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CFR Task Force Calls for Overhaul of U.S. Climate Change Strategy

Says Post-Kyoto Deal Important But May Prove Elusive, Complementary Efforts Necessary

Chairs: George E. Pataki, Counsel, Chadbourne & Parke LLP, and Thomas J. Vilsack, Of Counsel, Dorsey & Whitney LLP
June 13, 2008
Council on Foreign Relations

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Contact: Aerica Kennedy, CFR Communications, 202-518-3448, akennedy@cfr.org

Against the backdrop of increasing attention to energy and climate change in the presidential campaigns, the recent failure of the Senate to advance the Lieberman-Warner climate bill, and preparations for this summer's G8 summit, a CFR-sponsored Independent Task Force recommends an overhaul of U.S. domestic and foreign policy to confront the challenge.

Chaired by former New York governor George E. Pataki and former Iowa governor Thomas J. Vilsack, the Task Force says that the United States must leverage ambitious, comprehensive, and equitable action at home to advance an effective policy abroad. It lays out a U.S. negotiating strategy for a global climate accord, outlining what the United States should be willing to offer and what it should expect others, including the rapidly emerging economies, to do in return.

The Task Force cautions, however, that a comprehensive post-Kyoto climate deal will not be easy to conclude, noting: "Even as the United States pursues ambitious and mandatory policies at home, it should not sign on to an emissions cap as part of any global deal that does not include strong commitments to actions from the major emerging economies."

Even with an agreement, the Task Force concludes that "ensuring that the biggest emitters meet their commitments would still be a monumental task." It thus recommends creating a Partnership for Climate Cooperation that would focus the world's largest emitters, including India and China, on implementing aggressive emissions reductions. The partnership would complement efforts in the United Nations to get a global treaty.

The Task Force, Confronting Climate Change: A Strategy for U.S. Foreign Policy, is directed by the David M. Rubenstein Senior Fellow for Energy and Environment Michael A. Levi and advised by Adjunct Senior Fellow for Science and Technology David G. Victor. It comprises a coalition of twenty-nine prominent individuals from business, the environmental community, industry, labor, and academia and includes prominent officials from the Bush and Clinton administrations who have long been on opposing sides of the climate change debate.

The Task Force further recommends:

Ambitious Emissions Cuts:

  • "U.S. strategy for confronting climate change must begin at home," says the report. It recommends that U.S. policymakers support a "cap-and-trade" system that begins reducing U.S. emissions now and that sets a course for cuts of between 60 percent and 80 percent from 1990 levels by 2050, targets that should be revisited and revised periodically. "It can and should be designed in a way that avoids shocks to the economy and that does not impose undue burden on any particular part of society."
  • A cap-and-trade system should be buttressed by steps to reduce dependence on foreign oil, to improve energy efficiency through targeted traditional regulation, to support research, development, and demonstration projects, and to improve energy infrastructure.

Negotiating a Post-Kyoto Deal:

  • "Investment in [the UN] process is essential ... because a good UN deal would provide a strong foundation for global efforts."
  • As part of a deal, the United States should "be willing to commit credibly, along with the other advanced industrial countries, to its own near-term numerical targets for cutting emissions," but it "should not seek emissions caps" from developing countries, instead seeking specific "commitments from major developing countries to actions that would significantly reduce emissions from their expected path."

Creating a Back-up Plan:

  • Should UN efforts toward a strong deal in Copenhagen in December 2009 fail, the United States, along with the European Union, Japan, and others, "should be prepared to create a smaller agreement among countries that are able to implement robust and reliable domestic emissions caps and want to use emissions trading. This would ensure that the foundation for linking national systems into an international trading arrangement is not erased by the expiry of the Kyoto Protocol."

