Experts discuss the outcome of the recently concluded Paris climate talks and its implications for future climate change diplomacy.
David M. Rubenstein Senior Fellow for Energy and the Environment, Director of the Maurice R. Greenberg Center for Geoeconomic Studies, Council on Foreign Relations
Senior Advisor, Emerson Collective; Senior Advisor, Google X; Former Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, U.S. Department of Energy
GOODMAN: Welcome, everyone, to this morning’s call about the climate negotiations in Paris and what these—what COP21 means. I’m Sherri Goodman. I’m the president and CEO of the Consortium for Ocean Leadership and a former defense official and long-time member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
We have a great two speakers with us this morning, Andy Karsner and Michael Levi of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Let me remind you that this call is on the record. And what we’re going to do is I’m going to introduce our speakers and question them until 10:30. And then at 10:30 we’ll open the floor for your questions.
So Andy Karsner is the founder and chairman of Manifest Energy. And for our discussion today, you know, he’s really got four important things you should know about him. He’s a former climate negotiator in the Bush administration; worked on the Bali roadmap. He’s a senior adviser on energy at Google X. He’s involved with Emerson and energy investments. And he chairs the board of Conservation International, which has been very active in force protection and other aspects of climate from the conservation side.
Mike Levi, who most of you, I’m sure, will know, is a long-time senior fellow and terrific analyst and scholar at the Council on Foreign Relations and has done path-breaking work on climate change, clean energy, China, nuclear matters, and more things than I can really name here. But he’s really led the field. And both of them were in Paris for the climate negotiations.
So let’s see. I’d like to start with both of you; ask a question that, you know, we often ask at Passover, which is why is this night different than any other night? But why was this climate negotiation, Andy and Mike, different than other climate negotiations?
KARSNER: Mike, you want to do it, or you want me to kick off?
LEVI: You go for it.
So, first of all, thanks, Sherri. But let me correct you. I don’t want to take anything away from Rob Walton as chairman at Conservation International. I’m on the board, chairman of the Science Committee, but not chairman of the board. So I don’t want to get any random calls there. But—
GOODMAN: Battlefield promotion there, Andy.
KARSNER: (Laughs.) Appreciate that.
Well, one could say it was different because it was successful. That’s the first demarcation. And then you’d say, well, successful at what? Wasn’t Kyoto successful? Wasn’t Berlin successful? Wasn’t Bali successful?
You know, over 23 years you had a process, beginning in Rio, that has—that never anticipated a 23-year journey to a durable implementation agreement. And so, very early on in Berlin, as I mentioned, we began to bucket the nations of the world, unfortunately, in a very static way, between developed or developing. And we didn’t assume any dynamic or account for anything like what would transpire in China or India or BRIC nations that would account for their growth and their role in the world and the dynamics of their economy and their role in technology, and, of course, most importantly, their dominant role in being largest emitters, and fastest-growing emitters in the case of China.
So we had to back up and reverse course from Kyoto, which solidified these static buckets and really sort of implied a wealth-transfer mechanism that was unrealistic and non-commensurate with the nature of the world and developing nations’ aspiration and true growth and contribution to both emissions and economy.
And as you may recall, over the course of the Bush administration there was much consternation over the rejection of Kyoto. And there was a bit of a stalemate for a period of years over to Kyoto or not to Kyoto. How do we succeed this? How do we build upon it? Was it sort of the Europeans’ position?
Ultimately, that deadlock was broken in Bali, although at the time many of the principles that were accepted in Paris were largely reviled as seditious to Kyoto or undermining the original intent. And what we established in Bali was precisely the change of a top-down mechanism of implementation, mandates from the U.N., forced wealth transfer from static buckets. And we moved into the mechanism that ultimately evolved into Paris, which was a bottom-up fix of national voluntary targets contributed in the aggregate that nations could monitor with some regularity of basis, and have enforcement through mutual accords of measurement and verification while we infuse technology and finance.
That got stalled a bit, if not derailed, in Copenhagen, which was a very messy and unfortunate underperformance of expectations. But, cleverly, the Obama administration moved into deep bilateral relationships, both in the diplomatic track and establishing Track II relationships with China and India, which culminated in the U.S. bilateral with China, the two countries themselves constituting approximately 50 percent or more of global emissions, let alone economic output. And that was fundamental in setting the benchmark that we would be returning to nationally devised bottom-up voluntary best efforts plans, which are really the core of this agreement.
