EU Climate and Energy Policy: Time for Tough Decisions

Thank you.  I would like to thank the European Parliament for hosting us and European Voice and CommentVisions for organizing it. Thank you also to my fellow panelists for joining me in discussing this important topic.

Two days ago President Obama delivered remarks at the United Nations General Assembly Climate Summit, emphasizing that “we have to cut carbon pollution in our own countries to prevent the worst effects of climate change,” and “we have to work together as a global community to tackle this global threat before it is too late.”  He stated:

Five years ago, I pledged America would reduce our carbon emissions in the range of 17 percent below 2005 levels by the year 2020.  America will meet that target…. So today, I call on all major economies to do the same…. This challenge demands our ambition.

He also discussed some of the investments and emissions reductions that the U.S. has made so far, saying that advances in clean energy “have helped create jobs, grow our economy, and drive our carbon pollution to its lowest levels in nearly two decades — proving that there does not have to be a conflict between a sound environment and strong economic growth.”

It is this last point that I would like to focus my remarks on today—the U.S. approach to the debate on how climate and energy policies impact competitiveness. I arrived in Brussels as U.S. Ambassador to the EU not long after the European Commission proposed the 2030 policy framework for climate and energy, and I have seen the ongoing debate over European climate and competitiveness.

In the U.S., we are also debating policy and working to transform the energy base of our economies from high to low carbon, and to do this in a way that protects jobs and economic growth.

When President Obama announced his Climate Action Plan in June of last year, he directly confronted claims that stricter limits on emissions would take away jobs and hurt the economy, by citing examples of how past legislation has positively affected growth. From the time the U.S. enacted its landmark environmental laws in the 1970s, we’ve doubled the size of our economy—driving technological innovation, creating thousands of well-paying middle-class jobs, and generating billions of dollars in economic productivity.

The U.S. economy is 60 percent bigger than it was 20 years ago, while our carbon emissions are roughly back to where they were 20 years ago.  Moreover, our emissions are projected to continue declining, and we’re on the path to meeting our 2020 target of reducing emissions in the range of 17 percent below 2005 levels. Experience shows that we do not need to sacrifice a healthy economy for a healthy environment.  In fact, every dollar invested to comply with the Clean Air Act has returned $4 to $8 dollars in economic benefits.  For example, the Environmental Protection Agency’s recently proposed rule to limit CO2 emissions from existing power plants will net billions of dollars in benefits annually in health impacts, energy savings, and avoided damages. Experience shows us that a clean, healthy environment is a prerequisite for a strong economy.

Standard & Poors recently said climate change will continue to affect credit risk worldwide.  So this is not just about making the economic case for climate action.  It is about understanding the costs of inaction.  It is about protecting our health and our homes, local economies and jobs.

The “New Rules” – Protecting the Environment and Promoting Economic Growth at the Same Time

As environmental stewardship has created new economic opportunities in the past, the Obama Administration is determined to turn climate risk into business opportunity.  We are determined to spur innovation and investment by building a world-leading clean energy economy.

To quote President Obama: “The old rules may say we can’t protect our environment and promote economic growth at the same time, but in America, we’ve always used new technologies — we’ve used science; we’ve used research and development and discovery to make the old rules obsolete.”

How do we do this?  In both the U.S. and EU, much of the energy transformation will take place in the private sector, where energy is produced and consumed, but policymakers can create the environment, provide the incentives, remove the barriers, fund the R&D, and spur the investment needed to hasten this transformation.

U.S.-EU Cooperation Can Benefit Us Both

The U.S. and the EU can learn from each other as we work towards our common goals to lower emissions and encourage economic growth.  In March this year, I attended the 5th U.S.-EU Energy Council meeting here in Brussels.  The Council affirmed that continued innovation and investment in the areas of renewable energy, energy efficiency, and carbon capture storage and utilization will bring benefits in terms of energy cost savings and jobs, and contribute to the fight against climate change.

Multinational Approach

But to really achieve results, U.S. and EU efforts need to be within a strong international system. Much of the current debate is because the rest of the world did not follow the aggressive decarbonization policies pursued by the EU.  This highlights why we must pursue not only domestic policies for an energy transition but also a new international climate agreement under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

We all know that national action will only rise to the level of ambition we need if it takes place within a strong and effective international system. That is why President Obama just emphasized in New York that the U.S. is committed to developing “an agreement that reflects economic realities in the next decade and beyond.  It must be ambitious –- because that’s what the scale of this challenge demands.  It must be inclusive –- because every country must play its part.  And it must be flexible –- because different nations have different circumstances.”  Therefore, we advocate an approach under which all countries – both developed and developing – put forward nationally determined contributions well in advance of the Paris conference to provide time for countries and civil society to consult before finalizing the agreement in Paris.

The White House plans to announce its U.S. post-2020 contribution by March 2015 at the very latest.  It is important that other major economies, as well as a significant number of other countries, do the same. Building on the progress we are making at home and achieving through multilateral partnership, we are actively working together with countries around the world to ensure that reaching a strong climate agreement Paris sets all nations on a path of low-carbon economic growth.

Closing

As Ambassador to the EU, part of my job is to serve as a bridge between the EU and the U.S. in the run up to the 2015 climate negotiations in Paris, and to help facilitate the work ongoing under the U.S.-EU Energy Council.

We know addressing climate change has been and continues to be a top priority for the EU.  At the same time, I know that energy security concerns are paramount. My message to you today is that the US is deeply committed to working together to address energy security concerns in Europe in a way that keeps your economy growing, keeps the heating and lights on, and mitigates climate change.

Thank you for this opportunity to talk about this important topic here today, and I look forward to the panel discussion.