama personally signed onto can only be met if the dismantling of all fossil-fuel infrastructure begins immediately.
The rule’s expectations for renewables are clear evidence of the political power of the fossil-fuel industry trumping that of clean power. Since 2009, US wind generation has tripled and solar generation has grown twentyfold. Yet the EPA expects much slower renewable electricity growth in the next fifteen years. This assumption is why the rule will deliver de minimis cuts to greenhouse pollution from the electric power sector—unless states implementing the rule voluntarily adopt stronger goals.
More than anything else, the Clean Power Plan is a triumph of messaging discipline. The Obama administration has learned some lessons from the political debacle that accompanied the death of the Waxman-Markey climate bill in the Senate. Although there was significant money put into a grassroots mobilization for climate legislation, that mobilization failed spectacularly.
The organization 1Sky — which was formed in 2007 with the sole purpose of building grassroots support for climate legislation — had support from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the National Wildlife Federation, NRDC, Friends of the Earth, and others. But its efforts came to naught. (1Sky was absorbed by 350.org in 2011.)
The White House discouraged grassroots mobilization, and instead focused their attention on the inside game, the elite stakeholders in Washington DC. The insider strategy relied on the chimera of gaining Republican votes for transformative climate policy. As a result, climate policy elites and grassroots activists spent years in conflict, while opposition was effectively organized under the Tea Party banner. By the middle of 2009, both public and elite support for climate legislation had collapsed.
This political collapse should have come as no surprise, in particular to Obama, who won the White House using a campaign strategy built from the lessons of leftist community organizers, most notably campaign advisor Marshall Ganz. However, even before he took the oath of office, Obama abandoned the grassroots-mobilization infrastructure in favor of a fully centralized approach.
The administration’s approach was actually in part an attempt not to repeat the failures of the Clinton-Gore approach to climate. Their policy attempts — a “BTU” energy tax proposed in 1993 and the Kyoto Protocol global treaty Gore negotiated in 1997 — ran up against congressional opposition. So the Obama White House, populated by many of the veterans of the Clinton years, deliberately took their hands off the tiller and let their allies in Congress, namely Rep. Henry Waxman and Sen. Barbara Boxer of California and Rep. Ed Markey and Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, take the lead.
So climate policy failed yet again, in a different manner. It’s almost as if the real problem wasn’t how various policies were presented to Congress, but instead the political composition of Congress itself.
This time they have deliberately coordinated with grassroots environmental groups, including environmental justice organizations, to sell the EPA rule. The mainline environmental groups, at the behest of the administration and funded by Democratic-aligned grants, burned the midnight oil to get their members to submit eight million comments in support of the rule, an accomplishment almost unparalleled in terms of the amount of effort expended to achieve minimal political influence.
The environmental justice community — a diverse and fractious network of predominantly local, non-white environmental organizations — took a different approach in response to elite outreach. They accepted grants to engage on the Clean Power Plan, but used their seat at the table to advocate forcefully against the previous draft of the rule.
Because Obama’s first EPA administrator, Lisa P. Jackson, had previously established mechanisms to consider environmental justice in the rule-making process, the activists’ concerns about this rule were at least partly addressed.
But it’s not nearly enough. Dismantling the global fossil-fuel economy is a civilization-scale fight. Fossil-fuel industrialists have every incentive to resist democratic control to prevent their economic extinction. And that extinction is what climate policy needs to bring about, not forestall — global warming won’t stop until we stop burning fossil fuels. The Obama years have been spent in skirmishes and accommodations that have served mainly to delay the inevitable, seismic conflict between extractive capitalism and democratic society.
The modest accomplishments for climate and environmental justice in the Clean Power Plan will have little meaning unless they turn out to be the first salvos in a relentless assault on the carbon economy. In 2008, Obama envisioned that he would oversee from the White House “the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.”
That moment has not yet come.
Speaking in Alaska at a conference on the Arctic, President Barack Obama spoke with force about the urgency of addressing climate change, acknowledging the failings of his own administration’s efforts. His speech, a far-reaching address on national and international climate policy, was given at the Conference on Global Leadership in the Arctic: Cooperation, Innovation, Engagement and Resilience (GLACIER) in Anchorage before various foreign ministers grappling with the geopolitical implications of an Arctic region on “the leading edge of climate change.”
“It’s not enough just to talk the talk,” Obama concluded. “We’ve got to walk the walk. We’ve got work to do, and we’ve got to do it together.”
Obama’s speech came days after approving oil giant Shell’s application to commence exploration for oil in the melting Arctic Ocean.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you so much. Thank you. It is wonderful to be here in the great state of Alaska.
I want to thank Secretary Kerry and members of my administration for your work here today. Thank you to the many Alaskans, Alaska Natives and other indigenous peoples of the Arctic who’ve traveled a long way, in many cases, to share your insights and your experiences. And to all the foreign ministers and delegations who’ve come here from around the world – welcome to the United States, and thank you all for attending this GLACIER Conference.
The actual name of the conference is much longer. It’s a mouthful, but the acronym works because it underscores the incredible changes that are taking place here in the Arctic that impact not just the nations that surround the Arctic, but have an impact for the entire world, as well.
I want to thank the people of Alaska for hosting this conference. I look forward to visiting more of Alaska over the next couple of days. The United States is, of course, an Arctic nation. And even if this isn’t an official gathering of the Arctic Council, the United States is proud to chair the Arctic Council for the next two years. And to all the foreign dignitaries who are here, I want to be very clear – we are eager to work with your nations on the unique opportunities that the Arctic presents and the unique challenges that it faces. We are not going to – any of us – be able to solve these challenges by ourselves. We can only solve them together.
Of course, we’re here today to discuss a challenge that will define the contours of this century more dramatically than any other – and that’s the urgent and growing threat of a changing climate.
Our understanding of climate change advances each day. Human activity is disrupting the climate, in many ways faster than we previously thought. The science is stark. It is sharpening. It proves that this once-distant threat is now very much in the present.
In fact, the Arctic is the leading edge of climate change – our leading indicator of what the entire planet faces. Arctic temperatures are rising about twice as fast as the global average. Over the past 60 years, Alaska has warmed about twice as fast as the rest of the United States. Last year was Alaska’s warmest year on record – just as it was for the rest of the world. And the impacts here are very real.
Thawing permafrost destabilizes the earth on which 100,000 Alaskans live, threatening homes, damaging transportation and energy infrastructure, which could cost billions of dollars to fix.
Warmer, more acidic oceans and rivers, and the migration of entire species, threatens the livelihoods of indigenous peoples, and local economies dependent on fishing and tourism. Reduced sea levels leaves villages unprotected from floods and storm surges. Some are in imminent danger; some will have to relocate entirely. In fact, Alaska has some of the swiftest shoreline erosion rates in the world.
I recall what one Alaska Native told me at the White House a few years ago. He said, “Many of our villages are ready to slide off into the waters of Alaska, and in some cases, there will be absolutely no hope -– we will need to move many villages.”
Alaska’s fire season is now more than a month longer than it was in 1950. At one point this summer, more than 300 wildfires were burning at once. Southeast of here, in our Pacific Northwest, even the rainforest is on fire. More than 5 million acres in Alaska have already been scorched by fire this year – that’s an area about the size of Massachusetts. If you add the fires across Canada and Siberia, we’re talking 300  million acres – an area about the size of New York.
This is a threat to many communities – but it’s also an immediate and ongoing threat to the men and women who put their lives on the line to protect ours. Less than two weeks ago, three highly trained firefighters lost their lives fighting a fire in Washington State. Another has been in critical condition. We are thankful to each and every firefighter for their heroism – including the Canadian firefighters who’ve helped fight the fires in this state.