And I would add that this agreement really—Paris was really the last stop for this process. In many ways, we distilled out almost everything that could be contentious and got to a place that said, if the world doesn’t agree now on this document with this level of voluntary contribution, with this level of non-enforceable aspiration, then we—it is unlikely we will find agreement at all. And I think after a very long-winding journey, everybody wanted to see an agreement and ultimately subscribe to the thesis that we need a universal global framework in place that agrees to acknowledge the problem, agrees to acknowledge the solution and objectives and acknowledges that we don’t have all the answers here, but we can set forth a process and turn the corner on problem identification and move into mechanisms of problem-solving.
So I think that is—culminates into signals that come out of Paris. And then the interpretation of those signals varies quite widely, and the impact, but now is when the real work and assessment begins as to what it all means and what is the efficacy of what has been passed.
LEVI: So Sherri, I know in the—
GOODMAN: Great. Thank you, Andy. Mike, go ahead.
LEVI: I know that in the traditional form, the question you ask elicits four answers, but I will stick to two. I think the biggest difference between Paris and what came before is something Andy has emphasized several times: It is the bottom-up nature of the agreement rather than the top-down approach that has been taken in the past. And by bottom-up I really mean two things.
First, countries come with what they think they can do rather than having negotiators around the table try to divvy up effort. And that matters for a big reason: Climate change policy is almost entirely about domestic policy, and domestic policy is mostly driven by domestic politics. Climate negotiators don’t have the power to resolve the future of their country’s energy systems, and it never made sense for them to sit around the table trying to do that. So what the Paris process has done is taken the politics of climate change as they actually exist in the real world, driven by national politics, and tried to work with that rather than against it, tried to take that and add something to it rather than pretending that that’s not how the world works. And so it’s a big piece of why it’s successful.
The other—the other piece of what I mean by bottom-up is that while there are legally binding elements in this deal around transparency and other measures, the actual emissions cuts are not legally binding. People who have studied international relations over time have consistently concluded that the stricter the legal form of an agreement, the less ambitious the participants within in will be willing to be. And in this case, those driving the agreement side, they wanted more ambition, even if it was at the extent of less formal legalism. I think they thought that. That’s the first big difference is that this is bottom-up rather than top-down.
And I think the second difference—bottom-up doesn’t actually distinguish Paris all that much from the five previous U.N. summits. Copenhagen tried to do bottom up. The ones that followed it tried to do bottom-up. But I think one ought to give some significant credit to the exercise of diplomacy in the case of Paris. The French were very successful in making sure that all the participants felt like they were part of the process. But even more than that, they were very successful in not aiming too high. They set expectations that were commensurate with what the international process can achieve, not with some expectation that this was going to save the entire world. And by setting reasonable expectations and then skillfully managing the process, they were able to get a good outcome.
But we should remember that what we’ve done is meet a modest objective. We’ve moved the objective down from what it was in Copenhagen, and we’ve met that more modest objective. That means we still have a lot more work to do. So some of the hyperbolic headlines about how this is the end of fossil fuels or the agreement that will take us to two degrees centigrade, those are overdone. The bulk of the work that matters still remains within countries, within their domestic policies, within their domestic politics to actually bend the emissions curve.
GOODMAN: OK. Thank you very much, Mike.
There’s been a lot of discussion about how this agreement unleashes market forces to advance the new clean energy economy. Can you talk a little bit about this market signal? Is it real? What’s—and what’s going to happen now?
LEVI: Toward the end of the Paris talks I regretted not publishing a list of Paris jargon at the beginning. But I wouldn’t have known to expect that the catchphrase of the summit would be “market signal.”
I think that the headlines are a bit overdone. I don’t see people directly shifting large amounts of capital specifically and directly because of the Paris agreement. The way I think the Paris agreement affects markets is by affecting the politics of climate change, which in turn can shift policy, right? So that’s the mechanisms. Firms and people respond to the policy environment. That is set by national governments within the context of national politics. What Paris does is give a broader sense that most countries are rowing the same way and that for one to act won’t undermine it competitively against others. And that increases the odds of strong climate action, which in turn should create market opportunities. But we can’t forget that it’s that translation into domestic policy that’s the critical link between Paris and markets.
KARSNER: Yeah, so I’d answer that a slightly different way while at the same time agreeing with what Michael has said about the sort of indispensable role in policy, particularly domestic policy, under this construct of catalyzing—being the greatest catalyst for a signal. We saw that yesterday when we renewed, you know, the Bush investment tax credits for solar that had been eight years—I think now we’re into a six-year re-up. People didn’t actually predict that that was likely to occur between the Congress and the president. Now that it has occurred, most of the solar stocks yesterday rose by as much as 25 to 30 percent in a single day. So there is no question that domestic policy, as Michael has stated it, remains a prime catalyst.
