Remarks by Senator John Kerry on Climate Change
Below are the remarks of Senator John Kerry at the Brookings Institution conference on Climate Change Policy in
Washington, D.C., today. Remarks by Senator John Kerry AS PREPARED Climate Change Policy: What's Next?
Wednesday, February 9, 2005
I'm very grateful to the Brookings Institution for putting this panel together. I know that under Strobe Talbott's leadership Brookings is increasing its investment in environment and energy work-and nothing could be more important right now.
You have had a terrific discussion group this morning with individuals I have had the privilege of working with, all of whom have enormous expertise. They know this issue inside out and backward.
The challenge of global climate change is urgent and it continues to receive far too little serious focus on Capitol Hill, notwithstanding its importance to our security and the potential impacts-both positive and negative-to our economy. As you know, I tried to make the environment one of the central issues of my campaign, but with only one environment question in three presidential debates, we've obviously got a lot of work to do.
So here we are. Thirteen years after the Rio Earth Summit of 1992 and the world's first effort at crafting a global response to the threat of climate change.
It was at those talks that the American delegation, led by EPA Administrator Bill Reilly and under the tight control of the White House, ultimately embraced the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.
As we know, in that agreement, more than 100 nations accepted the scientific evidence that pollution is altering the composition of the atmosphere and set a voluntary goal to "prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system."
In other words, thirteen years ago we recognized climate change as a global problem in need of a global solution. We defined a global goal. And we set a path for future negotiations. It was a small step, but it was a first step, and it was progress.
It was then only a few years later that President Clinton started to build on the foundation laid at the Earth Summit. In Japan, Argentina and the Netherlands, I watched and worked with American delegates as they hammered out the framework of the Kyoto Protocol.
Thanks to the leadership of President Clinton and Vice President Gore, the Protocol sets the first-ever binding targets to reduce pollution and incorporates a distinctly American approach to a global challenge by creating a market for pollution credits that can drive efficiency, savings and innovation.
Let me emphasize: We knew at the time, the Kyoto Protocol was a work in progress after its initial negotiation. I counseled the President against submitting it to the Congress without more progress on developing nations. We knew there was work to do.
When President Bush took office in 2001 he had any number of options before him to move the ball forward. He might have used the bully pulpit to push for greater participation from the largest emitters in the developing world. He might have focused on targets beyond 2012. He might have pushed for a more robust trading program or greater technology transfer.
But President Bush took a decidedly different tack. He flatly rejected the active and mandatory approach of the Clinton Administration, and in many ways, he even rejected the incremental and voluntary approach of his father's administration.
Instead, in the months after taking office, the President questioned the underlying science, broke a campaign promise to cap carbon emissions from power plants, rebuked his EPA chief for positive comments about Kyoto, proposed an energy plan that would only increase pollution, and withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol and the international process altogether.
In sum, our nation has been forced into a great step backward in our work to protect the global environment.
This is not a political assessment. These are the facts. The Bush Administration made clear to all who cared to listen that America would not lead-nor would it follow-the global effort to avert harmful climate change.
It is a matter of policy, and the Administration remains disengaged to this day, despite the fact that the United States is the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases.
As you discussed this morning and after seven years in critical condition-the Kyoto Protocol in one week will enter into force without the United States.
And while the pact was left to whither, while many of its flaws remain unfixed and while its future is uncertain, its true importance may rest in what it says about America's changing relationship with the world and the future of climate change diplomacy.
Kyoto shows that our allies are prepared to set the global agenda without the United States. That is neither good climate policy nor good for the United States. Sadly, around the world, people are questioning our moral authority. People are questioning our commitment to universal values, such as environmental protection and sustainable development.
And our absence proves that while America dithers, others will act. And this is not without a price.
Just last month, Prime Minister Tony Blair cautioned us that, "If America wants the rest of the world to be part of the agenda it has set; it must be part of their agenda, too."