But the point is that climate change is no longer some far-off problem. It is happening here. It is happening now. Climate change is already disrupting our agriculture and ecosystems, our water and food supplies, our energy, our infrastructure, human health, human safety – now. Today. And climate change is a trend that affects all trends – economic trends, security trends. Everything will be impacted. And it becomes more dramatic with each passing year.
Already it’s changing the way Alaskans live. And considering the Arctic’s unique role in influencing the global climate, it will accelerate changes to the way that we all live.
Since 1979, the summer sea ice in the Arctic has decreased by more than 40 percent – a decrease that has dramatically accelerated over the past two decades. One new study estimates that Alaska’s glaciers alone lose about 75 gigatons – that’s 75 billion tons – of ice each year.
To put that in perspective, one scientist described a gigaton of ice as a block the size of the National Mall in Washington – from Congress all the way to the Lincoln Memorial, four times as tall as the Washington Monument. Now imagine 75 of those ice blocks. That’s what Alaska’s glaciers alone lose each year. The pace of melting is only getting faster. It’s now twice what it was between 1950 and 2000 – twice as fast as it was just a little over a decade ago. And it’s one of the reasons why sea levels rose by about eight inches over the last century, and why they’re projected to rise another one to four feet this century.
Consider, as well, that many of the fires burning today are actually burning through the permafrost in the Arctic. So this permafrost stores massive amounts of carbon. When the permafrost is no longer permanent, when it thaws or burns, these gases are released into our atmosphere over time, and that could mean that the Arctic may become a new source of emissions that further accelerates global warming.
So if we do nothing, temperatures in Alaska are projected to rise between six and 12 degrees by the end of the century, triggering more melting, more fires, more thawing of the permafrost, a negative feedback loop, a cycle – warming leading to more warming – that we do not want to be a part of.
And the fact is that climate is changing faster than our efforts to address it. That, ladies and gentlemen, must change. We’re not acting fast enough.
I’ve come here today, as the leader of the world’s largest economy and its second largest emitter, to say that the United States recognizes our role in creating this problem, and we embrace our responsibility to help solve it. And I believe we can solve it. That’s the good news. Even if we cannot reverse the damage that we’ve already caused, we have the means – the scientific imagination and technological innovation – to avoid irreparable harm.
We know this because last year, for the first time in our history, the global economy grew and global carbon emissions stayed flat. So we’re making progress; we’re just not making it fast enough.
Here in the United States, we’re trying to do our part. Since I took office six and a half years ago, the United States has made ambitious investments in clean energy, and ambitious reductions in our carbon emissions. We now harness three times as much electricity from wind and 20 times as much from the sun. Alaskans now lead the world in the development of hybrid wind energy systems from remote grids, and it’s expanding its solar and biomass resources.
We’ve invested in energy efficiency in every imaginable way – in our buildings, our cars, our trucks, our homes, even the appliances inside them. We’re saving consumers billions of dollars along the way. Here in Alaska, more than 15,000 homeowners have cut their energy bills by 30 percent on average. That collectively saves Alaskans more than $50 million each year. We’ve helped communities build climate-resilient infrastructure to prepare for the impacts of climate change that we can no longer prevent.
Earlier this month, I announced the first set of nationwide standards to end the limitless dumping of carbon pollution from our power plants. It’s the single most important step America has ever taken on climate change. And over the course of the coming days, I intend to speak more about the particular challenges facing Alaska and the United States as an Arctic power, and I intend to announce new measures to address them.
So we are working hard to do our part to meet this challenge. And in doing so, we’re proving that there doesn’t have to be a conflict between a sound environment and strong economic growth. But we’re not moving fast enough. None of the nations represented here are moving fast enough.
And let’s be honest – there’s always been an argument against taking action. The notion is somehow this will curb our economic growth. And at a time when people are anxious about the economy, that’s an argument oftentimes for inaction. We don’t want our lifestyles disrupted. In countries where there remains significant poverty, including here in the United States, the notion is, can we really afford to prioritize this issue. The irony, of course, is, is that few things will disrupt our lives as profoundly as climate change. Few things can have as negative an impact on our economy as climate change.
On the other hand, technology has now advanced to the point where any economic disruption from transitioning to a cleaner, more efficient economy is shrinking by the day. Clean energy and energy efficiency aren’t just proving cost-effective, but also cost-saving. The unit costs of things like solar are coming down rapidly. But we’re still underinvesting in it.
Many of America’s biggest businesses recognize the opportunities and are seizing them. They’re choosing a new route. And a growing number of American homeowners are choosing to go solar every day. It works. All told, America’s economy has grown more than 60 percent over the last 20 years, but our carbon emissions are roughly back to where they were 20 years ago. So we know how to use less dirty fuel and grow our economy at the same time. But we’re not moving fast enough.
More Americans every day are doing their part, though. Thanks to their efforts, America will reach the emission target that I set six years ago. We’re going to reduce our carbon emissions in the range of 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. And that’s why, last year, I set a new target: America is going to reduce our emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 10 years from now.
And that was part of a historic joint announcement we made last year in Beijing. The United States will double the pace at which we cut our emissions, and China committed, for the first time, to limiting its emissions. Because the world’s two largest economies and two largest emitters came together, we’re now seeing other nations stepping up aggressively as well. And I’m determined to make sure American leadership continues to drive international action – because we can’t do this alone. Even America and China together cannot do this alone. Even all the countries represented around here cannot do this alone. We have to do it together.
This year, in Paris, has to be the year that the world finally reaches an agreement to protect the one planet that we’ve got while we still can.
So let me sum up. We know that human activity is changing the climate. That is beyond dispute. Everything else is politics if people are denying the facts of climate change. We can have a legitimate debate about how we are going to address this problem; we cannot deny the science. We also know the devastating consequences if the current trend lines continue. That is not deniable. And we are going to have to do some adaptation, and we are going to have to help communities be resilient, because of these trend lines we are not going to be able to stop on a dime. We’re not going to be able to stop tomorrow.
But if those trend lines continue the way they are, there’s not going to be a nation on this Earth that’s not impacted negatively. People will suffer. Economies will suffer. Entire nations will find themselves under severe, severe problems. More drought; more floods; rising sea levels; greater migration; more refugees; more scarcity; more conflict.
That’s one path we can take. The other path is to embrace the human ingenuity that can do something about it. This is within our power. This is a solvable problem if we start now.
And we’re starting to see that enough consensus is being built internationally and within each of our own body politics that we may have the political will – finally – to get moving. So the time to heed the critics and the cynics and the deniers is past. The time to plead ignorance is surely past. Those who want to ignore the science, they are increasingly alone. They’re on their own shrinking island.
And let’s remember, even beyond the climate benefits of pursuing cleaner energy sources and more resilient, energy-efficient ways of living, the byproduct of it is, is that we also make our air cleaner and safer for our children to breathe. We’re also making our economies more resilient to energy shocks on global markets. We’re also making our countries less reliant on unstable parts of the world. We are gradually powering a planet on its way to 9 billion humans in a more sustainable way. These are good things. This is not simply a danger to be avoided; this is an opportunity to be seized. But we have to keep going. We’re making a difference, but we have to keep going. We are not moving fast enough.
