C2ES's Perciasepe says U.S. to pay diplomatic price if next administration rejects Paris deal

Following a major turning point in the global discussion on climate change at the Conference of the Parties meeting earlier this month, what role will the private sector and state and local governments play in helping the United States meet its commitments? During today's OnPoint, Bob Perciasepe, president of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions and the former deputy administrator of U.S. EPA, discusses the next steps for the deal, including Clean Power Plan implementation. He also talks about how a potential party shift in the White House could affect the deal's future.


Monica Trauzzi: Hello and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. With me today is Bob Perciasepe, president of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions and the former deputy administrator of U.S. EPA. Bob, thanks for coming back on the show. It's nice to see you.

Bob Perciasepe: Oh, my pleasure -- good to see you.

Monica Trauzzi: Bob, a major turning point for the global discussion on climate change coming out of Paris earlier this month. We really saw some significant action from the private sector at the meeting. Without that leadership do you think a less favorable outcome could have occurred? How critical was the private sector's action?

Bob Perciasepe: Yeah. Well, you can never actually pin that down with precision, but more so than any other conferences or parties that I've been to. The private sector was there not in force as just simply observing but in force in pushing, and that was a difference. They had many events, many commitments you saw leading up to Paris. Over 600 companies around the world had made some kind of commitment. Here in the U.S. 150 companies signed up to the White House pledge. Another 100 put a full-page ad in The Wall Street Journal. This was significant. This was significant, and I think we've gotten to the point where the business interests are starting to converge with the interests of dealing with greenhouse gas emissions.

Monica Trauzzi: Much of the innovation that will be required to achieve the goals of the agreement will happen at the private-sector level. So what do businesses here in the U.S. need from government in order for that innovation to occur successfully?

Bob Perciasepe: Yeah, some of the strongest things that business needs to move forward even faster than they already are going on innovation and creativity are those signals, and the Paris agreement itself is a signal that -- when you have 190 countries on Earth agreeing to anything, that's a pretty strong signal of a direction we're going in. In the U.S. you have many states and cities already sending those signals, and now with the Clean Power Plan bringing more states into the fold a lot of strong signals are being sent on the direction we're going.

Monica Trauzzi: And how instrumental were states and cities in getting the deal done and at the meeting?

Bob Perciasepe: You know, the way the deal is constructed in a very flexible, bottom-up approach for setting the contributions and a higher sort of top-down accountability and transparency approach, sort of a hybrid, what you saw was countries building their contributions based on what their subnational, local business community is doing. And in the U.S. -- the contribution that the U.S. made at the conference were based on what states are doing, already doing, what businesses are innovating on, like electric vehicles. All of that was taken into account.

Monica Trauzzi: And the Clean Power Plan, as you mentioned, it's going to be a huge part of the U.S. meeting its commitments. You've been working with states and stakeholders as they work on creating compliance plans. Are you confident that each state will submit a compliance plan?

Bob Perciasepe: I'm highly confident that most states will. There may be some that don't. There's a pivotal point coming up here on whether the courts will put a stay on the rule or not. I think it's unlikely, but once that hurdle is cleared I think the gates will open even harder for states to be working on their plans. And most states are already doing that.

Monica Trauzzi: So -- and that's a big question, too. In terms of its impact on the Paris deal if there is a stay or any kind of legal action against the Clean Power Plan, how does that impact the U.S.'s ability to meet its commitments?

Bob Perciasepe: Well, keep in mind this is a commitment after 2025 and we're in 2015, so there's 10 years that -- well, actually we're almost in 2016. So there's almost 10 years that are involved with this. And what you see in the U.S. is many -- California was there in force, Tennessee was there. You had states all over the country were visiting in Paris and participating in the process. And you already have 10 states in the country that have a price on carbon, you know, the Northeast and California. So things are happening already. The Clean Power Plan puts direction and emphasis on it after 2030, but some of those trends are already happening. And I think that came across very strongly in Paris, and I think there's a lot of discounting on what the legal action will be because they recognize this is a direction that we're already going in.

Monica Trauzzi: So as you spoke with negotiators and their teams in Paris, what were the discussions like about the Clean Power Plan? How big did it play?

Bob Perciasepe: Oh, it played very, very, very big, but in addition to the states being in Paris, which is not -- it didn't happen in the earlier conferences or the parties -- there were also a very strong showing of the American power industry was there. Many CEOs were there talking about what their corporate commitments are to be made. So it's not like the Clean Power Plan is irrelevant by any stretch of the imagination, because it sets the signals we were talking about earlier in this conversation. But I think what was also delivered in Paris by both the companies, the states and the cities -- there was a summit of over 100 mayors at the same time as the conference. The signal that was sent there to the negotiators was that these are things we are committed to across the board in the United States, and I think that that was very helpful.

Monica Trauzzi: As we head into an election year, a shift in administrations, potentially a party shift in the White House, what could the impacts be on post-Paris next steps if the White House goes to a Republican?

Bob Perciasepe: Yes, well, it's hard to speculate what will happen in a presidential election. I think Yogi Berra once said that comment that predicting the future is a tough thing to do. And so 190 countries agreed to this. For the United States to not be part of that, there'd be some diplomatic price to pay. I mean, you know, the countries that are not participating are countries like North Korea, you know, Syria. So there'll be a diplomatic price to pay to not participate in that process, and the same thing with the Clean Power Plan. It's supported pretty strongly in the United States by the public, the broad public, and again I think adjusting could always happen but I think it'd be hard to walk away without some political price. So it remains to be seen who gets elected, but whoever's elected, they're going to have to face those kinds of diplomatic and political issues regardless. It's not a simple like "I don't want to do it so I'm not going to do it."

Monica Trauzzi: All right, Bob. Great to see you, as always. Thanks for coming on the show.

Bob Perciasepe: All right, thank you.

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

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