Energy Secretary Chu Says Deep Emission Reductions Not Politically Achievable in US


photo: Center for American Progress Action Fund via flickr
Reuters has some interesting quotes from Energy Secretary Steven Chu on how we shouldn't undermine the post-Kyoto climate change treaty to be hammered out in Copenhagen in three months time by setting unachievable emission reductions targets. Unachievable politically, Chu means, and in the US:Gap Between Political and Technical Achievability Wide

What the United States can bring and can agree to is certainly unknown but I think probably 40-30% (cuts) might be too aggressive for 2020 for the United States.

Chu is of course just talking about political feasibility. He's stated on a number of occasions that its technically possible to reduce emissions 30-40% below 1990 levels by 2020. It would be a "very aggressive" but "achievable" goal, he's quoted as saying in this particular Reuters piece.

Keep in mind that it's these sort of reductions that China, India, Brazil, several low-lying island nations, as well as a host of other developing nations are calling on the rich countries of the world to make. And keep in mind that these are the sort of reductions scientists say are required to keep temperature rise below 2°C -- something which the US (as part of the G8) has agreed is a good goal, though doesn't seem to grasp what's required to achieve it.

Starting With Lower Targets Can Show People the Way
Chu went on to say that setting lower targets and improving energy efficiency could essentially prove to people that green policies are not detrimental to the economy.

If you could get all those gains in the first 20, 30 percent reduction in carbon, just by using energy efficiently, you can teach people that there is a path.

Fair enough, the value of energy efficiency seems to be sidelined sometimes in the climate debate in favor of more physically tangible renewable energy and infrastructure projects. But Chu's really dancing around the central issue here.

It's the US Here That's Still Not Leading as It Could
Though his comments are framed as being directed towards the global community, they are in essence talking about the intersection of big business and politics in the United States.

What is political achievable in the US in terms of emission reduction commitments is far, far lower than in other nations. 'Teaching people that there is a path' really refers to, in practice, recalcitrant and entrenched US business interests who fear for their future rather than convincing China, India, the EU, etc. that low-carbon growth is the right path to take.

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Tags: Carbon Emissions | Global Climate Change | Global Warming Solutions | United States

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