Esty Outlines New US, Global Approach to Climate Change

10.06.2015
Issues & Policies

“We are gathered at a very auspicious moment,” former DEEP Commissioner Dan Esty told attendees at the E2: Energy and Environment Council Fall Meeting in September, a week before the United Nations General Assembly in New York, where world leaders discussed plans for reducing their countries’ greenhouse gas emissions, consolidating sustainable development goals, and delivering a global climate change agreement in Paris later this year.
Esty, a clinical professor of environmental law and policy at Yale Law School, noted that previous attempts to reach climate change agreements had failed for a variety of reasons.
“Getting a law passed or a treaty signed was considered a success in the twentieth century,” he said, even in the absence of implementation or enforcement.
“A top-down approach—the idea that we could get climate change work done solely by government mandate—was wrong,” comparing the passage of laws and treaties to “getting a mission statement written if you’re a business.” It’s a good start, but meaningless unless you deliver.
“Presidents and prime ministers have little control over the carbon footprints of their countries. We need to engage other players.”
‘No More Sitting on the Sidelines’
Similarly, our past emphasis on getting meaningful commitments only from only developed countries was misguided, he said—pointing out the disastrous 2009 U.N. Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen during which, he explained, “developing countries such as India and China, with hugely expanding economies, were allowed to sit on the sidelines and do nothing for climate change.”
Advocating for this approach rather than one of “common but differentiated responsibility,” he acknowledged, “was the biggest mistake of my career.”
Today’s talks, he said, are different in two important ways.
First, they’re moving away from mandates in favor of financial incentives and voluntary actions. (Esty noted that agenda for the U.N. climate change conference in Paris will include discussion of Connecticut’s Green Bank, “a model for leveraging private capital to get projects going and make change happen.”)
Second, the shift in thinking reflects the idea that “everybody’s in, even if the targets and timetables are different. No more countries sitting on the sidelines.”
‘A Big Shot in the Arm’
Esty also commented on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, which raises expectations for states that have done little or nothing to reduce their high carbon emissions.
“Connecticut’s economic competitiveness is about to get a big shot in the arm, as other states are now expected to step up,” he said.
“Still,” he added, “the EPA’s plan is very cleverly designed so that states that have already put their shoulder to the wheel and driven the process forward, states like Connecticut, are being asked to do the most, while foot-draggers—including many Midwestern states—have gotten away with doing little or nothing about their emissions.”
While a differentiated strategy “makes it hard for the foot-draggers to complain when other states are doing so much more,” he said, “commissioners in more progressive states have cause to be angry.”
Indeed, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and leaders of other states that have achieved significant carbon emission reductions have been vocal in their criticism of the EPA hitting them with even stricter goals while other states have less stringent targets.
The E2 Fall Meeting, held in Wallingford and hosted by CBIA, included various updates on state regulations pertaining to energy, water, air, and waste, as well as lunch and a Q&A with Esty.
The event concluded with a tour of Proton OnSite, a global leader in the manufacture of hydrogen, nitrogen, and zero air generators.

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