Path to Copenhagen Begins at Home

by Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and the Senate Armed Services Committee

This week marks the beginning of the international climate conference in Copenhagen and the next phase in our efforts – both domestic and international – to address one of the greatest challenges facing our world: climate change.

We have much to accomplish in Copenhagen. Climate change is a global problem that requires a global solution. One country or region cannot solve it alone. While the U.S. and other developed countries – which, historically, have accounted for the overwhelming majority of carbon emissions – have significant emission reduction responsibilities in the near term, it is important that all countries take responsibility for their contribution to global carbon pollution, and act accordingly. The specific targets that China and India recently announced are certainly a good step, and I hope to see more commitment, especially in terms of measurement, reporting and verification at Copenhagen.

It is important to emphasize that any commitments we make in Copenhagen should not force our hand on domestic climate legislation. Rather, climate legislation should work in concert with an international agreement and emissions reduction goals stated in it. This approach will help us pass climate legislation in the Senate, and help get Senate support for a global agreement. Likewise, other countries’ policies should contribute to the solution by challenging themselves to address the problem by means that work best for them. We have learned many lessons from the Kyoto protocol, and the challenge facing us will require more solid footing to achieve the results necessary to ensure a secure future for all generations.

The path to Copenhagen begins here at home, with our innovations and strength leading the way. Whatever the U.S. policy ends up being, it is clear that there are actions that we can take right now that will start us down the path of combating climate change. It begins with the deployment of a broad range of new clean energy technologies. This includes renewable energy, nuclear, natural gas and coal with carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology, and an increase in the overall efficiency of our energy use.

I have been a long-time supporter of a federal renewable electricity standard (RES), which would require that a certain percentage of our electricity come from renewable energy resources. Wind, solar, geothermal and other renewable energy sources have great potential, but we – especially in the U.S. – are not fully utilizing their potential. The investments that we have long made researching these technologies are poised to pay off, and we need to develop the policies to assist in their rapid deployment.

We also need to invest in other, more mature clean energy technologies, like nuclear power and natural gas. Let me be clear – we will need an all-of-the-above approach to combat this challenge. There is no silver bullet, rather we need silver buckshot.

The case that human-induced climate change is real has been made, and it remains strong and compelling. Now it is upon us to decide what to do about it. Ultimately, we need climate policy that is right for the United States whether or not all of the scientific questions have been answered. Diversifying our energy sources, investing in energy efficiency and lowering our greenhouse gas pollution all make sense for reasons other than climate change. We need to produce more of our energy needs at home and lessen our dependence on oil from unstable regions of the world. We need to join in the rapidly growing clean energy economy that will put Americans back to work. We need to develop the cutting edge energy technologies and be the ones selling them to other countries. We need to ensure American families and businesses are getting the most bang for their energy buck – an energy efficient economy is a stronger economy. And we should be combating air pollution of all types, especially as we learn more about the dangers to public health and our environment.

Leadership in addressing climate change will translate into leadership in the clean energy economy, leading to new jobs and entirely new industries. I believe that you can be green and make green. Many other countries, including emerging economies like China, have recognized that the world is addressing the challenges of climate change with carbon-free energy development, and their economies are responding by taking the lead in the manufacture and deployment of those technologies.

The U.S. should be at the front of this charge, reinvigorating our economy, lessening our dependence on foreign sources of energy, and creating jobs.

We have an opportunity and obligation that is more important now than any previous generation. We have identified a vast global problem, but we also have the solution at hand. And this solution will help create jobs and reduce poverty across the globe if we use the climate challenge as an opportunity to lead the development of a new clean energy economy.

What we need is the collective political will to make this solution a reality. The resolve to address the climate challenge has been steadily increasing, and I believe the meeting in Copenhagen offers a great opportunity to take the next step in a global agreement. This is why I look forward to participating in the process in Copenhagen and to help arrive at a solution that works for all of us, both the global community and the United States.

Senator Mark Udall
December 7, 2009

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