CCAP's Helme discusses U.S., China plans on emissions

After addressing the United Nations on climate change this week, has President Obama successfully added momentum to the international climate negotiations ahead of the Copenhagen meeting? During today's OnPoint, Ned Helme, president of the Center for Clean Air Policy, gives his take on this week's U.N. special session on climate change. He discusses Obama's speech and talks about China's changing role in the negotiations.


Monica Trauzzi: Welcome to the show. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today is Ned Helme, president of the Center for Clean Air Policy. Ned, nice to see you as always.

Ned Helme: Thanks so much, it's a pleasure to be here.

Monica Trauzzi: Ned, a busy week for international climate talks. At a special session at the U.N. on climate this week President Obama spoke about the U.S. efforts to reduce emissions. Did he go far enough in his remarks to add momentum to the international negotiations?

Ned Helme: Well, I think it's understandable that people are little disappointed that it wasn't as bold as it could have been, but I think you really need to look at the longer pictured here and if we think back a year ago would we have thought we would be where we are in the U.S.? I mean give him credit, he put this on the table big-time after Bali and got the ball rolling. And now we've seen lots of other heads of state step up and announced release significant programs. China's announcement yesterday was quite important in terms of the nuances of what he was saying. So I think we have to give the administration some credit there, but I think they're being a little cautious. I think we could be a little more aggressive than we've been so far.

Monica Trauzzi: Why do you think they're being cautious?

Ned Helme: I think the history of Kyoto and the Byrd-Hagel resolution, the backdrop of you don't want to be too far out in front of the Congress and the Clinton administration was way out in front and then we couldn't deliver and clearly we don't want to do that again. We want this deal to close and to his credit that we do want the deal to close.

Monica Trauzzi: We had UNFCCC executive secretary Yvo de Boer on the show earlier this week and he said he was looking for the president to deliver two distinct messages, the first being a clear indication of what the U.S. thinks it could do in the future to reduce emissions. And the second was an indication of how the administration plans to help developing nations. Did he give the international community a clear enough picture of what the U.S. envisions for itself and for developing countries?

Ned Helme: I think the big picture was there, the clear sense of momentum, the sense of urgency. I think that was there and that was really important. I think, again, he could have done more. We have a better story to tell than we told. I mean the Waxman-Markey bill is really well designed to fit with the international treaty. It includes both a strong target for us and an additional target where we'll provide financing for developing country action. So it fits beautifully in the basic Bali action plan model of developing countries for the first time step up and say we will take action. It will be monitorable, reportable, and verifiable and we want at least one of the developed nations to put money on the table that's also monitorable, reportable, and verifiable and that money is in the bill as designed and I think we need to be saying that a little bit more. I'm optimistic that we'll survive in the Senate, so I don't think it's quite so risky to step up, but I understand why they're being cautious. They don't want to tick off some key votes. We need every vote and so you've got to be careful because if you don't have a deal in the U.S. you can't play in Copenhagen.

Monica Trauzzi: During a second speech, this one before the U.N. General assembly, the president urged the world to forge a new spirit of multilateralism and not necessarily look to the U.S. for direction on a variety of issues including energy. So it is the president essentially telling the world that they should act in the U.S. will follow?

Ned Helme: You could read it that way. I guess I would read it a little differently. I'd think back to where we were in Kyoto. Kyoto was really a dividing line. Developed nations will take targets and take actions and they will pay developing nations to make reductions to help them, help the U.S. and the others meet their target. Copenhagen is a different game. We're now talking about not a line, we're talking about a circle and we're trying to fill in the circle, complete the circle. And what we're seeing is, you know, Japan, amazing to go from -8 to -25; Australia over the last year, a dramatic move; us the election of Mr. Obama a year ago, now we've got to follow it, but we've started and move. India doing a lot of things at home. China doing things. Mexico bold kind of stuff. So you're beginning to see all the players around that circle standing up and saying this is what we're going to do. And I think what we need here is really that those players join hands and we all rise together, because everybody is afraid of competitiveness. Everybody is afraid I'm going to lose jobs and I think our problem is in the U.S. the ghost of Kyoto hangs over us more than it does some of the other countries and we're still in the Senate thinking back to, oh, what might we lose rather than what can we gain? What's out there? And I think what you see in China, Korea, different vision. I mean nearly half of their stimulus packages in those two countries was dedicated to green technology. We're proud of the fact that I think we did 80 billion, it's like less than 10 percent. They're doing 30, 50 percent. They see this as the new direction. This is the new opportunity. And I think we could be critical of the Senate, but I think basically - you know, think about it. We've only been really playing for a year. The Senate is getting up to speed. The House did their job, did very well. Senate is getting up to speed and we're beginning to weigh where we go. And of course the first reaction is are we going to lose things? But the second reaction needs to be what's that opportunity? Let's look forward. Let's stop looking back. Yes, we have to take care of that problem of competitiveness. It's a real problem. It's genuine. It's not gigantic. It's 5 percent of the emissions, but it needs to be done and we've got a good plan for doing that to help steel and cement and so on. But the other piece is this opportunity and I think that's what we haven't quite captured and I think Obama's vision of the multilateral is the idea that this is a circle and we're no longer the giant bully on the block. Yeah, we're a big emitter, but everybody counts and what's exciting is that most countries are stepping up, almost all of them. There's only a few that haven't and I think we need to do that, but we're going to do it in sync with our Congress and with that educational process for the Senate. Because I'm confident once the Senate gets past the narrow stuff and starts to look more broadly we'll really go somewhere with this.