But I would supplement that analysis by adding that you have specific decisions that are made outside of the policy context. And we don’t know what the magnitude of the signal is on those decisions, but it is fair to assume that there is a cause and effect.
Over the last 10 years, for example, many C-suites in some of our largest-cap corporations have included an—a chief sustainability officer. I mean, when I began in business, this wasn’t even sort of a title. It might have been somebody from an NGO on the outside or sort of a goodwill person who wrote white papers. Now many corporations—you know, Unilever, Dow—you know, have large infrastructures around a sustainability officer, who is forming and accounting for whatever the environmental or emission-related measurable trends are for a given large-cap corporation’s footprint. You know, you have Rex Tillerson endorsing a carbon tax. These things were sort of unthinkable a decade ago. So there is an effect in the large-cap boardrooms where people began saying, I don’t know what all of this means, but I do know there are contingent liabilities which may be out there if I don’t begin to develop a strategy for how I’m going to assess what it means and begin to invest appropriately or depreciate assets appropriately.
I agree with Michael that it is largely, at this point, sort of overstated in the simplest kind of way. But at the same time, we want to be careful not to understate the fact that there is in fact some signal that is out there and will continue to be out there as long as the process holds viability, and as more—increasing generations of executives enter into the work stream.
So not just the large caps, but private capital formation—here, I’m thinking equity, and investment, and even debt products—irrespective of the Green Climate Fund and large appropriations that may never be met that are largely aspirational. All of that acts as a catalyst that I see very directly in the capital markets. Now, again, the money hasn’t found a home. It’s not some dramatic shift all of a sudden away from hydrocarbons and into renewables. But it has set people thinking onto what is the best strategy, what does all of this mean? I suspect that’s what a lot of the callers called in today for, is to say: How do I begin collecting the right information to comprise the strategy that we—to compose the strategy my entity or platform needs to begin thinking about this in an advantageous way.
GOODMAN: Thank you, Andy. And let’s follow up on that by asking, what—will the Paris talks lead now in the U.S., and on our domestic politics, to helping break the logjam on climate change in the U.S. Congress, and lead to any of these concepts, like the carbon tax?
LEVI: So that’s a large bridge to cross, but I do think we’re seeing significant action in the United States, or at least the potential for significant action. Just this week we have a proposed budget deal that has come out and that trades removal of the ban on oil exports for a pretty big extension—essentially a five-year extension of the investment tax credit that supports solar installation, and basically a four-year—three-to-four-year extension of the production tax credit that supports wind. A colleague of mine and I have an analysis that we’re just wrapping up that we hope to get out later today.
We’re pretty confident that this is a trade that is a net win for climate change. It’s something where two sides have been able to come together. I actually think that it is the first serious trade of something on the fossil fuel side for something on the zero-carbon energy side since Andy was driving the show back in 2007. That’s eight years. So the potential for—if this is—if this goes through and signals a new period where we can actually make bipartisan deals on climate change, then I think we’re going to have to rethink what’s actually—what’s actually possible.
Now, I mean, the Paris deal tilts the politics of that at the margin. I mean, this budget deal has been in the works for ages and it’s not really affected by Paris, but as we go forward—and it’s going to be harder for people to say we can’t take action because China and India aren’t. We’ll still have the rest of the domestic political barriers to action. Anything significant will result in large dislocations within the economy—winners, losers. That always makes things politically difficult. But on the margin, this reduces the—this should reduce, particularly if we implement the transparency measures properly, and these are central to the agreement, it should reduce fears that we’re the only ones doing something and China is just taking advantage of it.
KARSNER: Yeah, I couldn’t possibly say that, you know, better than Michael. And I will tell you that it came to me with some surprise that, you know, if you’re—if you’re looking at the backwards lens of dysfunction that something this intelligent and functional emerged from this Congress. And so it’s almost a shocking signal that the adults are somewhere back in the room influencing the crafting of intelligent legislation and compromise. And I—so I take that to heart and say, well, what else might we be doing? Is this an aberration, or is this a new—the first steps on a journey back to the business of legislation, rather than deferring to executive orders and judicial action?
I am a strong believer that this agreement, which is the derivative of a ratified treaty, ought to be subject to ratification. I think the Constitution make it rather clear, notwithstanding the strategic efforts to craft the language and the words just right to avoid the process of ratification. If it’s not ratified, it will end up remaining to some degree of contentiousness through time, because it’s not going to go away. However, this is—I indicated quite publicly that this is the cheapest price the Republicans could possibly pay for endorsing a climate accord of any kind, because functionally these are the principles that originated in a Republican administration to reverse Kyoto, to which the Republicans had so much objection.
