Bottom-up Climate Fix, by Dan Esty

Sep 23rd, 2014 | By | Category: Climate Change

WORLD leaders are at the United Nations this week, at the invitation of Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, to “champion an ambitious vision anchored in action that will enable a meaningful global agreement” on climate change next year.

But if history is any guide, the dialogue is unlikely to produce the ramped-up response we need to address the many threats we face from the unrelenting buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Government leaders have gathered multiple times over the past several decades to address climate change, most recently in 2009 in Copenhagen, where negotiators tried, but failed, to “seal the deal” with a new commitment to reduce emissions …

British Columbia and Quebec have introduced cap-and-trade programs that put a price on greenhouse gas emissions, making it more expensive to pollute and encouraging innovation. California has done the same thing. So have nine states in the Northeast and the Mid-Atlantic.

In Connecticut, where I served as commissioner of energy and environmental protection, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, a Democrat, has begun a “green bank” that uses limited government money to leverage vastly increased flows of private capital for clean energy projects.

These efforts show that the quest for a clean energy future can be pursued in a serious, cost-effective and bipartisan manner without the impetus or imprimatur of national governments.

Leaders in many industries have also stepped up, seeing sustainability as good for their bottom line. Unilever’s food divisions, for instance, have encouraged their supplier-farmers to adopt efficiency advances and lower-carbon production methods. Dow Chemical has developed a filtration system that reduces the energy used to purify water by 30 percent. Alcoa has helped Boeing and Ford achieve better fuel efficiency by reducing the weight of their planes and cars.

These corporate successes and many more should be highlighted when world leaders gather in Paris to negotiate the next round of climate commitments.

More fundamentally, why not invite leaders from states, provinces, cities and companies to join representatives of national governments in signing the anticipated 2015 climate change agreement? Sure, the focus of international relations for hundreds of years has been on nation-states, but there is no reason this has to be so. We should recalibrate our approach to engage local, regional and corporate leaders, especially on issues like climate change that require broad-based public support if we are to succeed.

And while we’re at it, let’s shift away from the top-down way that the federal government subsidizes clean energy innovations, which relies on picking winners and assisting chosen industries and technologies. Instead, let’s promote a financing approach in which the government works to engage the private sector in delivering clean energy projects.

This can be done with green banks and bonds and other private-sector clean energy finance mechanisms that could drastically increase the flow of capital into energy efficiency and renewable power. A private-market emphasis offers the prospect of not just more money and better projects, but also competition to lower costs.

Conceding that the present approach isn’t working will be hard for some. But let’s hope this week’s gathering starts us down a new path.

This is an excerpt of the original column by Daniel C. Esty. For the entire article, visit: Yale Center for Environmental Law & Policy – News.

Be Sociable, Share!
Tags: , , ,

Leave a Comment