If we were to abandon our course of action, if we stop trying to build a clean-energy economy and reduce carbon pollution, if we do nothing to keep the glaciers from melting faster, and oceans from rising faster, and forests from burning faster, and storms from growing stronger, we will condemn our children to a planet beyond their capacity to repair: Submerged countries. Abandoned cities. Fields no longer growing. Indigenous peoples who can’t carry out traditions that stretch back millennia. Entire industries of people who can’t practice their livelihoods. Desperate refugees seeking the sanctuary of nations not their own. Political disruptions that could trigger multiple conflicts around the globe.
That’s not a future of strong economic growth. That is not a future where freedom and human rights are on the move. Any leader willing to take a gamble on a future like that – any so-called leader who does not take this issue seriously or treats it like a joke – is not fit to lead.
On this issue, of all issues, there is such a thing as being too late. That moment is almost upon us. That’s why we’re here today. That’s what we have to convey to our people – tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that. And that’s what we have to do when we meet in Paris later this year. It will not be easy. There are hard questions to answer. I am not trying to suggest that there are not going to be difficult transitions that we all have to make. But if we unite our highest aspirations, if we make our best efforts to protect this planet for future generations, we can solve this problem.
And when you leave this conference center, I hope you look around. I hope you have the chance to visit a glacier. Or just look out your airplane window as you depart, and take in the God-given majesty of this place. For those of you flying to other parts of the world, do it again when you’re flying over your home countries. Remind yourself that there will come a time when your grandkids – and mine, if I’m lucky enough to have some – they’ll want to see this. They’ll want to experience it, just as we’ve gotten to do in our own lives. They deserve to live lives free from fear, and want, and peril. And ask yourself, are you doing everything you can to protect it. Are we doing everything we can to make their lives safer, and more secure, and more prosperous?
Let’s prove that we care about them and their long-term futures, not just short-term political expediency.
I had a chance to meet with some Native peoples before I came in here, and they described for me villages that are slipping into the sea, and the changes that are taking place – changing migratory patterns; the changing fauna so that what used to feed the animals that they, in turn, would hunt or fish beginning to vanish. It’s urgent for them today. But that is the future for all of us if we don’t take care.
Your presence here today indicates your recognition of that. But it’s not enough just to have conferences. It’s not enough just to talk the talk. We’ve got to walk the walk. We’ve got work to do, and we’ve got to do it together.
So, thank you. And may God bless all of you, and your countries. And thank you, Alaska, for your wonderful hospitality. Thank you.
In this week’s address, the President spoke about his upcoming trip to Alaska, during which he will view the effects of climate change firsthand. Alaskans are already living with the impact of climate change, with glaciers melting faster, and temperatures projected to rise between six and twelve degrees by the end of the century. In his address, the President spoke to ways in which we can address these challenges, including the transition away from fossil fuels to more renewable energy sources like wind and solar, an effort in which America is already leading. And he stressed that while our economy still has to rely on oil and gas during that transition, we should rely more on domestic production than importing from foreign counties who do not have the same environmental or safety standards as the United States. The President looked forward to his upcoming trip, and promised that while he is in office, America will lead the world to meet the threat of climate change before it’s too late.
Hi, everybody. This Monday, I’m heading to Alaska for a three-day tour of the state.
I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time. Not only because Alaska is one of the most beautiful places in a country that’s full of beautiful places – but because I’ll have several opportunities to meet with everyday Alaskans about what’s going on in their lives. I’ll travel throughout the state, meeting with Alaskans who live above the Arctic Circle, with Alaska natives, and with folks who earn their livelihoods through fishing and tourism. And I expect to learn a lot.
One thing I’ve learned so far is that a lot of these conversations begin with climate change. And that’s because Alaskans are already living with its effects. More frequent and extensive wildfires. Bigger storm surges as sea ice melts faster. Some of the swiftest shoreline erosion in the world – in some places, more than three feet a year.
Alaska’s glaciers are melting faster too, threatening tourism and adding to rising seas. And if we do nothing, Alaskan temperatures are projected to rise between six and twelve degrees by the end of the century, changing all sorts of industries forever.
This is all real. This is happening to our fellow Americans right now. In fact, Alaska’s governor recently told me that four villages are in “imminent danger” and have to be relocated. Already, rising sea levels are beginning to swallow one island community.
Think about that. If another country threatened to wipe out an American town, we’d do everything in our power to protect ourselves. Climate change poses the same threat, right now.
That’s why one of the things I’ll do while I’m in Alaska is to convene other nations to meet this threat. Several Arctic nations have already committed to action. Since the United States and China worked together to set ambitious climate targets last year, leading by example, many of the world’s biggest emitters have come forward with new climate plans of their own. And that’s a good sign as we approach this December’s global climate negotiations in Paris.
Now, one of the ways America is leading is by transitioning away from dirty energy sources that threaten our health and our environment, and by going all-in on clean, renewable energy sources like wind and solar. And Alaska has the natural resources to be a global leader in this effort.
Now even as we accelerate this transition, our economy still has to rely on oil and gas. As long as that’s the case, I believe we should rely more on domestic production than on foreign imports, and we should demand the highest safety standards in the industry – our own. Still, I know there are Americans who are concerned about oil companies drilling in environmentally sensitive waters. Some are also concerned with my administration’s decision to approve Shell’s application to drill a well off the Alaskan coast, using leases they purchased before I took office. I share people’s concerns about offshore drilling. I remember the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico all too well.
That’s precisely why my administration has worked to make sure that our oil exploration conducted under these leases is done at the highest standards possible, with requirements specifically tailored to the risks of drilling off Alaska. We don’t rubber-stamp permits. We made it clear that Shell has to meet our high standards in how they conduct their operations – and it’s a testament to how rigorous we’ve applied those standards that Shell has delayed and limited its exploration off Alaska while trying to meet them. The bottom line is, safety has been and will continue to be my administration’s top priority when it comes to oil and gas exploration off America’s precious coasts – even as we push our economy and the world to ultimately transition off of fossil fuels.
So I’m looking forward to talking with Alaskans about how we can work together to make America the global leader on climate change around the globe. And we’re going to offer unique and engaging ways for you to join me on this trip all week at WhiteHouse.gov/Alaska. Because what’s happening in Alaska is happening to us. It’s our wakeup call. And as long as I’m President, America will lead the world to meet the threat of climate change before it’s too late.
Thanks, and have a great weekend.
Presidents Barack Obama and Dilma Rousseff commit to intensify collaboration between the United States and Brazil, both bilaterally and under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), as our countries work to address the challenges posed by climate change. The global scientific community has made clear that human activity is already changing the world’s climate system, causing serious impacts, putting ever larger numbers of people at risk, posing challenges to sustainable development, affecting particularly the poor and most vulnerable, and harming economies and societies around the world, including in the United States and Brazil.
Leading Together Towards Paris:
The two Presidents reiterated their call for a successful outcome later this year at the Paris Climate Change Conference. The Paris outcome should send a strong signal to the international community that governments, businesses and civil society are decisively taking on the climate challenge.
The Presidents expressed their commitment to work with each other and with other partners to resolve potential obstacles towards an ambitious and balanced Paris Agreement. Mindful of the long-term goal of limiting global temperature increase to a maximum of 2°C above preindustrial levels, they agreed that there should be strong nationally determined contributions, regular updating by Parties in order to promote greater ambition over time, and encouragement of longer-term strategies for transitioning to low-carbon economies. There should also be strong and credible transparency, including reporting and review, as well as periodic stocktaking of its overall effectiveness. The Presidents are committed to reaching an ambitious agreement that reflects the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in light of different national circumstances.