It's against this backdrop of retrenchment and isolation that the Bush Administration must decide its next move. It will come as no surprise to you that I have no privileged insight into the President's plans.
The President's dismissal of the science, his aversion to innovation and his skepticism of international cooperation present us with an even greater challenge.
Despite the scientific evidence that the threat is real, dangerous and irreversible, the political evidence is that ideology will trump reason in the White House, and there will be no affirmative, real "Next Step" for America until we have a change of heart and mind, or a change in leadership at the top.
So it is up to those of us who believe the threat is real to argue the case for action against the President's do-nothing policy.
There are clear principles that should drive and shape our actions as we do that. They are:
The science is compelling and demands action.
The challenge will become more difficult the longer we wait.
The problem and the solution are global.
Markets will drive down costs and drive up innovation.
Sound domestic policies will contribute to the strength of our economy, our security and the environment.
And at least for now, Washington is far behind the American people when it comes to understanding and meeting this challenge.
If we accept these principles, there is only one course of action. We must engage in the international effort.
The diplomatic issue is no longer Kyoto, yes or no. The world understands that we need to move beyond Kyoto. Kyoto is limited in time and participation, and it may well be limited in its success. But we should see it as a foundation for global cooperation with principles of binding targets and emissions trading that can serve as a blueprint.
Others nations are ready to start a dialogue about the future. Prime Minister Blair is capitalizing on his chairmanship of the G8 to press for broad, cooperative action. But the United States has stood alone and silent. That must stop.
We cannot wait for Kyoto to expire to consider next steps. We need to evaluate options now. We need to signal to the world that we are prepared to shoulder our fair share. And we need to put action behind our words, accepting the principle of binding pollution limits and engaging the developing world.
A number of proposals have been put on the international table, from a G8 program to promote renewable energy to technology funding to development aid to the Framework Convention. We don't suffer from a lack of ideas at the international level.
What we need now is leadership that engages the developing world. No climate plan can work without these nations and no climate plan can pass Congress without their participation. Their emissions may be a fraction of the developed world now, but without action they will skyrocket and soon exceed the largest nations of the developed world. That is unacceptable.
All of us are aware of America's tremendous leverage in the world economy. And with financial assistance and technology transfer-whether it is direct aid, export credit agencies or multilateral development banks-we can spur the growth of clean energy technologies. With a future agreement that rewards developed nations for sound investments in the developing world, we can show these nations that clean energy investments will stimulate and not stifle economic growth.
I believe developing countries can become partners in addressing climate change provided we engage and make it a matter of public health, economic growth, international security-and not just a matter of the environment.
And frankly, the same is true in developed countries, as well, including right here in America. We need policies that address both climate and our core economic and security priorities.
One place to start is with an economy-wide cap-and-trade system that sets a national limit on greenhouse gas emissions and allows companies the flexibility to trade pollution credits to capture the least cost reductions.
This is the approach we developed when dealing with acid rain years ago and has been embraced in a bill that I have supported with Senators McCain and Lieberman.
We know that trading drastically cut the cost of reducing acid rain emissions and now, inspired by Kyoto, the European Union is on the verge of launching the broadest ever pollution trading system. And I know from negotiations in Rio, The Hague, Buenos Aires and Kyoto that this is imminently marketable on a global basis.
And as we approach our national energy policy, certainly supply, price and our economic security must be priorities, but, frankly, so must the environment be a priority, on its own merits. That is why supporting national markets for domestic, reliable, efficient and clean energy technologies are so important.
That is why we must specifically target investments in our industrial base. During the past year, I put forward two proposals to do that. The first invested in the future of clean coal in America's energy supply. It dedicated resources to basic research, commercial viability, and technological deployment into the marketplace.
The second proposal invested in the transformation of American automobile manufacturing. We need to re-tool our auto plants to build the more efficient, advanced technology automobiles of the future.
