An environmental group that made its name battling on behalf of pandas, polar bears and pelicans now is fighting for what it fears is a politically imperiled species: U.S. climate legislation that has a global perspective.
The World Wildlife Fund spent the past year lobbying zealously for a bill that would provide assistance preserving forests, funds to spark demand for clean technologies in developing countries and money to help the most vulnerable countries adapt to climate-induced changes. It won almost none of what it wanted in the legislation from Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.).
The group now is forming strategies to persuade lawmakers that those international provisions are necessary and that climate legislation needs to become law.
"We need to do a better job of explaining why it's in America's best interest" to include international provisions, said Lou Leonard, WWF's director of international climate policy. "We need to explain all of it, and hopefully each of those reasons will resonate with different groups of people, and we'll be able to build enough support to get it in."
The effort comes as part of WWF's stepped-up lobbying campaign. The organization, which operates in 100 countries, is a relatively new entrant in climate lobbying but shifted its approach more than a year ago. Climate change increasingly is seen as one of the biggest threats to biodiversity, Leonard said.
WWF boosted its lobbying by more than 600 percent in the past year, spending $2.2 million from March 2009 through March of this year. The amount is still small compared with other groups and companies that lobby on climate and energy legislation.
Leonard said WWF changed its strategy because Democrats currently control Congress and President Obama appeared eager to pass climate policies. "We just decided it was the right window for us to weigh in," he said.
In summer 2009, WWF spent $1 million lobbying, trying to "create the conditions for the Senate to prioritize climate legislation," Leonard said. And in the first quarter of 2010, WWF spent more on lobbying that any other environmental group.
In an election year, WWF's international priorities face a difficult sell.
"I don't sense an appetite in Congress to use taxpayer dollars ... to spend money in other countries to help them purchase new technologies," said Adele Morris, policy director for climate and energy economics at the Brookings Institution. "I don't detect a lot of enthusiasm in Congress to spend a lot of money even on adaptation.
"My sense is there's not a lot of enthusiasm for transfers abroad of almost any kind," Morris added. "That's money leaving the U.S. economy."
Leonard believes there is a way to make the pitch.
"There's an education lift in explaining to people why this is good for American jobs and American people," Leonard said. "There are good stories to tell about why this should be included even with a frame that this is about the American consumer and the American economy."
WWF persuasion efforts include both conversations with lawmakers and driving grass-roots activism by joining with local groups in states such as Alaska and Montana. Workers in those states talk with people about how climate disruptions affect the habitats species rely upon, Leonard said. The goal is to create awareness, he said, that leads people to contact lawmakers and urge them to pass legislation.
"Climate change is already threatening those places and the species that depend on them," Leonard said of Alaska and Montana. "If you care about these places you have to care about climate change."
In Alaska, WWF teamed with a local group that talked to fishermen about how climate change makes oceans more acidic. Alan Parks, outreach coordinator for the Alaska Marine Conservation Council and a commercial fisherman for 35 years, traveled around the state meeting with people about the climate issues.
"We're kind of living on a knife's edge up here," Parks said. "When people understand the facts and the science, fishermen in Alaska, they understand we need to do something."
At the same time, Parks said, fishermen are concerned what climate legislation could mean to their fuel costs, but "they're receptive to it, you bet."
WWF's efforts yielded results in last year's House-passed bill and a measure that passed the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, but the Kerry-Lieberman plan unveiled last week was a setback.
WWF is a member of InterAction, a coalition of environmental groups, religious organizations, groups focused on the poor, and clean-technology businesses that want the international language. In a statement, InterAction said it was "deeply disappointed" with the new bill for what the coalition called a lack of international aid, particularly help for driving the demand for clean technologies.
"These investments are squarely in America's interest," the coalition said. "Without these investments, we will miss a critical opportunity to create new American jobs, help avert global instability, foster our national security, and mobilize the global climate action needed to solve a problem that is already affecting communities here in the U.S. and around the world."
In crafting the bill, Kerry knew that it "had to take a haircut, and that hurt many priorities that deserved greater investment," the senator's spokeswoman Whitney Smith said. "We stretched every dollar, and we did it with an eye toward getting 60 votes.
"John Kerry has personally traveled to almost every international climate summit since Rio, and he's passionate about international adaptation," Smith added. "He believes, though, that for President Obama to win backing for a fulsome and binding international treaty, it's key that the Senate pass a comprehensive bill, and once we have a treaty then as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Kerry will be able to win support for robust adaptation and forestation money. Kerry will fight until the last dog dies to make that happen."
