Serious Debate on Climate Change Begins in U.S. Congress

Apr 3, 2009 | What's New |

The Waxman Markey discussion draft “American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009”, released March 31, begins the serious debate in the U.S. Congress that will lay the foundation for the U.S. to take a leadership role in putting the world on a path to solving global warming. The bill includes the key ingredients necessary for a transition to a clean energy future: energy efficiency, renewable energy, modernization of the electrical grid, and a cap on greenhouse gas emissions.

The discussion draft is 648 pages long, and these are first impressions based on a less-than-thorough reading. (Click on more to read the highlights.)

The greenhouse gas caps in the bill begin in 2012 and are ratcheted down further until scientifically based targets are met:

2012: 3 percent below 2005 emission levels

2020: 20 percent below 2005

2030: 42 percent below 2005

2050: 83 percent below 2005 (approximately equivalent to 80 percent below 1990)

We are particularly pleased that the discussion draft addresses important equity concerns. It does this by:

  • Supporting the most vulnerable developing countries in adapting to the impacts of global warming through the creation of an International Adaptation Program under USAID.
  • Providing strong incentives to address deforestation, which is responsible for 20% of global carbon emissions.
  • Developing a Clean Technology Fund to support the widespread adoption of clean technologies by developing countries.
  • Developing Green Jobs through a program of worker training, education, and transition to support the growth of green jobs and the new energy economy.

Among the draft’s other highlights:

  • A renewable electricity standard requiring 25% of electricity be generated from clean sources by 2025.
  • A broad program of energy efficiency standards and investments. The bill would achieve efficiency improvements across the transportation sector while dramatically improving the efficiency of homes and businesses across the country.
  • Scientific Review: The National Academy of Sciences would review the emissions targets periodically in light of the best available science.
  • The EPA is directed to achieve an additional 10% of emissions reductions beyond the targets through programs to prevent international deforestation.

Key provisions of concern:

  • Silence on how hundreds of billions of dollars worth of carbon credits will be distributed – given away for free or auctioned. IPL believes these credits should not lead to polluter windfalls but rather to the achievement of public purposes. Auction revenue is key to providing needed funds for energy efficiency, reducing energy cost impacts on consumers (especially low income households), green jobs transition training, and adaptation and mitigation efforts for countries and communities most directly affected by climate change.
  • Emissions targets will need to be strengthened. To avoid the worst effects of global warming, there is broad scientific agreement that we must limit additional warming to no more than 2 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels. According to the IPCC, we have a reasonable chance of meeting this objective if developed countries as a whole cut their emissions by 25-40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 and by 80-95 percent below 1990 levels by 2050; within this time frame, major developing countries also must act.
  • While the bill largely protects states’ ability to set stronger renewable energy, efficiency, and greenhouse gas reductions targets, it would pre-empt any state cap and trade program between 2012 and 2017.
  • Allows for two billion tons of carbon offsets that industry could use to meet a portion of the emissions targets. There is a need for strong regulations to govern the quality of these offsets to ensure that overall targets are not undermined.
  • Allows coal plants to continue to be built without carbon capture and sequestration technology until 2015.

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