The Presidents recognize the social and economic value of mitigation actions and their co-benefits to adaptation, health and sustainable development. The Presidents pledged to work together toward mobilizing public funding and developing financial instruments to catalyze large-scale private investments to support low carbon development projects and countries’ transitions to low-carbon economies. Further, the Presidents affirmed the need for continued, robust financial support to help realize developing countries’ mitigation potential and to enhance their adaptation actions.
Taking Ambitious Climate Action:
The Presidents underscored the benefits of early mitigation actions for limiting global temperature increase. They noted that both countries have been actively and productively engaged in recent years in a range of activities that have reduced greenhouse gas emissions. President Rousseff welcomed the ambitious national mitigation policies and measures of the United States and its constructive engagement in multilateral climate change negotiations. President Obama commended Brazil for its very strong mitigation results, principally through a significant curbing of deforestation in the Amazon region.
The Presidents highlighted the fact that, since 2005, Brazil and the United States have reduced greenhouse gas emissions in absolute terms more than any other countries in the world. Brazil has reduced its emissions by around 41% as compared to 2005, while the United States has reduced its emissions by around 10% and is on track to meet its 2020 target. In the run-up to the UN Climate Conference in Paris, both countries are respectively putting forward strong post-2020 contributions consistent with their determination to show global leadership.
Per its submission to the UNFCCC, the United States intends to achieve an economy-wide target of reducing its emissions by 26%-28% below 2005 levels in 2025 and to make best efforts to reduce its emissions by 28%. Brazil will present a fair and ambitious intended nationally determined contribution that represents its highest possible effort beyond its current actions. It will be based on the implementation of broad policies, including those in the forestry, land-use, industrial, and energy sectors. Brazil will pursue policies aimed at eliminating illegal deforestation, coupled with ambitious enhancement of carbon stocks through reforestation and forest restoration. For that purpose, Brazil intends to restore and reforest 12 million hectares of forests by 2030. In line with its goal to expand the use of renewable energy sources, Brazil intends that its total energy matrix reach, by 2030, a share of 28% to 33% from renewable sources (electricity and biofuels) other than hydropower. Brazil also intends to improve low-carbon agricultural and grazing land practices through the promotion of sustainable agriculture and productivity enhancement; to promote new, clean technology standards for industry; to further promote energy efficiency measures and to expand the use of non-fossil fuel energy sources domestically.
Recognizing the need to accelerate the deployment of renewable energy to help power our economies, the United States and Brazil each intend to increase the share of renewables – beyond hydropower – in their respective electricity generation mixes to the level of 20% by 2030.
The Presidents, recognizing the importance of managing hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), agreed to work multilaterally in the Montreal Protocol to consider promptly amendment proposals to phase down HFCs.
Brazil-United States Joint Initiative on Climate Change
The two Presidents decide to launch a Joint Initiative on Climate Change, which will be implemented through a new high-level United States-Brazil Climate Change Working Group (CCWG) aimed at enhancing bilateral cooperation on issues relating to land use, clean energy, and adaptation, as well as policy dialogues on domestic and international climate issues.
The Working Group will begin its work by October 2015. During its first meeting, the CCWG will discuss a work program to address areas of action for cooperation. The Climate Change Working Group will be a platform to manage some or all of the following initiatives, as well as others that might be developed over time.
Cooperation on Sustainable Land Use
As part of the new CCWG, the United States and Brazil will promote actions on forests, agriculture, and land use to contribute to climate change mitigation and resilience as well as enhance economic growth. Both countries are leaders in forest conservation and agricultural innovation and have implemented land sector programs designed to enhance mitigation and increase adaptation capacity. Brazil and the United States commit to new and improved management of their forests, croplands and grasslands to increase resilience in forests and agricultural systems, safeguard the multiple services they provide, and share this expertise with other countries. Brazil and the United States will take the following actions, among others:
- Enhancing progress on reducing forest degradation and preventing deforestation, including improvements in the productivity of agricultural and grazing lands;
- Launching a Binational Program on Forest and Land Sector Investment to improve the conditions for attracting investments in sustainable forest management and forest restoration, encouraging the provision of ecosystem services, building resilience, mitigating climate change, and contributing to improved income streams for farmers. This would include convening a public-private Forum on Innovative Forest Investment and launching a Binational Expert Group of government agencies to improve the conditions for forest investment in both countries. These initiatives will identify and help design appropriate financial and risk-mitigation mechanisms that aim to spur private sector funding for forest restoration;
- Establishing technology partnerships for basic and applied research on native species to promote the acceleration of forest restoration projects;
- Deeper cooperation on monitoring, reporting, and verification of forest emissions and forest carbon stocks;
- Continuing identification and establishment of low-carbon agricultural practices for promotion of sustainable agriculture and productivity enhancements for the sector;
- Reinvigorating the work of the Global Research Alliance (GRA) for Agricultural Greenhouse Gases;
- Building on collaborative efforts to enhance scientific research to address areas that help farmers, in our countries and globally, adapt to and mitigate climate change impacts;
- Signing a Declaration of Intentions between the U.S. Forest Service and Brazilian Ministry of Environment on solutions to uncontrolled burning in tropical areas, information technology for tracking and managing fire, and training managers, scientists, and technologists; and
- Pursuing opportunities to coordinate technical assistance in priority countries and regions on reforestation, forest monitoring, bioenergy production and low-carbon agriculture. Priority areas include the Congo basin, Amazon basin, and Caribbean island States, where applicable.
Cooperation on Clean Energy
The United States and Brazil will strengthen bilateral cooperation mechanisms for energy, including the Strategic Energy Dialogue, which will hold a minister-level session promptly and another meeting on October 8-9 2015.
- Renewable Energy: Taking advantage of the abundant renewable resources in both countries, we will expand research on energy supply from renewable energy sources, such as wind, solar, biomass, and renewable transportation fuels.
- Energy Efficiency and Storage: Deepening existing cooperation, we will support smart grid initiatives, the use of energy efficient building materials and improve industrial energy efficiency, including through increased adoption of energy management and efficient energy storage systems, including batteries.
- Basic Energy Research: Exchanging experiences related to research, development and innovation, and fostering cooperation among universities and research institutions in both countries through the U.S. Energy Frontier Research Centers and Brazil’s Scientific Mobility Program.
- Nuclear Power Generation: Benefiting from the shared successful experiences of both countries, Brazil and the United States will cooperate on safe and sustainable nuclear power generation and technologies.
- Catalyzing Finance: Aiming to spur investment, the United States and Brazil will seek to jointly pilot innovative finance instruments in Brazil designed to mobilize new investments in renewable energy, energy efficiency, and/or resiliency efforts.
Cooperation on Adaptation to Climate Change
Acknowledging the need to manage and reduce risks associated with climate change impacts, such as drought and extreme weather events, as well as the emerging opportunities associated with managing and reducing these risks, the United States and Brazil will work together, including through sharing experiences related to national adaptation planning, to build resilience to climate change impacts in areas such as biodiversity and ecosystems; infrastructure, including energy; agricultural production and food security; and water resources.
The United States and Brazil will continue collaboration on atmospheric and ecosystem science research, building on the Green Ocean Amazon 2014/2015 experiment through postdoctoral educational exchanges between Brazilian and U.S. universities and laboratories.
The United States and Brazil will cooperate on managing issues at the nexus of water and energy, in the context of climate change. As our countries face prolonged and increasingly intense droughts, we need to appropriately integrate energy-water planning and decision-making; collaborate on sustainable hydropower; improve resilient thermoelectric generation resilience; and increase the efficiency of water and wastewater treatment infrastructure systems.
