Climate Change

Environmental Defense's Petsonk weighs in on Asia-Pacific energy summit

Top Bush administration officials are meeting with energy leaders from China, India and other nations in Australia this week to discuss how new technologies can address global warming. Annie Petsonk, international counsel at Environmental Defense, looks at the role for the White House, and also examines whether the summit could lead to an alternative to the Kyoto Protocol. Plus, Petsonk looks at the road ahead for climate change policy in Congress this year and discusses new regional climate regulations in the Northeastern United States.


Darren Samuelsohn: Hello and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Darren Samuelsohn. Joining us today in the E&ETV studios in Washington, is Annie Petsonk, the International Counsel for Environmental Defense. Annie thanks for coming on the show.

Annie Petsonk: You're welcome.

Darren Samuelsohn: 2006 is off and running and we already have a major climate event, if you can call an international summit a big climate event. And it's happening in Sydney, Australia, right now with the United States and five other countries. You're not at the table, but if you were sitting at the table during these talks what would be your point of view?

Annie Petsonk: The countries gathered in Sydney are going to be talking about how to share technologies that could potentially reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The difficulty with those talks is they are a dollar short and a day late. They're a dollar short because companies aren't going to share technologies for free. And while the Australian government has put down an offer of a significant amount of money it's going to be very difficult for the U.S. administration to come up with a similar offer simply because our budget in the United States is already considerably in deficit. They're a day late because in December in Montreal over 180 countries got together and launched the Kyoto Protocol's emissions trading market. And also last summer the U.S. Congress went on record supporting -- the U.S. Senate went on record supporting mandatory market-based approaches to slow, stop and reverse America's greenhouse gas emissions. And the Sydney talks, while they may be well-intentioned, don't satisfy the requirements that the U.S. Senate has put forward.

Darren Samuelsohn: This is the most important thing that the Bush administration is putting on the table in terms of its policies on global warming at this point in time. Do you think that they're going to make any sort of move away from where they're going right now going forward in their next three years in office?

Annie Petsonk: Well I guess the first question is, is it the Bush administration putting this initiative on the table? I was interested to see in some of the press remarks that much of the positive comments on the initiative came from experts who are actually funded by Exxon Mobil as part of Exxon's campaign to prevent any caps on greenhouse gas emissions. And as I understand it the countries meeting in Sydney are actually going to meet with Exxon while they're there.

Darren Samuelsohn: Sure, the industry people are at the table. Do you take exception to that in this case?

Annie Petsonk: Well, I've heard from a number of other governments that they find this whole Asia-Pacific initiative not very transparent. One very large industrialized country that borders on the Pacific actually told me that they had asked the administration if they could participate in these talks and they were told no. They reminded the administration that they are a Pacific country and they were still told no.

Darren Samuelsohn: Can you tell us what country that might be?

Annie Petsonk: Well, sure, it's Canada.

Darren Samuelsohn: Canada? OK. Do you have any sense, going forward I mean there are no caps and the administration won't talk about any sort of caps in what they're doing here? But they still say that it's stronger than Kyoto. That it's better than Kyoto because it incorporates air pollution issues, it incorporates energy security issues and trade issues. You see where they're going with this?

Annie Petsonk: Unfortunately the model that they're proposing is a model in which government chooses particular technologies and offers subsidies to companies that share those technologies. Our government actually doesn't have a great track record in picking technology winners. And as an environmental group we'd rather see the market make those choices. We'd rather see a competitive market in which anyone who comes up with a better, cheaper, faster way of cutting greenhouse gas emissions and growing the economy can make money.

Darren Samuelsohn: They're saying though that these are conversations that wouldn't normally be happening, that are going to be happening in Australia and going forward. I mean you have anything to say about the fact that you have the cement industry in the United States talking to the cement industry in one of these other five countries. Isn't that a good thing at least?

Annie Petsonk: It's a good thing, but frankly from my dealings with the cement industry their international trade Association is very good at bringing cement companies from around the world together. And it has already done so five years ago under the umbrella of the Business Council for Sustainable Development which put forward a sustainable cement industry initiative. So it's another example of a dollar short and a day late for the Sydney talks.

Darren Samuelsohn: You mentioned before Canada showed an interest in maybe coming to the table and you say that the Bush administration told them no. People have been asking the question will this expand out to more than six countries. Do you have any sense that the Bush administration and the other countries want to make this more inclusive for other countries?

Annie Petsonk: Well what several of the countries participating at Sydney have said is that they regard whatever happens at Sydney is simply a part of their climate change policy framework. And most of the countries at Sydney, four out of the six, already participate in the Kyoto Protocol. China, for example, one of the governments participating in the Sydney talks, has already put forward some of the largest clean development mechanism project proposals under Kyoto for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and getting credit for it.

Darren Samuelsohn: How does a country like Japan, which is actually implementing and in the Kyoto process, how do they fit into this if they're doing both it seems like?

Annie Petsonk: Well if part of what you're interested in doing is encouraging your industry to be able to have opportunities to meet with countries that might want to buy your technologies, the kinds of talks that are happening in Sydney are useful. They happen under a full range of bilateral and multilateral discussions, not only under the framework convention on climate change and Kyoto, but a whole series of bilateral and regional frameworks, not only in the Asia-Pacific region, but around the world. So in that sense the framework of bringing a group of countries together to talk about sharing technologies is not a Neuberger.