And with non-enforceable national aspirations recognizing the sovereign jurisdiction of the United States to determine its course, in the way that it did with legislation yesterday, it really should be an easy lift to say, OK, we’re in. We will do our part to do what we have always done, assess our best future by investing in science and technology, and research and development, and deployment and commercialization, to enhance our energy system and our conservation. It’s almost just an affirmation of U.S. policy, with an added incentive to pay attention and to talk globally about it.
So I don’t think it’s beyond the realm that we may ultimately send this for ratification and ultimately get it ratified. I don’t see a plausible way that that happens in the next—at least until the lame-duck period post-election, but probably into the new presidency. But in the meanwhile, I suspect that there will be lots of conversations, dialogue, and education curves with the Hill, beginning with calls like this and discussions elsewhere, that say this isn’t—this isn’t, you know, your father’s climate treaty. This isn’t sort of a Bush v. Gore dynamism. This is really turning the page on the U.N. process that was set up 23 years ago, and beginning to say: How are we participating in the world based on things we already do, and with heightened attention.
LEVI: Let me add one small thing to what Andy said. I’m not—I’m not in quite the same place on ratification, although I agree fundamentally that the more buy-in we have from a broad spectrum, the more effective this agreement will be around the world. I was struck by a piece that former Senator Chuck Hagel wrote a few weeks ago. For those of you steeped in the lore of climate change, the Byrd-Hagel Resolution passed by Congress in July 1997, 95 to zero, was essentially what set up Kyoto to fail before Kyoto even existed. It set conditions for a climate agreement that Kyoto could not meet.
And Chuck Hagel wrote a piece a couple weeks ago saying that the Paris agreement is now heading in a direction that would meet the Byrd-Hagel standard that the Senate established. So it makes sense for the Senate to now reconsider this in the context that they themselves laid out. And I think it’s good to see some convergence among—some convergence between what Congress has been demanding and what the administration is actually doing.
GOODMAN: OK. Thank you both. My last question before we open it up for Q&A is what does this agreement mean for U.S. global leadership?
LEVI: Well, I think the United States gets a lot of credit for being a leader within this process—one leader among many. I mean, Andy pointed to the bilateral diplomacy with China that helped prepare the groundwork for this. There were other big players—the Brazilians played a big role, the French obviously played a huge leadership role. But I would say more broadly that we ought to be thinking about this kind of structure, one that takes bottom-up national efforts, but adds something to them so it’s not just an ad hoc coalition of the willing, adds transparency, adds the system for updating, adds mechanisms for helping countries build capacity to deliver. We should be thinking about other areas of policy, whether that’s cybersecurity or financial stability, that we can apply this sort of model to. The top-down treaty model is increasingly ill-suited for a lot of the challenges we face. And the completely ad hoc model is insufficient when there are opportunities to cooperate that we’re not taking advantage of.
So this could be an opportunity for U.S. leadership if the United States took this sort of approach and tried to implement it elsewhere. And for that to be successful, I should say, it will need to make sure that this agreement is properly followed through. This is far from done.
The agreement has broad parameters, but we have to flesh out the transparency rules. They could range from fantastic to pretty terrible. We have to flesh out the rules for updating national efforts. We have to flesh out national policies. There’s a lot to be done to establish the credibility of this agreement, but then it could provide a platform for doing a lot more.
KARSNER: That—you know, that’s well said. I would—you know, I think first you’ve got—it’s a great question, Sherri. And I think first you’ve got to sort of parse the question of how are we viewing ourselves? You know, what’s the definition of leadership we’re applying to our 21st century paradigm?
You know, many of us who graduated life through the Cold War, you know, it was always sort of this heroic bipolar tension. And you had—our views of leadership are based on, you know, sort of the quarterback leading the team and running the show and head of the pack and calling the plays. And there’s still some sort of, you know, legacy aspiration for that in some quarters.
But the truth is, in diplomacy like this, on a multilateral basis, with significant partners, the major economies, but even this greater whole-planet, 195-country weigh-in, this is a very, very messy scrum. OK, this is much more akin to rugby, with zigzagging. And how do you move the scrum in a direction that ultimately achieves a goal, you know, sort of locked in shoulder to shoulder?
And it’s—we’re transitioning right now in America to understanding how to optimize our role, integrated in a multilateral system that way. And this was a success for that kind of diplomatic transition. We did successfully move the scrub in a catalytic way.
You know, not a lot of people are aware, you know, at the time they were saying, oh, the U.S. is so bad about climate and everything else. But a majority of the data and the inputs and the scientific funding that goes to validate and verify the assumptions about climate change and climate science comes from the United States—comes from our stations in Antarctica and Hawaii and our sensors around the world and high-altitude satellites and so forth.
