“Substantial” Actions Show U.S. Commitment to Climate Change

People demonstrate for action on climate change outside the COP-16 conference.

People demonstrate for action on climate change outside the COP-16 conference.

Washington D.C.
December 3, 2010

By Karin Rive
Staff Writer

More than 190 nations, many with widely different needs and political realities at home, are trying to unite around a common global agenda at the climate conference in Mexico — not an easy task.

Nearly a week into the meetings, the U.S. delegation at COP-16 maintains that the United States stands by its commitments from last year’s Copenhagen Accord and remains prepared to move forward. Most important, they say, the United States is showing in real dollars and actions that it’s taking unprecedented steps to address climate change at home and overseas.

“It is a significant change from the business-as-usual course that we had been on for the past decades, and it’s that shift that we are trying to move quickly and to encourage the rest of the world to also move on,” Jonathan Pershing, the U.S. deputy special envoy for climate change, told reporters December 1, the third day of the Cancún, Mexico, meeting.

When adding up the steps the Obama administration has made to reduce U.S. domestic and global greenhouse gas emissions, Pershing said, “they get us a long way toward the ultimate objective we’re seeking, which is to combat the threat of climate change.”

The United States has a center with daily programs and exhibits at COP-16, which is short for the 16th Session of the Conference of the Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) joined officials from the U.S. Treasury Department at the center December 2 to explain how U.S. assistance for developing countries is increasingly pairing economic development with environmental sustainability.

CLIMATE INVESTMENTS OVERSEAS TRIPLE IN 2010

In northwestern Kenya, for example, USAID’s Africa infrastructure program supports the development of a 300-megawatt wind power project that could eventually meet 25 percent of the country’s electricity needs. The $620 million Lake Turkana Wind Project potentially can displace 650,000 tons of annual carbon dioxide emissions while creating hundreds of new jobs.

USAID is also providing financial assistance for a new, 1.2-megawatt biomass cogeneration plant in the Philippines. The power station will eventually provide income for at least 700 farming families charged with managing 1,700 hectares of biomass forest that will provide fuel for the plant.

The goal is to build local technology know-how so such projects can multiply and grow in size, said Maura O’Neill, USAID’s chief innovation officer. “We’re trying to put systems in place that can be scaled up and be sustained,” she told the audience at the U.S. Center.

The United States spent $1.7 billion in fiscal year 2010 on so-called fast-start climate assistance for developing countries. That’s three times what was allocated the year before, and a tenfold increase in money spent on climate adaptation projects in poor countries, Pershing said.

REDD+ FUNDING: TROPICAL FORESTS PRIORITIZED

The nonbinding Copenhagen Accord that the United States and several other leading economies crafted near the end of last year’s climate meeting called for developed countries to spend $30 billion in immediate climate change-related aid to developing countries. Developing countries are expected to carry the brunt of the climate disruptions and many are already experiencing extreme weather events that may be tied to human-made climate change.

Under the Copenhagen Accord, the United States also teamed up with Australia, France, Japan, Norway and the United Kingdom to raise $3.5 billion to combat deforestation in developing countries. The Amazon, the Congo basin and Indonesia are priority areas, O’Neill said.

President Obama and Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono announced an expansion of the U.S.-Indonesia Partnership on Climate Change and Clean Energy in early November that includes tens of millions of dollars in forest projects, including assistance for Indonesia’s REDD+, a program under the auspices of the United Nations to reduce emissions from logging and forest degradation.

17 PERCENT GOAL STANDS

U.S. officials fielded many questions from international reporters wanting to know whether the United States will be able to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, a target Obama has set.

After Congress’ inability to pass a climate change bill during the first years of the Obama administration and the recent election of more lawmakers who say they will not support such legislation, there is concern that the United States may turn its back on global efforts to lower emissions.

U.S. officials have stated repeatedly that there are venues other than legislation to address greenhouse emissions, and that the administration is working with federal agencies to get the job done.

Examples include new fuel-efficiency standards for vehicles and for factories. The federal government, the largest U.S. employer, is also taking steps to reduce its carbon footprint.

“There is an enormous amount going on in the U.S. and … people should be very clear about the depth of those actions,” Pershing said this week. “People, I think, often don’t have the kind of insight into what’s going on because they’re coming from other countries and don’t have easy access. We are trying to make some of that information more public because it’s very, very substantial.”

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