11/21/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Climate Week Is Key Stop on Road to Copenhagen

This week, leaders from around the world will gather in New York and Pittsburgh for "climate week" with a keen eye on the home team. Key meetings at the United Nations and the G-20 Summit will set the table for the Copenhagen conference -- just over 70 days away -- where a potential international agreement to fight climate change (or global warming pollution) hangs in the balance.

Since I became Chairman of the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, I have maintained that the most effective way for advancing the negotiations of the next international climate change agreement would be for the United States to show leadership by leading in clean energy technology and committing to mandatory domestic reductions of heat-trapping pollution. In June, the House of Representatives took the first step by passing the Waxman-Markey American Clean Energy and Security Act.

To the rest of the world, House passage of Waxman-Markey signaled America's growing commitment to preventing climate change and building a global clean energy economy. It helped leaders at the G8 and the Major Economies Forum held in Italy this July reach agreement on important points, including the need for emissions to peak as soon as possible, commitments to prepare "Low Carbon Growth Plans," and a pledge by developing countries to take actions that would meaningfully reduce their emissions from their current trajectories.

Over the next five days, events worldwide will underscore the urgency of addressing climate change through global agreements. On Tuesday UN Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon hosts the UN's Global Climate Summit before the UN General Assembly in New York. This summit will enable top leaders from across the UN to meet regarding their strategies for success in December. President Obama will have the opportunity to outline the steps that his administration has taken in its first 8 months to combat climate change and spark a clean energy revolution in the United States and his commitment to a global agreement to do the same for the world. We can also expect to see a major announcement from China's Premier regarding China's policies to curb emissions and raise energy efficiency.

Since the last decisive negotiation on a global agreement to address climate change -- held in Kyoto in 1997 -- the transformation of China's position has been the most dramatic. China's rates of investment in clean technology and carbon capture and storage now far outstrip those of the United States; even its efficiency standards for autos outpace ours. China looks to the upcoming round in Copenhagen to secure its position as a market leader in clean tech -- a position the United States can capture, were the Senate to approve a version of the American Clean Energy and Security Act. Last week, U.S. climate negotiator Todd Stern aptly described China's changing position, which we as Americans ignore at our peril: "We might think we will spend the next 5 years pushing China, and then we will spend all the rest of the years chasing them if we do not get our own act together."

On Thursday and Friday when leaders from the world's 20 biggest economies gather in Pittsburgh, I am looking for their commitment to a clean energy economy as the backbone of a rejuvenated global economy. Since 2005, the G8 and G20 have made energy efficiency, clean energy and climate a centerpiece of each meeting. The United States, as one of the world's biggest producers of pollution, must be central to spurring commitment among the world's wealthiest nations to action under the aegis of the United Nations.

But as we move closer to the Copenhagen stage, it's difficult for the United States to continue preaching temperance from a bar stool. Arming President Obama with clean energy legislation that reduces global warming pollution here at home is not just important for international diplomacy; it is critical to our national interest. The great race of the 21st century will be to provide affordable clean energy to the world.

Whether countries are trying to revitalize flagging economies or pull their people out of poverty, they are turning to clean energy technology. In a race that the United States once had a clear lead, we are now falling behind. The Europeans, Japanese, and increasingly, Chinese are using their domestic policies to drive the development of clean energy industries and stake their claims to the burgeoning global clean energy economy. If we want to be globally competitive, we must do the same.