And so that leadership has always been there but has been disconnected from sort of the political acumen and the diplomatic expertise to move the scrum successfully and in a way that is reflective of where we are for collaboration in the 21st century.
I would also say two other things about U.S. leadership in this respect. We have and we host so much of what is spawned in the NGO community. You know, NGOs weren’t a thing when I was a kid. There was kind of nonprofits and Rotary Clubs and, you know, civic actors. But global NGOs, like Conservation International or the Nature Conservancy or World Wildlife Fund, et cetera, World Resource Institute, their role in helping fill the delta and sharing expertise and acumen amongst this broad group of 195 countries and bringing people up as we ratchet up the targets is going to be fundamental and critical, and in many ways begins to eclipse USAID or the State Department.
But these things sort of originate in America in a de Tocqueville kind of way that people look to the United States. And even though these are global organizations, the capacity of the NGOs to step up and integrate means and mechanisms for people to achieve the targets or raise their aspirations is going to be an element of U.S. leadership in this.
And then finally I would say—and it’s not lost on people that, you know, Paris’s terrorism event and Paris’s great success here were just separated by days. And you could feel sort of the melancholy or unusual need for connection through the city. And that added to the environment that cultivated the prospects for this agreement, but it also highlighted to me an error that we had over the course of the Bush administration in thinking we could neatly compartmentalize our geopolitical security interests from what most of the world was viewing as natural security. And that’s particularly true if you’re a low-lying state like the Maldives or Kiribati somewhere in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
And so the idea that we could compartmentalize and make distinct or separate global relationships in a war on terror or in the pursuit of our geopolitical interests, we sort of stripped that off now and said, you know what, you’re dealing with the same counterparties, with the same global dialogue, and this is an integral part of it; so really recognizing that we don’t have the luxury of neatly saying we only want to talk to you about a war of the willing in Syria, but we only are going to talk to you about something completely different; the drought in the Middle East on a different channel, in a different way.
Ending that kind of artificial barrier in our dialogue with foreign partners also, I think, reflects highly on our leadership and where it’s moving.
GOODMAN: OK, that’s great, Andy and Mike.
I’m going to remind our listeners to get your questions in the queue, because I’m going to ask one more and then we will go to questions, unless we have—Leila, can I say, do we have any in the queue right now? If so, we’ll go to it right now.
ADLER: We do have one question in the queue.
(Gives queueing instructions.)
We do have a question from James Bacchus from Greenberg Traurig.
Q: Thank you very much. Am I on the line now?
ADLER: Yes, sir.
Q: All right, thank you.
Mike, Andy, I want to congratulate you on all you have done and continue to do on this issue. I’m just back from Paris myself, as I think Mike knows. I’ve been helping the COP on some of the legal issues, and I’ve been on the point for the International Chamber of Commerce on a lot of the business issues.
Andy, I agree with virtually everything you said. The main thing I wanted to say is I hope you can continue to say it, and more widely. I do disagree legally that we need to get this ratified. But politically, ideally, I would agree with you it would be helpful.
Here’s what I’d like to ask as it relates to my friends in the Republican Party. The Bush administration, I think, had pretty much the right idea about what we needed to do in climate in terms of bottom-up, market-driven solutions. But we’re missing your kind of voice, and it’s making a real difference in the U.S. approach on these issues.
The fact that so much of the Republican Party has opted out has diminished what we need to do, in my view, to add to emphasizing the necessary need to stress market-driven solutions. We have a situation in Paris where they don’t even want to use the word market. We can talk about cooperative approaches. We can’t say market. But then we have to add language about non-market approaches, whatever they may be.
And then worse, I think, the absence of an affirmative Republican support for doing constructive things on this issue reinforces the unfortunate knee-jerk tendency in my own party, the Democratic Party, to tend toward regulatory solutions, which are more costly and accomplish less environmentally, according to all empirical studies.
So my question is—
GOODMAN: Can you go to your question, please?
Q: Yes. My question is, do you see any change in this going forward on the Republican Party, especially as it relates to your point about geopolitical security?
KARSNER: You know, I’m hopeful about the change. I don’t have—you know, I know many of—from years of collaboration, know many of the members of the Senate and the House. But I don’t have my pulse, given where I’m sitting in Silicon Valley, on what’s going on with precision.
