Climate Tectonics

by Richard Stuebi

The climate changes only slightly faster than the continents shift. Climate policy changes only slightly faster than the climate is altered by greenhouse gas emissions. So, when one begins to see a few elements of U.S. climate policy moving, in a relatively short period of time, it’s hard not to take note and consider the implications.

In his State of the Union speech, President Bush (kinda-sorta) acknowledged climate change as an important policy aim, referring to it as a “serious challenge”. While there was no mention of a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade mechanism that would seriously address this serious challenge, at least Bush proposed an important mechanism to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that had been anethema for decades — to tighten the fuel economy standards of new vehicles. (Not to mention an increased push for renewable fuels to displace petroleum fuels.)

The new Congress is sticking its neck out further, not waiting long to take up legislation that more directly and forcefully combats climate change. (see article) At the most important annual gathering of world leaders, the World Economic Forum in Davos Switzerland, the Republican Senator John McCain — a likely candidate for the Presidency in 2008 — expressed his conviction that the U.S. will soon tackle climate change in a meaningful way. (see article) No doubt, it will take a while for a true policy change on climate change to emerge in the U.S., but the strong ramp-up in attention and activity is unambiguous.

It has become virtually impossible to think that climate change will not be addressed by more than merely political platitudes within any relevant forecasting horizon.

The corporate world can thus no longer afford to assume a continued stalemate that denies true action on climate change from being taken in the U.S. More foresightful companies — even major energy companies such as BP (NYSE: BP), FPL (NYSE: FPL), Duke (NYSE: DUK), and PG&E (NYSE: PCG) — have banded together to form the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, which is committed to reversing the trend of increasing carbon emissions in the U.S. (see article)

Even the most lingering latecomers of the U.S. corporate community are finally beginning to see the writing on the wall: that climate change is a real concern, and that actions will be taken in the near-future to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. For instance, unnoticed (by me at least) was some reportage from late 2006 that ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM) has finally stopped funding the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), a think-tank that is widely viewed to be spreading misinformation about climate change, so as to muddy the waters and delay anything meaningful being done to address it.

The pent-up forces pushing for action on climate change are starting to become unstuck. Major breakthroughs haven’t happened, yet, but shifting is occurring and the warning tremors are increasingly clear. I used to think that it would take until the next President after Bush for us to see a real U.S. policy dealing with climate change — but recent indicators suggest that we might not have to wait that long, after all.

Richard Stuebi is the BP Fellow for Energy and Environmental Advancement at The Cleveland Foundation, and is also the Founder and President of NextWave Energy.

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