The climate commitments announced by Presidents Barack Obama and Xi Jinping in China are momentous given the political status quo, but they still leave human civilization on a catastrophic trajectory, a Hill Heat analysis shows.
The non-binding targets agreed to in Beijing — that China would peak in emissions by 2030 and the U.S. would accelerate emissions cuts to reach 80 percent of current pollution levels (74 percent of 2005 levels) by 2025 — are a positive step forward. Without such targets catastrophic warming is guaranteed.
President Obama reaffirmed that limiting global warming to less than 2°C (3.6°F) above pre-industrial levels is his goal, claiming the announced targets “means the United States is doing its part to contain warming to 2 degrees Celsius.”
What do the announcements actually mean in the context of what is needed?
Below, we explore the targets in the context of a “Russian roulette” 2C pathway, with pollution levels that scientists estimate lead to a one-in-five chance of exceeding 2C. (Ed.: Russian roulette odds are actually a bit better.)
By 2030, US and China alone will have emitted about 80% of the carbon budget, leaving the other 75% of the global population with little to spare. By 2050, US and China will have emitted about 160% of the carbon budget, making the “Russian roulette” scenario impossible. To be clear, even 2C warming is highly risky, to say the least (Hansen et al, 2013).
Graphing cumulative emissions, the U.S.-China trajectory becomes more readliy apparent, as the combined carbon footprint continues to grow rapidly through 2050. The carbon budget is used up by the two nations’ pollution alone by 2035.
Even if the rest of the world follows the US and China lead with commitments to stop emissions growth by 2030, there will be a high risk of catastrophic global warming. Assuming the US and China meet their targets and the rest of the world follows suit, humanity will burn through the Russian-roulette chance at staying below 2C warming before 2025.
For small-island nations, coral reefs, global forests, Arctic ice, permafrost, and global ice sheets — and quite possibly the rest of human civilization — to have a long-term chance of survival, limiting warming to 1.5C looks to be needed. (This would require a rapid transition to a fossil-free economy with massive reforestation to reduce existing CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere to 350 parts per million or lower, the inspiration for the name of the climate organization 350.org.)
A higher tolerance for catastrophic warming — by raising the risk of 2C warming from 20 percent to 50 percent — gives the world a more leeway for pollution, but not enough to make the announced US-China targets “safe”. The global budget for a 50-50 chance of 2C warming will be exhausted before 2040.
The insufficiency of these newly announced targets — and the howls of outrage heard from the Republican Party in the United States — reflect the dangerous power the global fossil-fuel industry has over our future, at a time when our species’ collective power should be directed at building a fossil-free civilization.
Presidents Barack Obama and Xi Jinping concluded a U.S.-China trade summit with the announcement of new climate targets for the two nations. Obama set a U.S. target of a 26 percent reduction in greenhouse emissions by 2025 from 2005 levels. The China commitment is for CO2 emissions to peak by 2030, with a non-fossil-fuel share (renewable and nuclear) of energy production of 20 percent by 2030.
The “fact sheet” released by the White House reads:
U.S.-China Joint Announcement on Climate Change and Clean Energy Cooperation
President Obama Announces Ambitious 2025 Target to Cut U.S. Climate Pollution by 26-28 Percent from 2005 Levels
Building on strong progress during the first six years of the Administration, today President Obama announced a new target to cut net greenhouse gas emissions 26-28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. At the same time, President Xi Jinping of China announced targets to peak CO2 emissions around 2030, with the intention to try to peak early, and to increase the non-fossil fuel share of all energy to around 20 percent by 2030.
Together, the U.S. and China account for over one third of global greenhouse gas emissions. Today’s joint announcement, the culmination of months of bilateral dialogue, highlights the critical role the two countries must play in addressing climate change. The actions they announced are part of the longer range effort to achieve the deep decarbonization of the global economy over time. These actions will also inject momentum into the global climate negotiations on the road to reaching a successful new climate agreement next year in Paris.
The new U.S. goal will double the pace of carbon pollution reduction from 1.2 percent per year on average during the 2005-2020 period to 2.3-2.8 percent per year on average between 2020 and 2025. This ambitious target is grounded in intensive analysis of cost-effective carbon pollution reductions achievable under existing law and will keep the United States on the right trajectory to achieve deep economy-wide reductions on the order of 80 percent by 2050.
The Administration’s steady efforts to reduce emissions will deliver ever-larger carbon pollution reductions, public health improvements and consumer savings over time and provide a firm foundation to meet the new U.S. target.
The United States will submit its 2025 target to the Framework Convention on Climate Change as an “Intended Nationally Determined Contribution” no later than the first quarter of 2015.
The joint announcement marks the first time China has agreed to peak its CO2 emissions. The United States expects that China will succeed in peaking its emissions before 2030 based on its broad economic reform program, plans to address air pollution, and implementation of President Xi’s call for an energy revolution.China’s target to expand total energy consumption coming from zero-emission sources to around 20 percent by 2030 is notable. It will require China to deploy an additional 800-1,000 gigawatts of nuclear, wind, solar and other zero emission generation capacity by 2030 – more than all the coal-fired power plants that exist in China today and close to total current electricity generation capacity in the United States.
Building on Progress
In 2009, U.S. greenhouse gas emissions were projected to continue increasing indefinitely, but President Obama set an ambitious goal to cut emissions in the range of 17 percent below 2005 levels in 2020. Throughout the first term, the Administration took strong actions to cut carbon pollution, including investing more than $80 billion in clean energy technologies under the recovery program, establishing historic fuel economy standards, doubling solar and wind electricity, and implementing ambitious energy efficiency measures.
Early in his second term, President Obama launched an ambitious Climate Action Plan focused on cutting carbon pollution, preparing the nation for climate impacts, and leading internationally. In addition to bolstering first-term efforts to ramp up renewable energy and efficiency, the Plan is cutting carbon pollution through new measures, including:
- Clean Power Plan: EPA proposed guidelines for existing power plants in June 2014 that would reduce power sector emissions 30% below 2005 levels by 2030 while delivering $55-93 billion in net benefits from improved public health and reduced carbon pollution.
- Standards for Heavy-Duty Engines and Vehicles: In February 2014, President Obama directed EPA and the Department of Transportation to issue the next phase of fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas standards for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles by March 2016. These will build on the first-ever standards for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles (model years 2014 through 2018), proposed and finalized by this Administration.
- Energy Efficiency Standards: The Department of Energy set a goal of reducing carbon pollution by 3 billion metric tons cumulatively by 2030 through energy conservation standards issued during this Administration. These measures will also cut consumers’ annual electricity bills by billions of dollars.
- Economy-wide Measures to reduce other Greenhouse Gases: The Environmental Protection Agency and other agencies are taking actions to cut methane emissions from landfills, coal mining, agriculture, and oil and gas systems through cost-effective voluntary actions and common-sense standards. At the same time, the State Department is working to slash global emissions of potent industrial greenhouse gases called HFCs through an amendment to the Montreal Protocol; the Environmental Protection Agency is cutting domestic HFC emissions through its Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP) program; and, the private sector has stepped up with commitments to cut global HFC emissions equivalent to 700 million metric tons through 2025.
Expanding U.S. and China Climate & Clean Energy Cooperation
To further support the achievement of the ambitious climate goals announced today, the United States and China have pledged to strengthen cooperation on climate and clean energy. The two countries are expanding their ongoing and robust program of cooperation through policy dialogue and technical work on clean energy and low greenhouse gas emissions technologies.
