After years of the U.S. failing to address the climate crisis under the previous administration, China, Brazil and other emerging economies are moving forward, setting ambitious emissions targets and disproving the conventional wisdom in Washington that says they do not take climate change seriously and are unwilling to take action, World Wildlife Fund CEO Carter Roberts told Congress today. As the Obama Administration and Congress reclaim U.S. leadership on the critical issue of climate change, they will find willing allies in the developing world, Roberts said.
“Developing countries ‘get’ climate change,” Roberts told the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. He noted that emerging economies have given up on looking for the U.S., the world’s largest per capita emitter, to take action first. “They understand it is in their economic and national interest to stop waiting and move ahead. They are putting concrete proposals to curb emissions on the table in international negotiations and are taking unilateral action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at home.”
Roberts said that developing countries are particularly vulnerable to climate change given their heavy dependence on natural systems and agriculture for subsistence. He also noted that their capacity to prepare for and adapt to climate impacts, as well as their ability to respond to climate-related disasters, is very limited due to their relative lack of financial resources. “For nations with populations living at a subsistence level, even modest amounts of climate change are enough to risk crop failures, food shortages and loss of key water supplies,” Roberts said. “And for many developing countries, particularly small, island developing states, climate change poses a threat to their cultural survival. Wait-and-see is not an option.”
In his testimony, Roberts detailed aggressive goals and notable achievements by developing countries in the areas of energy efficiency and renewable energy. In many ways, he said, the developing world is doing far more than the U.S. to reduce emissions, reinforcing the need for the U.S. to move urgently in passing cap and trade legislation and assuming a leadership role in negotiations on a new global treaty.
China has also set an ambitious target of generating 10 percent of its primary energy from renewable sources by 2010 and 15 percent by 2020. By that same year, Brazil has committed to generating 15 percent of its electricity from wind, solar and small-scale hydroelectric energy. The U.S., by comparison, has not set any nationwide targets for electricity generation from renewable sources. Currently, about three percent of U.S. electricity is from renewable sources, excluding large-scale hydroelectric.
Roberts further noted that South Africa, a nation heavily dependent on coal, has set an ambitious goal of achieving “peak and decline” of its emissions by the 2015-2020 time frame; India has committed to improving its energy efficiency by 20 percent by 2016; and Mexico has pledged to halve its emissions by 2050.
“For over a decade, the United States has failed to take serious action to address climate change because of the perception that major emerging economies were not acting to reduce their own emissions,” Roberts said. “That justification for inaction was always flawed, as it ignored the seriousness of the problem, our historical responsibility, our commitments made under the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change and the power of American leadership. But flawed or not, today it is gone. Developing countries, in particular the major emerging economies, are taking action to reduce their emissions, even in the absence in U.S. leadership and action. We must quickly follow suit.”