But knowing the history, you know, knowing that the 2008 Republican platform included planks on climate change and the legislation was sponsored by our standard-bearer running for president, John McCain, and that a coalition was built for bipartisan legislation with our now secretary of state, John Kerry, with Lindsey Graham, and that at least 10 Republicans were accounted for back in the day to go for such legislation, had Harry Reid allowed it go to the floor, whatever its result, we didn’t sort of reward Republicans when they came out for these issues. And the realpolitik is, in Washington, if you actually want to get something done, you have to be able to give credit away. So my approach, both on policy and politics, while serving in public service, was to share as broadly as possible credit with anybody who wanted it who was transactional enough to execute something. We’re now in such an incredibly dysfunctional phase of politics in Washington, notwithstanding yesterday’s agreement, that nobody wants to share credit. In fact, nobody—everybody wants to appoint blame. And that’s a—that’s a toxic environment.
But many of the good leaders who are sensible on these issues are still around, right? And I think they’re sort of biding time and waiting for their moment. But they need Democratic counterparties that are prepared equally to say, let’s just depoliticize this. Let’s not make this us against them. Let’s actually figure out how do we get a coalition to endorse this. Now, whether that’s by resolution or ratification, ultimately we need to serve our democratic processes in the United States and have a robust discussion and dialogue and debate for our nation to help the country climb the learning curve and to get to some consensus about how we feel about an issue that’s going to be with us for a century or more in all likelihood. So this is a low-price time for the Republicans to endorse Republican-originated principles that were originally rejected by Democrats and say, oh, that’s now here. It’s coming at a low cost. I would expect you would begin to see the mullings and convenings of a Lisa Murkowski or Rob Portman or others to say what is the sensible way to engage on this issue, and how do we pursue it.
I have no timetable for that because as I said, we’re in the back—we’re in the bottom of the eighth and ninth inning of an administration that’s had a fairly toxic relationship with Congress. So I don’t think that there is anybody probability of rewarding all the past challenges. But I would say that the next president, whoever he or she may be, should move to detoxify this, to depoliticize this, to get greater buy-in and to share the credit on problem-solving and solutions as a matter of bringing us to consensus rather than fundraising on the polar extreme ends of how do I keep as political and advantageous as possible.
GOODMAN: OK, so let me ask a quick follow-up on that. Given that, Andy, and the dominance of the climate security frame in this—by the administration on the framing of threat multiplier, which dates back to the—my CNA military advisory board and work of others in the national security community, do you think that helps now further shift the debate for—and the context for Republicans? We’ve seen some new joiners recently, Gibson—Congressman Gibson, about 10 other Republicans have joined onto a resolution on climate security. Does that have enough momentum to move Congress?
KARSNER: Yeah, thanks, Sherri. I’ll try to be brief. You’re—you know, first of all, thank you for your work, which was instrumental on this going back more than a decade. But I would—I am absolutely of the belief—and I came to government in response to geopolitical national security events—that you cannot separate national security interests of our nation from the natural security context of all the systems that support us. And so whether you are talking about threats to our largest bases, which are well-documented and measurable with military precision in terms of what we do at Norfolk, et cetera, or whether you are talking about the, again, measurable threats that are coming out of the Pentagon and the National Security Council, et cetera, now many of it declassified in terms of refugee movements, migrations, droughts, et cetera, we can’t run our own geopolitical interests and national security strategy in the—devoid of all the inputs of what is actually occurring in our world that impact security.
So I think more and more people are getting the memo. It becomes more obvious with each manifestation of this. And as I said, I think there is a learning curve there. And I think politically, it’s going to be in the interest of people who have been skeptical to embrace that learning curve and understand how to apply their own principles and strategy to what looks increasingly like a consensus about a convergence of natural security and national security.
GOODMAN: OK. I believe we have another question on the line.
ADLER: Yes, ma’am.
(Gives queueing instructions.)
We are now holding for questions.
Our next question comes from Leah Trahun (ph) from the State Department.
Q: Hi. I write for Climate Partners and ShareAmerica. And my question, I know at the beginning you said that the—where money is going and that it’s still in the formulation stages. But there are some—there are dollars coming from outside governments for R&D, like from people like the Breakthrough Energy Coalition that Bill Gates announced. What kind of research—I mean, where are those dollars going, where would you predict, into what type of research? And how important is this kind of input going to be?
LEVI: So for those who weren’t following the talks day to day, the Breakthrough Energy Coalition was an announcement on day one of the Paris summit, where Bill Gates and a set of other wealthy investors challenged governments to double their spending on R&D, and then those individuals and entities would put several billion dollars of their own toward clean energy innovation. I think there are a lot of question marks still around exactly how they will deploy that. But ideally, in their indications that this is what they have in mind, ideally it will be targeted as bridging what we call the valley of death.
So there is R&D that you could view as small-scale, broadly distributed, take a lot of bets through government labs, support for companies, universities. And then the other end, once you have mature technologies, most risks have been removed, you have massive private capital that’s available for profitable deployment. But in between, there is a lot of work that needs to be done to remove technology risk, to do the first few plants, to drive down costs, where the investor needs to be very patient. They need to, in the case of energy markets, be willing to provide quite a large scale of capital. And they have to be willing to take risks.
