CLIMATE SUMMIT: Locke makes case for clean energy economy

COPENHAGEN — Gary Locke, Commerce Secretary and former Washington state governor, delivered a terrific speech in Copenhagen today.

Here's the full text


The talk was part of a remarkably well-orchestrated effort by the Obama Administration to demonstrate American resolve and action to the world. And it shows that the top of Obama’s economic team sees climate solutions as a main engine for their economic vision.

Locke was clear about the scale of the challenge. He made a compelling practical and moral case for transformational change in our energy system.

Two things could make the Administration’s case more powerful — maybe as powerful as it must be to move a real deal forward in Copenhagen, despite the lack of Senate action and the looming arrival of Senator Inhofe’s posse to cloud the prospects.

1. Keep the climate, energy, and jobs initiative in Congress together and push it hard, right away.

I asked Locke whether the Administration would pursue its jobs initiative as part and parcel of its strategy to pass comprehensive climate and clean energy legislation, or push a near-term jobs initiative ahead first.

He answered by noting that Congress is preparing a short-term jobs package now, and it will include clean energy jobs. 

But the President and the Secretary have been very clear that legislation to limit carbon and accelerate private investment is the cornerstone of their clean energy economy strategy making “clean energy the profitable kind of energy,” as Obama puts it.

They are right about that, but not everyone believes it, especially when opponents are having a field day framing it somewhat more pithily as “Obama’s job-killing energy tax.” 

Why doesn’t the Administration move the near-term jobs initiative and the climate and energy bill together? Yes, the jobs package is on a fast track, but that’s the track that the climate and energy bill needs to be on if it is to arrive at the station in time (both the “global deal” station and the “stable climate” station). Politically, operationally, diplomatically, it should all happen together, very early next year.

2. Lead the developed countries in a commitment to end fossil fuel subsidies; use the proceeds to break the logjam on long-term financing for clean development, adaptation, and forest protection in the developing world.

Locke was emphatic in his speech and in the Q and A session that followed about eliminating subsidies for fossil fuels.

“To start, we need to rethink a variety of harmful incentives that actively work against clean energy development. To cite just one example, too many of our countries subsidize both the production and consumption of fossil fuels.

President Obama has proposed the elimination of the subsidies, and the International Energy Agency and Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development estimated that this one step could cut greenhouse gas emissions 10 percent by 2050. 

We cannot say on the one hand that we want more clean energy, while at the same time providing a slew of financial incentives that promote carbon intensive fuels.

And the more we reward the status quo, the more we dissuade innovators from coming up with new energy solutions. We simply must eliminate financial incentives that work against clean energy and efficiency, and begin creating new ones that promote it.


Fossil fuel subsidies are not small change. Estimates for the developed countries range from $20 billion to $150 billion annually. In 2004, Jonathan Pershing (now the chief US climate negotiator) wrote a paper for WRI estimating that OECD (Annex 1, in climate treaty lingo) countries spent $57 billion annually on fossil fuel subsidies. 

Right now, one of Pershing’s most pressing challenges in Copenhagen — the issue that may well make or break the conference — is long-term financing for adaptation, forest protection and clean energy in the developing world. This is a tough political issue at home, and Pershing doesn’t want to give opponents a “sending our money overseas” lightening rod.

But there won’t be a meaningful deal without a serious commitment here.

But if long-term financing issue is one of the most contentious issues in Copenhagen, it may also be the issue with the greatest potential for a breakthrough.

CAN International estimates the need at nearly $200 billion per year (about 3 tenths of 1% of global domestic product); $100 billion a year by 2020 is the UNFCCC Chair’s working objective for the negotiations. $57 billion from reprogrammed developed country fossil fuel subsidies would go a long way. 

Best of all, ending fossil fuel subsidies to raise funding for a global climate deal is a twofer: we get climate results both by raising the funds and by spending them.

— K.C. Golden, policy director for the Northwest-based Climate Solutions, is attending the Copenhagen Climate Summit. The Herald has chosen to offer his commentary on how the proceedings may influence policies and economics in the Northwest and the United States. His posts will be available on the Herald's Get Green blog as well as his Climate Solutions Journal for the remainder of the historic conference in Denmark. We invite your comments. Climate Solutions has offices in Seattle, Olympia and Portland. Its posted mission statement is "to accelerate practical and profitable solutions to global warming by galvanizing leadership, growing investment and bridging divides."