Monica Trauzzi: You mentioned the news that China made this week the U.N. Hu Jintao signaled his country would move to reduce emissions by a notable margin. His words were notable margin. So does that make China a world leader on climate change as some people indicated after that speech? Is it a big deal?

Ned Helme: Well, I think it's a big deal in the sense that the nuance, that as you noted he said carbon. Up until now we've been talking about energy efficiency, which makes sense, and they've been ahead of us. They depend on oil imports just like we do and they've been out there, you know, cars standards, efficiency standards and so on. But yesterday was the first time he said, "We'll do carbon intensity per GDP." That's significant. There's a lot behind what China is saying. They have an aggressive energy intensity program, big reductions, one and a half billion tons from that, aggressive car standards, aggressive renewables, a lot of good stuff happening. And that's behind, they aren't saying as much up here as they are back in Beijing. But I think this is a signal that they're ready to really step up. Tactically you don't play all your cards yesterday, so they didn't play all their cards, but it's a signal, I think, that we're going to see a lot more cards before we're done. And when Mr. Obama goes to China in November I think that's a key moment here where we have enough. Well, the Senate committees have moved so that you can say, well, we're going to do this and we're going to put some money behind it and China can step up and say what they're going to do. So, I'm still optimistic. I mean we can be too focused on this and we can say, oh, not enough happened, but I think the ball is rolling. Sarkozy from France said, "This isn't about tinkering. This is about the leaders getting up and saying we're ready to play." And I think we're beginning to see that.

Monica Trauzzi: And Yvo de Boer had told us when he was here earlier this week that he really saw this as a make or break week for the negotiations. So you think we're in a positive place in terms of where we go from here?

Ned Helme: I do, I do, because I think we're stuck in the negotiations in the UNFCC if we don't have these signals from the leaders because negotiators can do around the diplomats, around the details, but the big picture, you know, are we going to step up and put real money on the table? That has to come from outside. And the Europeans, a week ago, did it. They said five to €15 billion, $20 billion we'll put up per year to support. That's important. That's a signal. It's not the final deal. They've got to get all the heads of state to agree, but we're seeing it. It's coming together in the movement by India, even though he didn't say much yesterday. We're seeing on the ground India now has a cap-and-trade program for energy efficiency across eight industries. Who would've thought it? A year ago would you have said that? I wouldn't have. We've worked in India. I would have said, ah, come on, and yet there it is. So, I think it's coming. It's just we have to be a little patient here.

Monica Trauzzi: Final question here. I know you're in touch with the various committees that have jurisdiction over the legislation in the Senate. Has there been any indication that the Democrats might make a last ditch effort before Copenhagen to move this legislation? I mean what kind of timeline are you hearing from them?

Ned Helme: Well, I'm basically in the Senate Public Works Committee, which is the lead committee. We'll have a bill next week on the table and we'll mark up in the next couple of weeks, so I think we'll see that movement. And some discussion in the Senate Finance, Senate Finance is ready, you know, the staff has been told have something drafted, be ready to play. And that gets complicated because we've got the health bill and it gets out of committee, does it go to the floor? Do you do it on the floor before you mark up in the committee on the climate bill? But my sense is people are ready. Probably it's a long shot to get the bill passed on the Senate floor before Copenhagen. But if I see action in Finance and inverted energy enacted, Finance, Foreign Relations and EPW have done their thing, we've got a good sense of the shape, I think that's good enough to play in Copenhagen.

Monica Trauzzi: Okay, we'll end it right there. Thank you as always for coming on the show.

Ned Helme: My pleasure, had fun.

Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.

[End of Audio]



Latest Selected Headlines

More headlinesMore headlines

More headlinesMore headlines

More headlinesMore headlines

More headlinesMore headlines