“Addressing climate change is not, as some unfortunately continue to argue, an unaffordable luxury…The transformation to a low-carbon economy is an economic opportunity to spur growth and to create a sustainable and competitive U.S economy,” said Sarah Rosen Wartell, Executive Vice President of CAP, at an event sponsored by CAP Action and Hamburg, Germany-based Bucerius Law School last Wednesday.
Senator John Kerry (D-MA) and German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel joined Wartell on a panel to discuss the economic opportunities of climate policy and the current state of the international climate negotiations. Andrew Light, a Senior Fellow with the Energy Opportunity Team at CAP Action, moderated a second panel featuring Green Party’s Matthias Berninger, a former German Vice Minister for Consumer Protection, Nutrition, and Agriculture, and Bracken Hendricks, also a Senior Fellow with CAP Action’s Energy Opportunity Team and co-author of the book Apollo’s Fire.
The panel drew upon mutual lessons that could be learned from United States and the European Union on shaping a green recovery. For example, in only a few years, Germany created 280,000 new green jobs, and by 2020 more people will work in the alternative fuel industry than the auto industry.
Experiences in the United States also show that companies and consumers will save money in the long run through energy efficiency and that significant resources are lost through inefficiency. Texas Instruments, for example, planned to move a factory from Dallas to China to save money. But, as Sen. Kerry explained, its employees wanted to stay in Texas, so the management figured out how to “save the company $3 million a year by making the plant more energy efficient.”
Other steps, such as retrofitting buildings to make them more efficient, will generate a host of job opportunities. “Buildings produce more carbon emissions than cars,” said Hendricks. Currently, more than 1 million construction workers are unemployed due to the economic downturn. An aggressive energy policy would create a large number of jobs to put them back to work.
But the market alone cannot drive this energy revolution. “We won’t accomplish this without policy and smart leadership,” argued Hendricks. Once efficiency standards are met, however, entrepreneurship will play a vital role in energy innovations.
There’s also a concern that if America doesn’t move forward now it will get left behind in the emerging clean-energy marketplace. China, for example, is aggressively tackling climate change despite becoming the world’s largest carbon emitter. Its proposed $586 billion stimulus plan is going toward public investment in renewable energy, low-carbon vehicles, and a host of other efficiency programs. They will exceed the energy intensity goal they set for 2012 and they’re also striving to become the world’s largest electric car producer. “In a few years we’ll be following them,” said Kerry. In fact, China came up again and again throughout the two panels with Hendricks remarking on the relatively greater commitments being made by China on the green parts of their stimulus package, and Gabriel commenting on the need for close engagement with China on climate change.
The big question remains how the international community can best combat climate change. “It is the biggest challenge of our time and we need the commitment, guidance, and common approach of the heads of state and government,” said Gabriel. Guidelines and goals must be drafted ahead of time for the U.N. Climate Conference in Copenhagen this December to be productive and effective.
A “Green New Deal”— a plan modeled after Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal but on a global level— would create the jobs and stimulus necessary for economic recovery while also saving the environment. However, the international community must come together in order to achieve this goal. “This is not the end of the industrialization of the world,” said Gabriel. “It’s the new beginning of the 21st century.”
Senior Fellow Andrew Light, the principle organizer of the program remarked, “It was very encouraging to see Senator Kerry and Minister Gabriel pulling on the same rope on this cluster of important issues. It seems though that China is at the other end of that rope. Our task ahead to all pull together on climate change is our most important global challenge.”