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Climate Jobs? No Problem

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In his first post-election news conference, President Obama made clear that his concern about global climate change will not push the economy and jobs off the top of his priority list.

"If, on the other hand, we can shape an agenda that says we can create jobs, advance growth and make a serious dent in climate change and be an international leader," he said, "I think that's something that the American people would support."

Before 24 hours passed, a nonpartisan group in Washington D.C. -- the Center for Climate Strategies (CCS) -- issued a detailed, data-rich report that shows climate action meets the president's test. It will indeed advance economic growth and create jobs. Moreover, it will significantly improve America's energy security.

The CCS report gives Obama some good news to share with Americans who have been victimized by extreme weather, as well as those who are victims of the recession. It also gives his administration some good news for the international community when it meets later this month in Doha, Qatar, to continue work on a global climate treaty. In the past, the United States has been regarded as a laggard in cutting carbon emissions.

CCS -- a diverse group of experts best known for helping states create and develop broad support for climate action plans -- said its economic and energy modeling shows the United States is on a trajectory to cut its greenhouse gas emissions 23 percent by 2020, compared to estimates in 2005 by the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Sliced another way, we're on the path to achieving nearly 70 percent of President Obama's goal for carbon emission reductions by 2020.

Contrary to popular wisdom, our carbon glide path is not due mainly to less economic activity during the recession, or the slow recovery, or the rapidly increasing use of natural gas. Almost half the emission reductions are due to just eight existing policies implemented by localities, states and the federal government, the CCS said. The policies range from new vehicle efficiency standards at the federal level, to renewable energy requirements at the state level and energy efficiency building codes in communities.

Further, CCS estimates that 20 additional policies implemented selectively at the national level or by states and localities would produce these benefits:
  • 1.24 million net new full-time jobs by 2020;
  • $88 billion in additional GDP, accumulating to more than $1 trillion between now and 2030;
  • Net societal savings of more than $1.4 trillion between now and 2030;
  • A reduction in oil imports of 135 million barrels in 2020 and five billion barrels between now and 2030;
  • Greater diversity in our energy mix, less summer peak demand for electricity and better energy productivity (only 14 percent of the energy we consume today produces useful work);
  • A reduction of 466 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions in 2020 and a cumulative reduction of 13.5 billion metric tons between now and 2030

The CCS report is good news on several other fronts.

First, it reconfirms that state and local leadership on climate change is paying dividends, and the potential for more is high.

Second, it shows we don't need to build pipelines from Canada to diversify our energy supplies and improve national energy security. Nor do we have to dramatically increase the domestic production of oil, coal and other carbon-intensive fuels. Environmentally friendly actions can be as effective.

Third, the study shows that reducing the root causes of global climate change belongs in the nation's economic recovery and jobs strategy as well as its energy security plans. Climate action should not be stove-piped as an environmental issue. It deserves to be part of a comprehensive national strategy to build a robust clean energy economy.

During his news conference, Obama said we need a national conversation about climate change and what we can realistically do about it. He's spot-on about that. But in addition to leading the conversation, he can help the country achieve the emission cuts that are possible with the suite of policies identified by CCS, including a clean electricity standard at the national level; more demand-side management programs at the state level; smarter growth, more public transit and better building standards at the local level; and improved farming and forestry techniques.

The president can issue a call to action by national, state and local leaders across the country. He can convene economists, energy experts, state and local officials, and others to draft an intergovernmental roadmap to the clean energy economy. Advocates of a roadmap range from the Presidential Climate Action Project to business leaders and investors.

A well-developed, well-supported roadmap would help coordinate and maximize the benefits of energy and climate policies at all three levels of government; create more certainty for businesses and investors to get behind clean energy; guide public and private research; and provide direction for legislation. A good first step would be an inventory of the existing climate and clean energy programs scattered across the federal government and the nation.

The CCS study provides new documentation that climate action isn't just about the environment and it isn't a diversion from the President's economic agenda. In fact, it belongs right at the top of the nation's priority list for economic growth, jobs and security.

Bill Becker is executive director of the Presidential Climate Action Project. For complete information about its study, the Center for Climate Strategies has posted its full report, including detailed descriptions of its recommended policies, data and its analysis methodology.

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