Launching a Partnership for Climate Cooperation:

  • "The United States, in concert with other major advanced industrial and emerging economies, [should] create a standing process that would bring together the world's largest emitters to implement aggressive emissions reductions." A Partnership for Climate Cooperation "would be a core element of a new strategy that would complement and strengthen ongoing UN efforts."
  • This "would be different from the valuable Major Economies Meetings that the Bush administration and several other governments have advanced, as it would be rooted in an aggressive effort to cut U.S. emissions and would focus on practical actions and implementation of specific strategies."

Building a Reformed and Robust Carbon Offset Scheme:

  • "The Clean Development Mechanism has ... been largely unsuccessful in encouraging real and significant changes in developing countries." "The United States should [build] a carefully designed 'offset' scheme into U.S. cap-and-trade law" that creates a "gold standard" for offsets and includes "not only energy and industrial activities, but also land use, including avoided deforestation." The Task Force cautions that "international offsets, while important, will play a limited role."

Caution on Trade Sanctions:

  • If necessary, trade measures could be introduced to pressure developing countries to limit their emissions. The Task Force, however, cautions that "trade sanctions should not be brandished aggressively," and should only be used "within a multilateral context."

Reducing Biofuel Tariffs:

  • "The United States [should] seek to reduce biofuels tariffs," but "only in a context where changes to tariffs do not ultimately encourage increased emissions."
  • It should also begin "phasing out domestic subsidies for mature biofuels such as conventional corn-based ethanol."

Support for Nuclear Power—Under the Right Conditions:

  • "So long as it is economically competitive, the Task Force strongly supports its growth in countries that already have nuclear power."
  • "Efforts to rein in greenhouse gas emissions by supporting the further spread of nuclear power [to other countries] should only be made in the context of a nonproliferation regime that strongly reduces the associated risks of nuclear proliferation."

Helping Vulnerable Countries Adapt to Climate Change:

  • "The developed world ... has a responsibility to help the societies that are most affected and least adaptive to [climate] harm that has been caused mainly by the industrialized world, including the United States."
  • "A large shift of development aid toward a narrow focus on climate change adaptation would be unwise." Instead, "incorporating climate considerations into traditional development aid is the most effective way to assist with climate change adaptation."

The Task Force urges policymakers to not ignore the important economic challenges involved in reducing emissions, noting that near-term costs "matter because they affect the livelihood of Americans." It argues, though, that a "properly designed and executed domestic policy ... can avoid unacceptable shocks or disruptions and smooth the transition to a low-carbon economy." It also says that climate policy "presents opportunities to strengthen important parts of the economy and create jobs, to rebuild U.S. partnerships and alliances, and to bolster energy security."


Independent Task Force on Climate Change

Timothy D. Adams, The Lindsay Group

Sally Benson, Stanford University

Aimťe R. Christensen, Christensen Global Strategies, LLC

Stuart E. Eizenstat, Covington & Burling

Thomas F. Farrell II, Dominion Resources

Sherri W. Goodman, The CNA Corporation

Shirley A. Jackson, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Robert W. Lane, Deere & Company

Jonathan Lash, World Resources Institute

Michael A. Levi, Council on Foreign Relations

Robert A. Malone, BP America Inc.

Jessica T. Mathews, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Ken B. Mehlman, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co

Steven W. Pacala, Princeton University

George E. Pataki, Chadbourne & Parke LLP

William A. Pizer, Resources for the Future

William K. Reilly, Aqua International Partners

Theodore Roosevelt IV, Lehman Brothers

Stephen M. Ross, The Related Companies LP

David M. Rubenstein, The Carlyle Group

David Sandalow, The Brookings Institution

Lawrence R. Scanlon, American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees

Lawrence H. Summers, Harvard University

Mark R. Tercek, Goldman Sachs & Co.

David G. Victor, Stanford University

Thomas J. Vilsack, Dorsey & Whitney

Timothy E. Wirth, United Nations Foundation

James D. Wolfensohn, Wolfensohn & Company, LLC

Philip D. Zelikow, University of Virginia

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