The Kerry-Lieberman bill includes some money for adaptation, helping vulnerable countries prepare for rising seas, stronger storms and weather catastrophes. But the funding is far less than what was allocated in the House climate bill (H.R. 2454) or the bill (S. 1733) introduced last year by Kerry and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.)
Both Senate climate bills and the House bill set aside free carbon allowances for adaptation. Those could be sold and then the proceeds spent by a U.S. agency or through the World Bank to help other nations.
The Kerry-Lieberman proposal initially gives adaptation 1.5 percent of the allowances, split domestically and internationally, and not available until 2019. It grows to a peak of 6 percent in 2034, when the program ends.
The Kerry-Boxer bill, by comparison, gave adaptation allowances that started in 2012 at 1.25 percent, and topped out at 5 percent from 2027 through 2050.
The delay until 2019 in the Kerry-Lieberman bill is problematic, Leonard said. "It's critically important to get that on the ground as soon as possible so countries can prepare and plan," Leonard said. "If you're not able to plan and prepare for climate destruction, 10 years from now that climate destruction is only going to be a lot worse."
Obama pledged at U.N. climate talks in Copenhagen, Denmark, last year that the United States would help mobilize $100 billion annually by 2020 to help the most vulnerable nations adapt to climate change. But Congress could approve that outside a climate bill, Morris said.
There is a section in the Kerry-Lieberman bill devoted to preventing deforestation but without money attached. The House climate bill allocates 5 percent of its free allowances for that purpose.
The forest provision is important, Leonard said, because preserving trees reduces overall carbon emissions. He argues that funding to prevent forest deforestation helps the bill's "overall climate integrity" and that the carbon reduction level that the bills seek of 17 percent below 2005 levels would rise to 27 percent with help for forests.
"The forest piece, we're really hoping that can be restored as the bill moves forward," Leonard said.
WWF also argues that a forest provision helps reduce the overall cost of the bill to U.S. companies because they can invest in saving forests in lieu of buying greenhouse gas allowances, an option known as an offset. That kind of program is backed by Duke Energy Corp., utility American Electric Power Co. Inc. and several other companies.
The money, as WWF sees it, would not be purely to protect forests but rather to launch programs that would help countries be ready to measure and monitor their forests so that they could qualify as an offset.
But offsets were one of the more controversial elements of the Waxman-Markey bill.
While offsets can bring down the cost of compliance, their validity can be hard to prove, said Ted Gayer, co-director of the economic studies program at the Brookings Institution. And measuring how many emissions have been avoided "is enormously difficult," Gayer said.
With offsets to prevent deforestation, Gayer said, it is impossible to measure what kind of emissions reductions might come without an offset program versus with one.
"It's ripe for abuse," Gayer said.
There were forecasts around the time of the Waxman-Markey bill, the Brookings Institution's Morris said, that businesses that emit carbon would buy offsets six times more often than they would chose to lower emissions or pay penalties in the cap-and-trade system.
There is no mention at all in the Kerry-Lieberman bill of help driving demand for clean energy technologies in developing countries. The House bill had set aside 1 percent of its free allowances for that effort.
To create demand for clean energy technologies, Leonard said, the United States through the State Department, Commerce Department or other agencies would talk with other countries' governments and business leaders about options to nurture clean energy. Those could include tax credits and mandates that power companies produce a certain about of electricity from clean sources, called a renewable electricity standard, or RES.
Developing countries lack the resources to even assess what level of RES would be appropriate, Leonard said. Figuring out where to put in a wind farm also takes money these countries do not have, Leonard said. And a small amount of U.S. money, he added, could be leveraged to drive private investments.
Leonard argues that creating demand for clean technologies abroad would allow U.S. companies to export products they have developed, which in turn could lead to job creation.
"We're leaving jobs on the table that this [provision] could create," Leonard said.
Andrew Stevenson, research assistant with Resources for the Future, said there is a legitimate argument that money for clean technologies abroad can drive American jobs. Poor countries are focused first on adding power for their citizens, he said, and are going to do it in the least expensive way possible, which normally means coal and other fossil fuels that emit greenhouse gases.
"If we increase funding for clean technologies, they would accept new renewable energy deployment," Stevenson said, which could reduce overall world greenhouse gas emissions.
"To the extent it's manufactured in the U.S.," Stevenson added, "hopefully it would help increase our exports."
Because solar and wind are manufactured largely abroad, he said, the United States is more likely to export technologies like carbon capture and sequestration.
But Morris said pushing for an RES or similar provisions in other countries is politically problematic.
"Not only should we adopt more expensive energy domestically, but we should pay for it abroad?" Morris said. And, she noted, "what they're doing is proposing more expensive energy abroad for poor people."