I want the cars of the future built here in America, and we should create incentives to move in the right direction. I will push for both of these proposals in the upcoming debate on energy policy in the Senate.
But as anyone who follows this debate knows, there is fierce resistance to even incremental initiatives in the White House and on Capitol Hill. To wait for Washington to act by itself will be to wait in vain.
Instead, we have no choice but to encourage and embrace local, state and private action. As I traveled the nation over the past two years, I learned firsthand that Washington is far behind the American people when it comes to understanding and meeting this challenge.
It is not just that Americans have come to understand the threat of climate change through press reports. It is more powerful than that. It is that people are starting to experience changes in their hometowns.
In Arizona and Nevada, I met with officials trying to find solutions to the dwindling water supply after the West suffered through its fifth straight year of drought.
In Ohio, I spoke with hunters who have watched as the birds are changing their migratory patterns with warming temperatures. And I heard countless other stories.
It is not just that Americans want answers from Washington-it is that they are starting to see the answers in their own states and communities.
In Missouri, I spent time on a family farm tapping into the growing market for biofuels.
And in New Mexico, I learned about the state's push for wind energy and its benefits to the economy and the environment.
So while our capital city is gripped by special interests thoroughly invested in the status quo, our states have become the frontline of policy incubation and innovation.
State leaders see economic opportunities in producing and selling alternative fuels, exporting renewable energy, attracting high-tech businesses or even selling carbon reduction credits. We should be helping.
Governor Schwarzenegger-a Republican-has endorsed a 30 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions from motor vehicles sold in the California by 2015.
In the Northeast, nine governors, led by New York Governor George Pataki, are developing a multi-state regional cap-and-trade initiative aimed at reducing carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.
Eighteen states have created markets for renewable electric energy.
States are paving the way, and for many the environmental potential is significant. But all of this is still a patchwork of regional efforts-none of which will get the job done by itself. That is why we need national leadership to move us, as a whole, in the right direction.
We are at a moment in this debate that reminds me of my home state's efforts to reduce acid rain some twenty years ago. As Lieutenant Governor I found nothing but resistance in Washington. The White House criticized the science, the technology and the cost-and then threatened peoples' jobs.
With all the doors closed in Washington, we forged ahead with a state-based initiative for a regional plan to cut emissions through a tradable credit program. In the end, it provided political momentum and informed the creation of the federal sulfur trading program in the 1990 Clean Air amendments. And it is not only governments that are acting. Many companies are adopting voluntary pollution targets. Dupont-a $27 billion corporation operating in more than 70 countries worldwide-set a target to sharply cut its emissions by 2010, and exceeded its goal by 2002-eight years early. All in all, there are some 40 American companies that have voluntarily established targets to reduce their pollution. Executives want to be on the cutting edge of clean and efficient technologies. They manage global operations, including in nations that are party to the Kyoto Protocol. And while they may now be reluctant to support better policies in the United States, these companies understand the science, they see that regulation is inevitable, and in many cases they view the drive for climate solutions as a business opportunity.
The lesson here is clear: The American people see the irrationality of our national energy policy. They understand we cannot pollute the environment without consequence. They understand our dependence on unreliable foreign fuels is dangerous. They believe in our capacity to confront a challenge through cooperation and innovation. They believe in a better future forged by American leadership. And we need that leadership.
So for those of us who ask "What is Next for Climate Policy?," the answer cannot be to just wait on Washington.
We can do our best to inform the elected here in Washington, but they may refuse to change course. If so, we must inform the electorate and call on them to change the elected.
We have to educate and organize. We need your expertise-Brookings and others-to defend the science and advocate for action. We have to build the political will so that it is as strong as the special interests-just as we did when we created the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, the Environmental Protection Agency and environmental progress of the past 30 years. And we must build on the momentum of state and private leadership.
If we can do that, we can answer our own question: "What's Next?" We can answer it with real action to protect the global environment.
I look forward to working with many of you in the coming years, pressing our case inside and outside Washington.