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Published by National Journal at the Energy & Environment Expert Blog

When future scholars document the history of global warming, one of the watershed years will almost surely be 2010. For over a decade, the primary goal of U.S. climate policy advocates has been to establish a strong carbon pollution cap and a binding global emissions treaty. Armed with large war chests and major electoral victories, climate advocates had one of the best opportunities to achieve these goals.

This agenda has collapsed. In the aftermath of the Copenhagen climate negotiations and recent developments in the Senate, it is clear that carbon caps in the U.S. and globally will not happen for the foreseeable future. Meanwhile, the IEA projects global CO2 emissions will skyrocket 40% above 2007 levels by 2030, and the EIA predicts China’s emissions will more than double over the next 25 years – which would make its emissions greater than the rest of the world combined.

What happens next? The upcoming lame-duck session in Congress could be one of the last opportunities for national reform before 2013. There are a number of incremental proposals worth pushing, from the American Clean Energy Leadership Act, to Senator Alexander and Senator Dorgan’s Electric Vehicle Deployment Act, to Senator Kerry’s latest Clean Energy Technology Leadership Act. Some still hope for a Hail Mary lame-duck pass on cap and trade, but when asked whether it could be revived, Senator Reid recently said, “It doesn’t appear so at this stage. It doesn’t have the traction that a lot of us wish it had.”

But none of these alternative proposals contain one of the most critical elements for reform: a dedicated revenue stream to fund major federal investment in clean energy research, development, demonstration, deployment, and manufacturing, as well as infrastructure and workforce development. The American Energy Innovation Council, including business titans like Bill Gates and John Doerr, has called for an increase of $11 billion per year in federal clean energy RD&D alone – an idea that could attract serious bipartisan support after mid-term elections. This proposal enjoys broad support from groups like Breakthrough Institute, Brookings Institution, Third Way, ITIF, and many others.

These investments are critical for ensuring the clean energy accomplishments of ARRA aren’t imperiled as public investment falls off a cliff. They’re also critical for establishing U.S. competitiveness and driving down the price of clean energy technologies through innovation. If the price gap between dirty and clean energy technology isn’t bridged quickly, the world has little chance of avoiding climate destabilization as countries like China and India develop at break-neck speed.

Cap and trade could have originally provided this revenue stream, but now that it’s off the table, we must find an alternative. Potential sources include reduced fossil fuel subsidies, offshore drilling royalties, an oil import fee, a small fee on fossil fuel electricity, or even a low carbon tax beginning at $5 per ton. Another source outside the energy sector could be a small fee on financial transactions. This idea has beenproposed as a way to fund the $100 billion international climate assistance package, and could be applied domestically to reduce speculative trading and support a new growth industry.

Meanwhile, the possibility of achieving a binding global emissions treaty at the upcoming UN climate negotiations in Cancun is all but gone. The new chairwoman of the United Nations climate treaty body recently put it this way: “I do not believe we will ever have a final agreement on climate change, certainly not in my lifetime.” We must therefore put more emphasis on alternative forums like the Clean Energy Ministerial and Major Economies Forum on Energy & Climate. Instead of endlessly debating emissions targets and timetables, the world’s technology policy leaders can break the logjam by identifying specific technical hurdles, creating coordinated technology roadmaps, and mobilizing the resources for rapid implementation.

Beyond the immediate future, climate and clean energy advocates should take the opportunity to fundamentally rethink our strategy. Will we abandon the prospect of major federal reform, or develop a stronger approach for the next Congress? And will we continue focusing on carbon caps, or will we adopt a new approach focused on technological innovation to make clean energy cheaper? These are just some of the questions that will define the next agenda – and our energy and climate future.

<span style="font-style:italic;">Teryn Norris is president and founder of Americans for Energy Leadership.</span>

Originally posted to Teryn Norris on Tue Sep 07, 2010 at 06:50 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •   (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    look for my DK Greenroots diary series Thursday evening. "It's the planet, stupid."

    by FishOutofWater on Tue Sep 07, 2010 at 06:56:36 PM PDT

  •  I have no faith in emissions controls. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    It's a completely intractable collective-action problem.  We should put our faith in new technologies and fund them accordingly.  Save the coercive power of government for bringing those technologies online once they're developed tolerably well; those coercive powers are wasted on emissions controls.

    The most impressive thing about man [...] is the fact that he has invented the concept of that which does not exist--Glenn Gould

    by Rich in PA on Tue Sep 07, 2010 at 06:58:17 PM PDT

  •  Politicized Stalemate (0+ / 0-)

    Climate change has become a politicized stalemate.  The Koch Bros blockers are going to drown out anybody who talks about climate with their well-paid echo chamber megaphones.  

    Sidestep the issue.  

    Do things instead of just talking about them.

    Do weatherization and solar barnraisings on a regular basis.

    Build a solar civil defense on a personal and community level.  Link that to green development around the world and green jobs at home.

    Not saying stop any of the other stuff but make some changes on a personal and local level to drive change in the wider community.

    Besides, if Dr James Hansen is right and we have only about a half decade to make a real change, legislation ain't gonna fit that timeframe.  Corporations have a ten year schedule to bring a viable product to market and that won't help either.

    We have to do it ourselves.

    Obama could do a lot by participating in 10.10.10 and putting the solar collectors back up on the White House and/or hosting a weatherization barnraising there.

    Quite clearly, our task is predominantly metaphysical, for it is how to get all of humanity to educate itself swiftly enough to generate spontaneous behaviors that will avoid extinction.
    R. Buckminster Fuller

    How about a simple solar do it yourself viral video series?  Energy education in sound bytes.  The Koch Bros blockers will try to laugh it off but that didn't work in the campaign when Obama mentioned tire pressure.  I'll never understand why he didn't double down right then and there and begin to talk about other simple changes that save fuel and money.  Anyone who objects to basic maintenance looks like a fool.

    Solar is civil defense. Video of my small scale solar experiments at solarray.

    by gmoke on Tue Sep 07, 2010 at 08:43:01 PM PDT

  •  China's emissions will more than double, (0+ / 0-)

    making its emissions more than the rest of the world combined? Well then, I'd say unless we control what they're doing, that pretty well makes anything the rest of the world does futile. Might as well party on!

    Moderation in most things. Except Reactors. IFR forever!

    by billmosby on Tue Sep 07, 2010 at 10:23:18 PM PDT

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