U.S. climate legislation 2009
NewsNotes, November-December 2009
In June the House passed HR 2454, the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES) bill and on September 30 Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA), chairs of the Foreign Relations Committee, and Environment and Public Works Committee respectively, unveiled a draft climate change bill called the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act scheduled for markup in mid-November. The following analysis points to three critical areas where these bills can be improved for the U.S. to respond equitably and adequately to the threat of global climate change.
Globally, the U.S. has historically been the country with the highest level of greenhouse gas emissions. At this point the U.S. bears the responsibility to put in place an aggressive program to both power down and to cut these emissions by shifting to cleaner energy. While members of Congress are interested in creating new green jobs, their targets for emissions reduction are far too low.
The House’s ACES bill would reduce carbon emissions from major U.S. sources by 17 percent by 2020 and over 80 percent by 2050 compared to 2005 levels. The House expects that complementary measures in the legislation, such as investments in preventing tropical deforestation, will achieve significant additional reductions in carbon emissions (up to 23 percent by 2020). The Senate proposal from Sens. Kerry and Boxer aims to reduce carbon emissions by 20 percent by 2020 using the same 2005 baseline; it sets a mid-term target of 53 percent reductions by 2030 and a long term target of 83 percent by 2050.
Analysis from the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), based on the best science currently available, supports a 35 percent reduction of carbon emissions based on a 2005 baseline. This panel and the international community are using 1990 as a baseline for all levels of reduction which U.S. legislators refuse to do. By moving the baseline from 1990 to 2005, legislators give the appearance that they are complying with scientific recommendations, but according to the 1990 baseline, the Senate’s proposal represents only a seven percent reduction of emissions.
Offsets and carbon markets
While the ACES bill sets targets for carbon emissions reductions it also provides for a maximum of two billion tons of offsets per year for U.S. capped entities. U.S. based industries that reach their “cap,” or limit of greenhouse gas emissions, would be allowed to purchase international offsets, up to 1.5 billion annually; and domestic offsets up to one billion tons annually. Additionally, the legislation strips the regulatory authority from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to set performance standards for new and existing coal fired plants. The Senate draft proposal is an improvement in that the EPA maintains its authority (though it is hard to know whether it will stay in the bill as it is introduced) and the Senate version favors domestic offsets over international offsets.
Revenues from the sale of carbon pollution permits will be dedicated to a number of programs aimed mostly at reducing domestic energy costs (26 percent would go to fossil fuel based and energy intensive industries for cleaning up their own pollution, and to encourage them not send jobs overseas). Only seven percent is to be invested overseas, mainly to reduce tropical deforestation, and only one percent is to be used for international adaptation.
In theory, international offsets reduce the cost of achieving global emission reductions based on the thinking that it is cheaper to cut pollution in “developing” countries than it is to do so in “developed” countries. However, offsets delay emission reductions, actually allowing U.S. emissions to increase for an additional nine to 20 years relative to today’s standards according to Congressional Budget Office data. And in practice, the international Clean Development Mechanism established by the UN’s Kyoto protocol as a global carbon market has failed to meet its dual goals of reducing costs of cutting GHG in industrial countries and promoting sustainable development in less industrialized countries.
Countries suffering the most intense effects of climate change are for the most part the least responsible for greenhouse gas emissions. As one of the historically highest emitters of GHG, the U.S. has the moral responsibility and obligation to fund programs that will help people in vulnerable countries adapt to climate events. Catholic Relief Services and other international development agencies are urging Congress to allocate $3.5 billion of the funding generated by any climate and/or energy bill passed to international adaptation programs starting in 2012. They hope this is increased rapidly to $7 billion annually by 2020 so that people living in poverty around the world can be protected from the worst terrible effects of climate change.
As mentioned above, the House bill allocates only one percent of revenues raised from selling permits to pollute toward international adaptation programs. The Senate draft proposal contains placeholder language around authorizing funds for climate adaptation, but no specifics are provided.
Faith in action:
Write your senators and ask them to support the following recommendations for climate change legislation: No offsets; deep domestic greenhouse gas reductions consistent with IPCC recommendations; U.S. mitigation and financial obligations to developing countries not replaced by international offsets.