12/16/2009 02:38 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Why the Road to Clean Energy Goes Through Little Rock

The only story that has been able to distract from Tiger Wood's personal life this past week has been what is happening in Copenhagen. The tally thus far:

193 nations in attendance,
Over 250 protestors arrested
Zero agreements.

With President Obama and other heads of state preparing to descend on Denmark, the atmosphere will only become more frenetic. While the efforts to reach an international accord in Copenhagen are vital to arresting climate change, for the United States any agreement will go the way of Kyoto unless it ultimately helps folks in Akron and Little Rock, Indianapolis and St Louis.

The Obama Administration understands this. That's why Copenhagen is only one small part of the United States' clean energy strategy. By placing a price on carbon and helping the private sector to create new business through ideas like Clean Energy Business Zones and creation of National Institutes of Energy, the United States can make the needed transition to clean energy. This will spur economic growth and ensure that the 21st energy innovations the world needs are made in the Akron and Little Rock.

That's not the case today. While the United States can certainly be the world's leader in clean energy, the race is tight. Over the past decade China has been much more aggressive than the United States in manufacturing and installing clean energy technologies. As just one example, China now leads the world in solar cell manufacturing, is poised to install more wind capacity per year than any other nation on earth and has plans to install the world's most efficient transmission system.

While this issue is much bigger than a competition between any two countries, it does show how much can be accomplished when even one nation commits to action. Advocates of transforming our energy policy and addressing climate change must remember how critical domestic action and long-term international engagement are to the solution. President Obama will use the conference at Copenhagen to reassert to the world that the United States is committed to acting. But he might also have to say no on some issues - even in the face of international pressure - if it is in our nation's best interest.

It's good news that people are paying attention to what is happening in Denmark. This, however, is just another step on the long road to tackling climate change. What happens here at home will ultimately determine America's ability to lead the world's transformation to clean energy.

Joshua Freed is the Director of Third Way's Clean Energy Initiative. Sam Hodas is a policy advisor for the Clean Energy Initiative at Third Way.