The United States and China agreed to:
- Expand Joint Clean Energy Research and Development: A renewed and expanded commitment to the U.S.-China Clean Energy Research Center (CERC). This will include:
- Extending the CERC mandate for an additional five years from 2016-2020;
- Renewing funding for the three existing tracks: building efficiency, clean vehicles, and advanced coal technologies with carbon capture, use and sequestration (CCUS); and
- Launching a new track on the interaction of energy and water (the energy/water ‘nexus’).
- Advance Major Carbon Capture, Use and Storage Demonstrations: Expanding our work under the Climate Change Working Group (CCWG) and under the CERC, and partnering with the private sector, the United States and China will undertake a major carbon capture and storage project in China that supports a long term, detailed assessment of full-scale sequestration in a suitable, secure underground geologic reservoir. The United States and China will make equal funding commitments to the project and will seek additional funding commitments from other countries and the private sector. In addition, both sides will work to manage climate change by demonstrating a new frontier for CO2 use through a carbon capture, use, and sequestration (CCUS) project that will capture and store CO2 while producing fresh water, thus demonstrating power generation as a net producer of water instead of a water consumer. This CCUS project with Enhanced Water Recovery will eventually inject about 1 million tons of CO2 and create approximately 1.4 million cubic meters of freshwater per year.
- Enhance Cooperation on Hydroflurocarbons (HFCs): Building on the historic Sunnylands agreement between President Xi and President Obama regarding HFCs, the United States and China will enhance bilateral cooperation to begin phasing down the use of high global warming potential HFCs, including through technical cooperation on domestic measures to promote HFC alternatives and to transition government procurement toward climate-friendly refrigerants.
- Launch a Climate-Smart/Low-Carbon Cities Initiative: Urbanization is a major trend in the 21st century, and cities worldwide account for a significant percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. In response, the United States and China are establishing a new initiative on Climate-Smart/Low-Carbon Cities under the U.S.-China Climate Change Working Group. Under the initiative, the two countries will share city-level experiences with planning, policies, and use of technologies for sustainable, resilient, low-carbon growth. This initiative will eventually include demonstrations of new technologies for smart infrastructure for urbanization. As a first step, the United States and China will convene a Climate-Smart/Low-Carbon Cities “Summit” where leading cities from both countries will share best practices, set new goals, and celebrate city-level leadership.
- Promote Trade in Green Goods: The United States announced that Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz will lead a Smart Cities/Smart Growth Business Development Mission to China April 12-17, 2015, focused on green infrastructure, energy efficiency and environmental trade sectors. The mission will highlight the benefits of sustainable urbanization, technologies to support China’s air pollution and climate goals, and green buildings opportunities. In addition, USTDA will conduct three reverse trade missions to bring Chinese delegations to see environmental, smart grid, and CCUS technologies in the United States over the next year.
- Demonstrate Clean Energy on the Ground: U.S. DOE, State, and USTDA will undertake a number of additional pilot programs, feasibility studies, and other collaborative efforts to promote China’s energy efficiency and renewable energy goals. These will include expansion of our cooperation on “smart grids” that enable efficient and cost-effective integration of renewable energy technology, as well as the implementation through a U.S. and Chinese private sector commercial agreement of a first-of-its-kind 380 MW concentrating solar plant in China.
Kochs Respond: President Obama's 'Radical International Energy Agenda' Is 'Harmful,' 'Destructive', 'Needless'
David Koch at the Met’s Koch Plaza
The worst part is, President Obama knows that his energy agenda is harmful and will not help our country get back on the path to prosperity. In fact the President’s proposal is so unpopular and destructive, even Harry Reid’s Senate wouldn’t dream of passing it, which is why he has bypassed Congress and taken his short-sighted, destructive energy policies to an international body.
In an accompanying video entitled “Obama’s UN Speech Promises to Kill Jobs and Raise Energy Prices,” Phillips rejects the science of man-made climate change, and falsely claims that reductions in carbon pollution would be economically harmful and environmentally meaningless.
“If all the numbers, facts, and figures that the left claims are true, their own numbers say this will make really no difference in saving the planet. We think they’re wrong on the merits, but even if you accept their numbers, this will be nothing but a lose-lose situation for the American public.”
The email links to a letter campaign in opposition to “the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed regulations calling for a 30 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2030,” calling on U.S. Senators to “stop the EPA from forcing more burdensome regulations on our families.”
Text of supporter email:
Subject: Our response to Pres. Obama:Text of suggested email to senators:
From: Tim Phillips
The President really wants you to believe that his environmental agenda will help the country’s, and the world’s, most vulnerable. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Today President Obama delivered a speech at the United Nations in New York City to promote his ideologically-driven, destructive energy agenda to combat what used to be called global warming, then climate change, then extreme weather, and now finally climate disruption. The President insists that an international climate agreement is in the best interests of the American people. He claims that the United States must act on climate change now to protect future generations and the future of our country from changes in the weather.
What President Obama DIDN’T you (sic) during his speech is the truth about his radical international energy agenda—that it will severely damage the US economy, and that America’s poorest and most vulnerable will end up paying the price. More needless regulations on the energy industry mean costlier electric bills and a higher overall cost of living for everyone.
If President Obama is truly committed to helping those in need, he should seriously rethink his energy agenda. Affordable energy is essential to human well-being and prosperity not just in the United States, but around the world. But if President Obama has his way, the cost of electricity will only continue to rise.
With every policy decision, it becomes more and more clear that President Obama is only concerned with his own legacy—not about the quality of life of the American people and future generations.
The worst part is, President Obama knows that his energy agenda is harmful and will not help our country get back on the path to prosperity. In fact the President’s proposal is so unpopular and destructive, even Harry Reid’s Senate wouldn’t dream of passing it, which is why he has bypassed Congress and taken his short-sighted, destructive energy policies to an international body.
Subject: Please oppose the EPA’s new proposed regulations
I urge you to oppose the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed regulations calling for a 30 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2030.
If these regulations pass, hardworking Americans and their families will end up paying the price. The Chamber of Commerce estimates that the proposed regulations will increase electricity costs by $289 billion and lower families’ disposable incomes by $586 billion through 2030, based its assumptions on a similar proposal by the Natural Resources Defense Council. Household budgets are already stretched thin – now is not the time to raise energy bills on American energy consumers.
A new report from the US Chamber of Commerce found that the proposed regulations will cost billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of jobs, based on its assumptions on a similar proposal by the Natural Resources Defense Council. The report found that carbon regulations will lower US gross domestic product by $1 billion and lead to a loss of 224,000 US jobs on average every year through 2030.
Please stand with American taxpayers and stop the EPA from forcing more burdensome regulations on our families. Thank you.
Addressing the United Nations climate summit in New York City, President Barack Obama called climate change a ‘global threat’ that has ‘moved firmly into the present.’ Hobbled by a deadlocked Congress, the president offered no new major policy initiatives.
“Our citizens keep marching,” Obama said in reference to Sunday’s historic People’s Climate March. “We cannot pretend we do not hear them. We have to answer the call.”
He also commented on the rise of extreme weather disasters around the globe, including flooding in Miami, drought and floods in the heartland, the West’s year-long wildfire season, and the catastrophic damage of Superstorm Sandy. “No nation is immune,” he said, recognizing that “some nations already live with far worse.”
Obama did not directly mention fossil fuel production or his “all-of-the-above” approach to energy policy, unlike recent speeches on climate change to domestic audiences, in which he has celebrated the rise in domestic production of oil and natural gas. In fact, the speech did not include the words “coal,” “oil,” “fossil fuels,” or “natural gas.”