Darren Samuelsohn: OK. Let's switch over from the international front to just here in the United States and we are in a new year. There are three years to go in President Bush's second term and Congress is about to come back as well. Let's take it off piece by piece. First off the states are moving forward. Northeastern states have implemented their regional greenhouse gas program in the Northeastern states. Where is that going forward? Do you think that lawsuits are going to bring this thing down?

Annie Petsonk: It's a very interesting initiative that the Northeast states have done. Essentially they are creating a regional trading market to cap and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. And they've indicated that they're open to linking their market to other states and even other countries. So that initiative has tremendous potential to serve as a model for other states around the country. And we're hearing that other states want to bring similar frameworks forward. Of course there's a whole initiative in California as well. I think you can count on a few lawsuits to try to attack this initiative. And I would ask the companies that are funding lawsuits, in fact, I'd ask their shareholders, "Do you think that's a useful way of spending your money when the climate change problem is so huge? We need every bit of innovation directed at new technologies for cutting emissions rather than new lawsuits for bringing down efforts to cut emissions."

Darren Samuelsohn: You're not a lawyer, but do you have any sense, I mean legally is this thing something that's permissible going forward?

Annie Petsonk: Actually I have to admit it, I am a lawyer.

Darren Samuelsohn: You are a lawyer, I'm sorry.

Annie Petsonk: And I've looked very carefully at the legal foundation of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative among the Northeast states. I think it has a very solid legal foundation and I think there are very solid arguments going forward both for it and for other states and communities. In Montreal one of the things that was so impressive was that other countries got to meet directly with leaders from state and local governments who are moving forward here in the United States with measures to cut greenhouse gas emissions. And it was very heartening for other nations to see that while the U.S. administration may not be a fan of markets, across America there are people working to cut greenhouse gas emissions and move America toward the market.

Darren Samuelsohn: Let's look at the United States Congress. We're in an election year. Do you think that the Senate will try, again, to deal with issues of the McCain-Lieberman bill? We know that Senator Domenici and Senator Bingaman, their staffs are talking about a white paper, which is a far thing from legislation, moving forward. Where do you think Congress is going in the year 2006?

Annie Petsonk: I do expect the climate change issue to have a higher profile in Congress in 2006. I expect two things to happen. First, I expect a number of bills to be introduced. This is an important time, as the Kyoto market begins to take effect, for legislators to evaluate how the U.S. can enter that new market at some point in the future. So I do expect new bills to come out. I also expect there to be increased scrutiny on the lobbying that's gone into trying to stop legislative efforts to cap America's greenhouse gas emissions. And I expect that as the bright light of investigation is shined on these lobbyists who've been trying to stop these kinds of activities moving forward we will see some very interesting revelations.

Darren Samuelsohn: There have been votes on climate legislation over the course of the last couple of years. Sixty votes is about what the opposition has received and about 40 votes is about where we are for the positive side. Do you see that those 60 votes, that the lobbyists are really influencing those 60 members right now? And do you think that the insight, the investigations that are going to be going on related to the Jack Abramoff event -- is that going to actually you think have an effect on those 60 members?

Annie Petsonk: Here's where I think we'll head with that. I think that there are a group of senators, and I think the same thing is true on the House side, who understand that climate change is a serious issue. And they're beginning to tear away the veil of uncertainty about the science that some companies, Exxon, some of the coal companies, a few other companies, have thrown over climate science. As they tear that veil away and they see how serious the problem is and how urgent problem is I think you'll begin to see some senators switch their votes.

Darren Samuelsohn: One other last question for you. In Montreal there were members of -- international heads of state or heads of their environmental ministries talking about the effects of climate change, whether it be hurricanes, the tsunami was mentioned. And then even the mayor of Minneapolis, on the telephone call, he actually said that the ski races through his town were canceled because of a lack of snow. So we're hearing more talk about the effects of climate change. Do you think that anybody is pushing too far when it's really hard to connect one event to global warming? Is there a possibility that you could push too far and affect the other side and swing, sort of, public opinion against your position?

Annie Petsonk: One of the things that's been a very interesting development last year is that a group of scientists did an analysis of a terrible heat wave that occurred in Europe in 2003. Over 10,000 people died in this heat wave. And the scientists showed that the probability is that global warming was a contributing factor to that heat wave. So they did a very careful, very methodical probabilistic analysis. Those kinds of analyses are increasingly being done. You may have seen this week's New Yorker which has a very careful story written about a probabilistic analysis having to do with mosquitoes and the day/night cycling of mosquitoes, very important from a public health standpoint. And the scientists who conducted that analysis have proven, with a very high degree of certainty, that the mosquitoes are changing their patterns because of global warming. I think it will be these careful methodical analyses that are going to come into increasing prominence in 2006 against a backdrop of more intense hurricanes, more concerns about sea level rise and so on.

Darren Samuelsohn: OK. Ms. Petsonk, thanks so much for coming on the program.

Annie Petsonk: Thank you.

Darren Samuelsohn: Until next time this is Darren Samuelsohn for another edition of OnPoint. Thanks for watching.

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