And there has been a dearth of capital in that space. There have been some, and Andy’s been important in mobilizing some of them and targeting some of that. But there isn’t enough. There haven’t been enough, particularly for capital-intensive projects that require 10-plus years of patience. And if the Gates and company money gets targeted to that space—and that could be really transformational. It could help bridge the gap between the labs and deployment, give us more options for cutting our emissions. That would drive down emissions without policy but also open up the political space for more aggressive policy on top of that.
Let me add one thing about how this connects with diplomacy. Bill Gates and these partners might have come out with mission innovation or breakthrough coalition regardless of whether Paris happened. But my sense is that Bill Gates was mobilized in part by Paris, that he looked and said, there is going to be this big focus on climate and clean energy; what is it that I can do in order to add to what’s happening? What can I do using this spotlight to mobilize others? And that’s a really important part of what’s coming out of Paris. And that’s part of why this five-year cycle for revisiting efforts and updating them is important. It will shine a spotlight every five years and make it easier I think for leaders to persuade others that now is the time to get together and do more outside of the policy space.
Q: Thank you.
GOODMAN: OK. Next question.
ADLER: Thank you.
(Gives queueing instructions.)
Our next question comes from Abby Smith, InsideEPA.
Q: Hi. Thanks for holding this call. So I guess my question is for Andy, but also Michael you can answer this too, kind of going back to what you were saying about, you know, this is the time for Republicans to kind of come together on this issue, and moving into the next presidency, this could be a time where this might be able to be ratified or some kind of resolution of approval. But, you know, a lot of the Republican candidates are indicating that they would try to pull out of the Paris deal or walk back some of the Obama administration policies on this issue. So I guess my question is, is that possible if there is a Republican in the White House next or—and how likely is it that a Republican president would pull out of an agreement like this?
KARSNER: So we can all just speculate. I mean, this is a highly unusual presidential primary season for more reasons that this call has time to deal with. But we only need to worry about one Republican candidate, right? So whatever amount of shrill and search for a constituency that the larger cast of characters is searching for, you can probably appropriately discount their probabilities and wipe them out of your mind in terms of handicapping the risk of the question.
So then the question is, well, who is the probable candidate and what is their probability to be elected? And then assuming they are elected, what would be the probability that they would act in a way that you’re describing, if they had been one of those self-stated saying they are pulling out? Right now, this is a long road to tow to look at this cast of characters and say what their election probability chances are.
But let’s assume one of them emerges and goes to the White House. I think you’re into a bit of a Guantanamo analog to say the very least. You know, I intend to do something based on these principles that significantly placates my base and is a core pillar of where I am in the primary process. And in the practical reality of dealing with my global engagements and all the information set I have at my disposal at the State Department, National Security Council, et cetera, breed a new reality and a new political way to deal with that reality.
So I have confidence that, whoever becomes president, that the agreement will endure, but the embrace of the agreement or the effective utilization of the agreement in terms of correlating it to national plans may be modified slightly depending on who holds that office, how much enthusiastic embrace and correlation of the national plan do they put into it. I think, again, that’s cheap, no matter who, because the United States sort of leads on most of these things, whether we give ourselves credit for it and wrap Paris around it or not.
But that’s the only thing I would anticipate would be modulated. I don’t actually believe that there is a scenario where a sitting president of the United States, no matter what their primary chatter is, would say: I think I would like to handicap my position further in global diplomacy as I look for all these other priorities to deal with Syria, or Russia, et cetera, but creating another front that I don’t need to create on this particular issue.
GOODMAN: Thank you, next question.
ADLER: (Gives queueing instructions.)
Our next question comes from Linda B. Miller from Wellesley’s (sp) College.
Q: Wellesley College, yes. Thank you.
I’d like to ask the guests what academics should be doing at this time.
LEVI: You should be heading out on Christmas vacation, if you’ve finished grading the final exams.
LEVI: But when you get back from Christmas vacation—look, I actually think this is an interesting moment for research on international cooperation on climate.
Q: I agree.
LEVI: And I think—I think there are two veins for that. One is backward looking. So Andy and I gave our pop takes on what worked with Paris differently from elsewhere, but I think there’s actually a lot to be done to look over recent years and ask what has changed, why did things change when they did. It’s not like the bottom-up approach is new. It was proposed in 1995, and earlier, but the world chose a different one. So there’s a lot to learn about why we chose the paths that we do.
