Secretary of State Hillary Clinton chided Congress for failing to address global climate change, saying it "would be an efficient cost-savings commitment" to spend taxpayer money up front to address the problem.
"I think, number one, the problem of climate change, of environmental degradation, of pollution and contamination, is not going away," Clinton said during a discussion at Syracuse University yesterday. "It’s not been magically disappeared because people don’t want to have a political discussion about it. It still is affecting people’s lives, and it’s affecting the lives of Americans here at home as well as countless millions around the world."
Clinton also praised the Obama administration for taking unilateral actions to address the issue.
SECRETARY CLINTON: I am a perennial optimist on even the most difficult issue, and I do think that we can see some progress. I think, number one, the problem of climate change, of environmental degradation, of pollution and contamination, is not going away. It’s not been magically disappeared because people don’t want to have a political discussion about it. It still is affecting people’s lives, and it’s affecting the lives of Americans here at home as well as countless millions around the world.
So because it’s not going away, we have to continue to work toward making progress. And we weren’t able to get a big climate deal through our own Congress in the first part of the Obama Administration, in part because it was in the midst of an economic crisis and so many people said we can’t take on any more cost, even though I would argue that over time this would be an efficient cost-savings commitment. Nevertheless, from the front end, there were some initial investments that would have to be made, so people were rightly anxious about the economy and about making those kinds of commitments.
But we did make slow, steady progress towards some international commitment starting in Copenhagen, then in Cancun, then at Durban, and certainly there’s hope for continuing that at the Rio+20. I was saying to Jim’s class that it is always challenging when you see a problem that you believe must be addressed and you can’t get the political process to respond. Now you can either become very discouraged and very bitter, with good cause because you think this problem is so pressing, or you can regroup, re-strategize, and keep going. So that’s what we’re doing.
And I’ll give you just a few quick examples. Coming out of Copenhagen, for the first time, we got developing countries to agree to anything about climate change. If you’re in India, China, Brazil, South Africa, your attitude is: We didn’t make this problem. The developed world made it. We’re trying to develop. Now all of a sudden along comes the developed world and says to us, "You have to pay for your development." Well, that’s just not fair. We get to get to the same point of development you all did, and then we’ll worry about something like climate change.
So they weren’t part of Kyoto, they have resisted being part of any international accord under that argument. For the first time in Copenhagen, the President and I hammered out a deal where they would be agreeing to reporting certain things, which they’d never reported before, and making certain internal commitments. At Cancun, that was further refined and similarly at Durban. Because the developed world in Europe, combined with the developing world, wanted very much for there to be a binding agreement on the follow-on to Kyoto that would bind the United States and others.
Well, the United States Congress didn’t accept Kyoto the first time because there was no binding agreement on the developing world. And now all these years later, the developing world is now leading in greenhouse gas emissions and still has not taken on responsibility, except in a kind of an internal level of accountability. So our goal was to get, for the first time, everybody realizing we all had to pay something for this problem. Granted the United States and the West in particular have contributed more over the last century because of our development trajectories to the problem that we face. So yes, we do have to take responsibility. But so do they, because what good will it do us if we take responsibility and they don’t. We won’t make any progress.
Now, the Obama Administration has done a number of things by executive order, particularly increasing mileage for vehicles, going after the pollution from plants – particularly utilities – and other steps that I think the Administration doesn’t get enough credit for, and which I always say to my international interlocutors, "Look, yeah, you’re right. We didn’t pass some great big climate deal in the Congress, but we’ve been slowly cleaning up our own house, and we’re making progress on that."
Secondly, with this enormous growth in natural gas, the United States for the first time in many years is actually exporting energy. And we may find ourselves in a different energy mix. Assuming we can deal with the environmental issues surrounding hydraulic fracking and other forms of fossil fuel extraction that are part of this calculus, we may find us in a better position to be able to go after some of the major polluters and some of the major oil producers.
And then I started a group of six nations – it’s now grown, I think, to 10 – we’re just frustrated with the slow process of trying to deal with greenhouse gas emissions, in particular carbon dioxide. So we formed a group – the Clean Air and Climate Coalition – to deal with non-carbon dioxide contributors, of which there is a lot – methane, black soot, et cetera. So we’re trying to follow that model to come up with some specific proposals that we can implement.
So we are moving. It’s not as fast. And in the face of just the cascade of natural disasters, it seems like we’re not keeping pace. But we are continuing to move forward. And at some point, the world will recognize that we do have to have international agreements that we will enforce in order to deal with what are significant climate changes that are going to impact us. It’s not like we can build a wall around our country and say we’ll keep out the effects of climate change. And just because we’re not some small island nation in the Pacific that is going the sink in the next decade, we don’t have to worry about it. We’re already seeing those results.
I said this morning, we’ve already moved villages on the Alaskan coast that used to be protected in the winter from a thick bed of ice that would freeze the water in front of these villages so that the storms would not hammer the villages and erode the land. And now the ice is neither there nor as thick, and so we’re already doing things that mitigate against the effects of climate change. So it still is a piece – a big piece of global unfinished business that we’re trying to make slow but steady progress on.