COPENHAGEN — "America is serious about climate action."
That's the conclusion of a useful new report from the Center for American Progress summarizing the impressive recent Executive, Legislative and international actions by the U.S. government.
This is profoundly important news in Copenhagen. For the first time, the nation that has contributed the most to the problem — and the nation that could do the most to accelerate global solutions — is at the table. We're not quite there with both feet because the U.S. Senate failed to pass a comprehensive clean energy and climate bill in time. But America is showing up for the global effort as never before.
Now, for the record, our federal government may have been AWOL, but Americans have been working on climate solutions for quite some time.
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Washington state has been a leader in the Western Climate Initiative, a pact covering seven states and four Canadian provinces with a combined economy among the world's largest. We've enacted laws during the past five years that, when fully implemented, will stabilize and begin to reduce Washington's emissions, including clean cars, clean energy, clean fuel, green buildings and more.
Gov. Gregoire will be in Copenhagen next week — one of the most effective messengers for the proposition that America is serious. Her trip will also be a trade mission. Like President Obama, she believes the clean-energy economy is the most powerful driver for economic recovery and sustained prosperity. (Check out Gregoire's terrific speech on the clean energy economy.)
Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels launched the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, committing Seattle to meet the goals of the Kyoto Protocol and challenging other mayors to join the effort. More than 1000 U.S. mayors have now signed on. The agreement is much more than symbolic — Seattle City Light has become the first electric utility to deliver power with zero climate impact to a major city. Mayor Nickels will be in Copenhagen to tell the Seattle story — part of the larger, emerging story of constructive U.S. engagement with the global climate effort.
Washington state and Seattle have much more to do if we intend to be a working model of sustainable prosperity — especially on the transportation front. But our emission reductions so far have been impressive, our clean energy economies are growing, and our state and local leadership has rallied much of America to begin implementing climate solutions. These actions give us the experience and confidence to launch the much more aggressive solutions we'll need to address the climate crisis and build a strong clean energy economy.
Pew has a good summary of state and regional climate action here.
Much of this state and local work has been effective, and the regions that have taken the lead are gaining a pronounced edge in the new energy economy that will propel recovery and drive the next wave of prosperity. But state and local initiatives are no substitute for serious action from the U.S. federal government — especially on the international stage, where a global deal must be negotiated.
So recent federal actions — like improved fuel efficiency and appliance standards, the EPA endangerment finding, stimulus funding for efficiency and clean energy and the American Clean Energy and Security Act that the House of Representatives passed — show real movement, a promising change in direction.
America is anteing up. But we are still moving much too slowly, and the stakes rise quickly now. We won't have a winning hand — a real commitment to American leadership and a promising climate strategy — until the U.S. Senate delivers a comprehensive climate and energy policy that offers solutions as big as the problem.
To make a persuasive case in Copenhagen, the Obama Administration will need to make it clear that it won't rest until the Senate moves.