And then I think there’s a lot of applied research going forward. So we’re going to have to build a set of transparency rules, a system for reviewing countries’ efforts, a process for updating. Those are things that other international regimes have done in different forms. The trade regime has something called the Trade Policy Review Mechanism that reviews countries’ efforts in a collaborative way. The International Monetary Fund, IMF, has its Article 4 review process. And there’s a lot of deep understanding in the academic world about how these processes work that ought to be applied to the climate space. So rather than having climate people just invest something from scratch as if we have no experience with what works and what doesn’t, let’s take that deep knowledge of what works in other spaces and apply it here.
I think the last thing I’d say that’s important, and this is for scholars to work together with people in markets and business, but I think there’s a growing body of understanding about how to successfully integrate business and markets into international agreements and international diplomacy to really get the most bang for the buck. And figuring out how to use our knowledge on that, how to improve our knowledge, how to apply it to this, I think, could be very valuable.
ADLER: Thank you. At this time, I am showing no further questions in the queue.
GOODMAN: OK, I’m going to ask one more question now before we wrap up in five minutes. Let me ask you both, if you were in the administration now either at OMB or at one of the agencies, how would you be thinking about adjusting your future budget submissions to account and accommodate for this agreement?
KARSNER: So I don’t know that we need substantial budgetary modification in this sense, that we already—with probably exception of China, which is probably very close—I don’t actually have the most recent data—but we already generally outspend the world on investment in science and relevant R&D, and even not—in this case not China—but deployment capital and mechanisms, or some of what Michael talked about earlier in terms of bridging a valley of death for new technologies. We are already significantly in the top tier.
Jim Connaughton, when he was chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality, began a process of measuring and aggregating all of those things through a climate lens, across the agency process, which I think has been fortified and strengthened under the Obama administration, and I would strengthen it further. You know, our agencies are not terribly agile, from the time they are born to—through their evolution, at collaboration with one another. There’s a great deal of redundancy quite often, and unfortunately competition and lack of collaboration. This is one that really requires all of the agencies to be involved, particularly Ag, and Energy, and EPA, and Interior, and Transportation, you know, and all of the research community across the federal government.
And so I think better ways of interagency collaboration and measurement and more efficiency in the objectives not only will enhance the impact of the output of the United States government, it will yield better results on Capitol Hill with respect to the inputs and the possibility of confidence in having a coherent strategy and approach to how we apply funds. And Paris gives us a framework in terms of the national plan to begin measuring ourselves across all of those agencies in performance.
But really, that’s blocking and tackling. That’s how do we improve as a government and how do we manage ourselves. I think that there’s just as much room for communicating to ourselves, to our Congress, and to others, all of the good that we do so that we can be more of an exemplar and less confusing as to what our relationship is to the issue. And if I were at the White House, again, I would—I would try to play a coordinating role with respect to that.
LEVI: So, Sherri, I will take the OMB piece literally. I think we ought to be devoting more money to efforts that help other countries build their capacity to pursue policies that they already want to pursue. We talk too much in the climate space about how to pay people to do things or how to make them have more ambition. I am confident that China has plenty of ambition to clean up Beijing’s air. I am not confident that it’s capable of doing that. Same thing for India and New Delhi.
And you don’t always get the big headlines for announcing that you’re going to help build capacity for environmental regulators, and help train people to be more effective inspectors, and really make countries able to translate ambition into reality. But I actually think there is a lot we can do for a very small price that helps countries meet their goals, rather than hectoring them to increase those goals that they sometimes can’t even achieve in the first place. So this technical cooperation, cheap, not too sexy, real potential for impact.
KARSNER: Well, let me just add, Michael, I left that out, and you are absolutely correct. That is a key place where we should be focusing. I think of the large marine conservation areas that we did at the end of the Bush administration that were since expanded, but now have gone really global when you talk about the Pacific and the wideness of that area.
So our capacity to think about the use of drones in marine conservation, or measurement, or sensors of assessment so that we get to globally, intelligently understanding the measuring, monitoring all of the changes and impact. And facilitating technical assistance, that’s a light lift for us to give real efficacy to this agreement and fund some of those initiatives. It’s an incredibly positive, diplomatic approach, that is both effective for the agreement, but more effective for our relationships and leadership in the world.
GOODMAN: Yeah, so let me just echo that because we see that type of science cooperation occurring globally. It’s often been, as you noted, under the radar, but it can reinforce what we’re trying to do on the diplomatic stage. And we saw that in the post-Cold War period, when we used environmental cooperation to further our post-Cold War objectives in mil-to-mil and other fields.
Let me thank you all for joining us today. And let’s give a special thanks to Michael Levi and Andy Karsner for their excellent presentations and discussion. With that, we are concluded.