The United Nations conference on climate change kicks off today in Copenhagen, Denmark where Obama will make an appearance, committing the U.S. to cutting our greenhouse gas emissions 17% below 2005 levels by 2020. While this emission reduction pledge falls short of what the science tells us is necessary (25- 40% greenhouse gas emission reductions below 1990 levels by 2020 in order to stabilize CO2 concentration below 450 parts per million) there are encouraging signs that the U.S. is assuming its needed leadership role in global climate talks.
For starters, Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency will issue its “endangerment” finding today that greenhouse gas emissions constitute a threat to public health and welfare. This will trigger science-based regulations – a process that, while fraught with potential legal challenges, can deliver on Obama’s promise to commit the US to significant greenhouse gas emissions without the lobbyist-inspired congressional proposals that feature the same greenhouse-gas emission targets but with a heavy dose of corporate-utility giveaways, new nuclear power subsidies, expanded oil and natural gas drilling and the creation of a trillion-dollar pollution trading market that will be dominated by Wall Street. Indeed, Obama understands this, as his energy plan still assumes a 100% auction that requires all polluters to pay, thereby raising $627 billion from 2012-19, with 20% of that total dedicated to investment in clean energy technologies.
Public Citizen understands that climate change is a transformative event that requires us to rethink our corporate model of centralized energy production. Rather than promote market-based solutions to protecting the planet that will hand billions of dollars in windfall profits to polluters and Wall Street, we need a decentralized energy system where families generate their power needs from rooftop solar, small scale wind and massive new investments in energy efficiency.
Obama has led the way, highlighting the trifecta of diplomacy, regulations, and auctioning that reminds us that there are altermatives to the cap and trade Washington consensus that will only deliver new nukes, more oil drilling and more coal-power plants without a real change in our energy status-quo.
Tyson Slocum is the director of Public Citizen’s Energy Program