Hobbled by a legislative branch stymied by Republican opposition to climate action or international climate funding, Obama made no new grand pledges on behalf of the United States, instead highlighting the coming EPA regulation of carbon pollution from power plants, voluntary actions by corporate America, and a reduction in HFCs under the Montreal Protocol.
“I believe, in the words of Dr. King, that there is such a thing as being too late,” Obama said near the end of his speech. As the United States is not currently leading the way in rapidly decarbonizing the global economy, that statement may serve to summarize his presidential legacy.
Mr. President, Mr. Secretary General, fellow leaders: For all the immediate challenges that we gather to address this week — terrorism, instability, inequality, disease — there’s one issue that will define the contours of this century more dramatically than any other, and that is the urgent and growing threat of a changing climate.
Five years have passed since many of us met in Copenhagen. And since then, our understanding of climate change has advanced — both in the deepening science that says this once-distant threat has moved “firmly into the present,” and into the sting of more frequent extreme weather events that show us exactly what these changes may mean for future generations.
No nation is immune. In America, the past decade has been our hottest on record. Along our eastern coast, the city of Miami now floods at high tide. In our west, wildfire season now stretches most of the year. In our heartland, farms have been parched by the worst drought in generations, and drenched by the wettest spring in our history. A hurricane left parts of this great city dark and underwater. And some nations already live with far worse. Worldwide, this summer was the hottest ever recorded — with global carbon emissions still on the rise.
So the climate is changing faster than our efforts to address it. The alarm bells keep ringing. Our citizens keep marching. We cannot pretend we do not hear them. We have to answer the call. We know what we have to do to avoid irreparable harm. We have to cut carbon pollution in our own countries to prevent the worst effects of climate change. We have to adapt to the impacts that, unfortunately, we can no longer avoid. And we have to work together as a global community to tackle this global threat before it is too late.
We cannot condemn our children, and their children, to a future that is beyond their capacity to repair. Not when we have the means — the technological innovation and the scientific imagination — to begin the work of repairing it right now.
As one of America’s governors has said, “We are the first generation to feel the impact of climate change and the last generation that can do something about it.” So today, I’m here personally, as the leader of the world’s largest economy and its second largest emitter, to say that we have begun to do something about it.
The United States has made ambitious investments in clean energy, and ambitious reductions in our carbon emissions. We now harness three times as much electricity from the wind and 10 times as much from the sun as we did when I came into office. Within a decade, our cars will go twice as far on a gallon of gas, and already, every major automaker offers electric vehicles. We’ve made unprecedented investments to cut energy waste in our homes and our buildings and our appliances, all of which will save consumers billions of dollars. And we are committed to helping communities build climate-resilient infrastructure.
So, all told, these advances have helped create jobs, grow our economy, and drive our carbon pollution to its lowest levels in nearly two decades — proving that there does not have to be a conflict between a sound environment and strong economic growth.
Over the past eight years, the United States has reduced our total carbon pollution by more than any other nation on Earth. But we have to do more. Last year, I issued America’s first Climate Action Plan to double down on our efforts. Under that plan, my administration is working with states and utilities to set first-ever standards to cut the amount of carbon pollution our power plants can dump into the air. And when completed, this will mark the single most important and significant step the United States has ever taken to reduce our carbon emissions.
Last week alone, we announced an array of new actions in renewable energy and energy efficiency that will save consumers more than $10 billion on their energy bills and cut carbon pollution by nearly 300 million metric tons through 2030. That’s the equivalent of taking more than 60 million cars off the road for one year.
I also convened a group of private sector leaders who’ve agreed to do their part to slash consumption of dangerous greenhouse gases known as HFCs — slash them 80 percent by 2050.
And already, more than 100 nations have agreed to launch talks to phase down HFCs under the Montreal Protocol — the same agreement the world used successfully to phase out ozone-depleting chemicals.
This is something that President Xi of China and I have worked on together. Just a few minutes ago, I met with Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli, and reiterated my belief that as the two largest economies and emitters in the world, we have a special responsibility to lead. That’s what big nations have to do.
And today, I call on all countries to join us — not next year, or the year after, but right now, because no nation can meet this global threat alone. The United States has also engaged more allies and partners to cut carbon pollution and prepare for the impacts we cannot avoid. All told, American climate assistance now reaches more than 120 nations around the world. We’re helping more nations skip past the dirty phase of development, using current technologies, not duplicating the same mistakes and environmental degradation that took place previously.
We’re partnering with African entrepreneurs to launch clean energy projects. We’re helping farmers practice climate-smart agriculture and plant more durable crops. We’re building international coalitions to drive action, from reducing methane emissions from pipelines to launching a free trade agreement for environmental goods. And we have been working shoulder-to-shoulder with many of you to make the Green Climate Fund a reality.
But let me be honest. None of this is without controversy. In each of our countries, there are interests that will be resistant to action. And in each country, there is a suspicion that if we act and other countries don’t that we will be at an economic disadvantage. But we have to lead. That is what the United Nations and this General Assembly is about.
Now, the truth is, is that no matter what we do, some populations will still be at risk. The nations that contribute the least to climate change often stand to lose the most. And that’s why, since I took office, the United States has expanded our direct adaptation assistance eightfold, and we’re going to do more.
Today, I’m directing our federal agencies to begin factoring climate resilience into our international development programs and investments. And I’m announcing a new effort to deploy the unique scientific and technological capabilities of the United States, from climate data to early-warning systems. So this effort includes a new partnership that will draw on the resources and expertise of our leading private sector companies and philanthropies to help vulnerable nations better prepare for weather-related disasters, and better plan for long-term threats like steadily rising seas.
Yes, this is hard. But there should be no question that the United States of America is stepping up to the plate. We recognize our role in creating this problem; we embrace our responsibility to combat it. We will do our part, and we will help developing nations do theirs. But we can only succeed in combating climate change if we are joined in this effort by every nation — developed and developing alike. Nobody gets a pass.
The emerging economies that have experienced some of the most dynamic growth in recent years have also emitted rising levels of carbon pollution. It is those emerging economies that are likely to produce more and more carbon emissions in the years to come. So nobody can stand on the sidelines on this issues. We have to set aside the old divides. We have to raise our collective ambition, each of us doing what we can to confront this global challenge.
This time, we need an agreement that reflects economic realities in the next decade and beyond. It must be ambitious — because that’s what the scale of this challenge demands. It must be inclusive — because every country must play its part. And, yes, it must be flexible — because different nations have different circumstances.
Five years ago, I pledged America would reduce our carbon emissions in the range of 17 percent below 2005 levels by the year 2020. America will meet that target. And by early next year, we will put forward our next emission target, reflecting our confidence in the ability of our technological entrepreneurs and scientific innovators to lead the way.
So today, I call on all major economies to do the same. For I believe, in the words of Dr. King, that there is such a thing as being too late. And for the sake of future generations, our generation must move toward a global compact to confront a changing climate while we still can.
This challenge demands our ambition. Our children deserve such ambition. And if we act now, if we can look beyond the swarm of current events and some of the economic challenges and political challenges involved, if we place the air that our children will breathe and the food that they will eat and the hopes and dreams of all posterity above our own short-term interests, we may not be too late for them.
While you and I may not live to see all the fruits of our labor, we can act to see that the century ahead is marked not by conflict, but by cooperation; not by human suffering, but by human progress; and that the world we leave to our children, and our children’s children, will be cleaner and healthier, and more prosperous and secure.
Thank you very much. Thank you.
