A Global Green Deal
Although the Obama administration is embarking on a scaled-down version of the Global Green Deal at home, similar policies must be applied internationally as well. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's 2007 report made it clear that rich nations cannot survive unless developing nations--particularly China, India, Brazil and other emerging economies whose emissions are rising rapidly--also cut emissions. As a moral and practical matter, the rich will have to help pay for this shift; otherwise it will not happen. Congressional Republicans will howl, but the facts are clear: rich countries released 80 percent of the greenhouse gases warming the atmosphere, and on a per capita basis they still emit much more than developing nations, where hundreds of millions of poor people need affordable energy. Most rich nations have long rejected the idea of paying the poor to go green. Now we have no choice. Instead of resisting, the United States should make a virtue of necessity by helping these countries go green at maximum speed. If we're smart, a Global Green Deal will open new markets for US exporters, just as the Marshall Plan did after World War II.
The deal also provides a framework that could break the most important impasse in climate change diplomacy: the longstanding mutual insistence by the United States and China that the other climate superpower act first to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. As the United States and the Soviet Union had with nuclear weapons during the cold war, the United States and China have loaded guns pointed at each other's heads, and at everyone else's. If both superpowers do not reduce emissions--if they do not lower and unload their guns--they will destroy themselves and the rest of civilization.
For years, Washington's intransigence has given China an easy excuse for refusing to reduce its emissions. Pursuing sharp emissions reductions, however, would give America leverage to press China to do its part. And there is reason to believe that China would welcome a climate deal, provided it is equitable. Its leaders at last appear to recognize that climate change is not only a rich man's problem. China is already being hurt by climate change--2007 brought the worst drought in ten years while record floods further undermined food production--and worse lies in store, including a sea-level rise that could flood Shanghai. What's more, Chinese experts have long recognized that energy efficiency is the most potent source of green energy available. Studies supervised in the 1990s by Zhou Dadi, a top government adviser, showed that China could use 40-50 percent less energy if it installed efficiency technologies. Under the Global Green Deal, the United States and China would work together to capture these savings--by promoting more efficient refrigerators, light bulbs and air conditioners, insulating China's notoriously drafty buildings and installing smarter electric motors and equipment.
Secretary of State Clinton's talks with top Chinese officials are cause for hope. Washington and Beijing pledged to work together toward energy efficiency and renewables and to achieve a "successful outcome" to the Copenhagen negotiations. A new report jointly produced by US and China experts and co-chaired by Steven Chu, a Chinese-American serving as Obama's energy secretary, urges regular "leaders summits" between China and the United States to pursue a climate deal. When Obama meets Chinese President Hu Jintao in April at the G-20 summit, he should invite Hu to join him for a series of talks to forge a path toward mutually assured reductions in emissions. (Such summits should augment, not displace, the UN negotiations that will culminate in Copenhagen.)
Can America make this green dream a reality? As candidate Obama famously said, Yes we can. But a Global Green Deal would amount to almost a revolution in how Washington works. It requires fundamental changes in where government money goes, including taking billions of dollars away from some of the most powerful lobbies and corporations in the country, above all the oil and coal industries. Obama promised to change how politics is done in Washington, but does he have the stomach for this? We'll see.
In any case, such change will come about only if President Obama and others in government are pushed from below--by intense and sustained public pressure. As Obama explained to an audience in January 2008, when few gave him much of a chance to be president, "Change does not happen from the top down. It happens from the bottom up.... [People] arguing, mobilizing, agitating and ultimately forcing elected officials to be accountable.... That's how we're going to bring about change."