The pipeline is intended to ship upwards of 830,000 barrels of tar-sands crude a day for a 40-year lifespan. The pipeline will add 120-200 million tons of carbon-dioxide-equivalent to the atmosphere annually, with a lifetime footprint of 6 to 8 billion tons CO2e. That’s as much greenhouse pollution as 40 to 50 average U.S. coal-fired power plants. Furthermore the Keystone XL pipeline is recognized by the tar-sands industry as a key spigot for the future development of the Alberta tar sands, which would emit 840 billion tons CO2e if fully exploited.
Interviewing Washington insiders who have offered various forms of support for the Keystone XL project, Davenport claims instead that “Keystone’s political symbolism vastly outweighs its policy substance.” To support the claim, Davenport then erroneously underestimates the global warming footprint of the pipeline by a factor of ten. Davenport’s crucial error is to contrast the actual carbon footprint of existing fossil-fuel projects — such as US electric power plants (2.8 billion tons) and tailpipe emissions (1.9 billion) — to the impact of the pipeline’s oil being dirtier than traditional petroleum, without explaining that she was switching measurements:
Consider the numbers: In 2011, the most recent year for which comprehensive international data is available, the global economy emitted 32.6 billion metric tons of carbon [dioxide] pollution. The United States was responsible for 5.5 billion tons of that (coming in second to China, which emitted 8.7 billion tons). Within the United States, electric power plants produced 2.8 billion tons of those greenhouse gases, while vehicle tailpipe emissions from burning gasoline produced 1.9 billion tons.
By comparison, the oil that would move through the Keystone pipeline would add 18.7 million metric tons of carbon [dioxide] to the atmosphere annually, the E.P.A. estimated.
[There are two side errors in the passage: Davenport uses “tons of carbon” where she means “tons of carbon dioxide equivalent”. One ton of carbon is the equivalent of 3.67 tons of carbon dioxide. All of her numbers refer to tons of carbon dioxide-equivalent. Secondly, the estimate was not made by the E.P.A. but by a State Department contractor hired by TransCanada; the E.P.A. cited that analysis but did not make the calculations.]
What the oil-industry contractor for the State Department actually calculated is that the oil that would move through the Keystone pipeline would add 147-168 million metric tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere annually, 1.3 to 27.4 million of which (central estimate 18.7 million from the draft assessment) are because tar-sands crude is dirtier than other petroleum sources. Those 18.7 million tons are the “incremental” or “additional” footprint of the pipeline, not the full 160 million-ton footprint.
Based on this order-of-magnitude measurement-switching error, Davenport incorrectly concludes that “the carbon emissions produced by oil that would be moved in the Keystone pipeline would amount to less than 1 percent of United States greenhouse gas emissions, and an infinitesimal slice of the global total.”
In fact, the carbon dioxide emissions produced by oil that would be moved in this single pipeline would amount to 3 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, and half a percent of the global carbon footprint. Only thirty-two countries have larger annual footprints than this single tar-sands project.
Climate scientist John Abraham made this point in The Guardian last week. “People who think Keystone is a minor issue don’t understand science and they sure don’t understand economics,” he wrote.
Putting aside any possible political and economic motivations to support the intentions of the global petroleum industry, the intellectual failure rests on an obvious error made subtle through convolution.
Whether one is looking at actual or incremental footprints of carbon-infrastructure projects, the results should be equivalent from a policy standpoint, although the numbers would be different. Why, then, does the incremental analysis used by the EPA and the State Department’s oil-industry contractors appear to give the absurd result that the Keystone XL impact is “infinitesimal”?
The methodology of incremental footprint analysis assumes a baseline of future projected carbon pollution, and then looks whether a given project would increase or decrease the baseline. The validity of incremental-footprint analysis thus depends on the baseline.
In line with scientific warnings, President Barack Obama and the U.S. State Department have committed to limiting global warming to below 2°C above pre-industrial levels. In the International Energy Agency’s 2°C scenario, global oil consumption would fall by 50 percent from current levels by 2050, within the intended operating lifetime of the Keystone XL pipeline.
The Keystone XL final environmental impact statement instead assumes that global oil demand will increase over that time period. The baseline used is the Energy Information Administration’s 2013 Annual Energy Outlook, which projects that global oil consumption will increase by 30 to 40 percent by 2040. In that scenario, the world would be on a pathway for rapid and catastrophic global warming of 4 to 6°C (or greater) by 2100.
No matter the analysis, the Keystone XL pipeline is incompatible with climate security. The global-warming impact of constructing Keystone XL is only “infinitesimal” if you assume catastrophic global warming is inevitable and that the signed climate pledges of the United States government are worthless.
Perhaps Ms. Davenport should ask Levi, Book, Bordoff, Morris, and Goldwyn if that is their assumption.
Update May 2: The Times has posted a correction:
Correction: May 2, 2014
An article and an accompanying chart on April 22 comparing the projected Keystone XL pipeline with other sources of carbon emissions referred imprecisely to projected emissions from tar-sands oil moving through the pipeline. Producing and burning that oil would emit 18.7 million more metric tons annually than would conventional oil, or far less than 1 percent of United States emissions, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The tar-sands oil would not emit 18.7 million tons total, but about 150 million tons, or less than 3 percent of United States emissions.
The correction itself is in error; the estimate of 18.7 million metric tons is not from the E.P.A., but is from the draft assessment prepared by TransCanada contractor Environmental Resources Management for the State Department.
On Wednesday, March 19, the White House, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) will host an event highlighting the Administration’s commitment to empower America’s communities with the information they need to prepare for the impacts of climate change. The event will include new announcements from Federal agencies, businesses, researchers, academia, and others to deploy data-driven technologies and leverage freely available open government data to build products and services that strengthen our Nation’s ability to prepare for the effects of climate change today and in the future.
The Obama Administration recognizes that even as we act to curb the carbon pollution that is driving climate change, we must also improve our ability to prepare for climate impacts that are already occurring across the country. The insights gathered from scientific data are essential to help communities and businesses better understand and manage the risks associated with climate change. The cutting-edge technologies built by American innovators and businesses must be harnessed in order to unleash the insights of science in ways that directly benefit communities on the front lines of climate change.
Over the past few years, the Obama Administration has launched a series of Open Data Initiatives, which have released troves of valuable data that were previously hard to access in areas such as energy, health, education, public safety, and global development. These data are being used by innovators, businesses, researchers, and the public to create new services and applications that benefit Americans.
- John Podesta, Counselor to the President
- Dr. John P. Holdren, Assistant to the President for Science and Technology and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy
- Mike Boots, Acting Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality
- Dr. Kathryn D. Sullivan, NOAA Administrator and Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere
- Dr. Ellen Stofan, NASA Chief Scientist
- Jack Dangermond, CEO of Esri
- Rebecca Moore, Founder of Google Earth Engine
- Rachel Kyte, World Bank Group Vice President & Special Envoy for Climate Change
- Joel Dunn, Executive Director, Chesapeake Conservancy
- Denice Ross, Director of Enterprise Information, City of New Orleans
- Stephen Harper, Global Director, Environment and Energy Policy, Intel Corporation
The event will also feature remarks, presentations, and demonstrations of data-driven tools by private-sector technology companies, communities, scientists, and other climate experts.
MEDIA REGISTRATION: This event is OPEN PRESS. Media wishing to cover this event must RSVP. Press holding White House hard passes must send their name, media outlet, phone, and email, to email@example.com, by Wednesday, March 19, at 12:00PM ET, with the subject line “CLIMATE.” Press not holding White House hard passes must include their full legal name, date of birth, Social Security number, gender, country of citizenship, and current city and state of residence. All press will enter the White House at the Northwest Gate.