Climate Tops White House, CEO Agendas

The day after inauguration, and what a difference! The White House website shows the top two Obama priorities - Economy and Energy/Environment. Click one page to find that federal policy on climate change is at the top of the Obama agenda, where "Implement an economy-wide cap-and-trade program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050" is right at the top of the page.

Climate is high on the agenda for a number of CEOs, too. It is rare for corporate America to urge Congress to swiftly enact environmental legislation. But fast action on climate is exactly what CEOs from several major companies called for last week in the Energy and Commerce hearing on the USCAP proposal on climate policy.

While the details of the proposal have drawn questions and criticism, (responses to which I'll leave to the Climate Center's Dave Hawkins,) the overall message from the participants - that global warming is too urgent a problem to allow further delay - should be a wake-up call to anyone who considers the current economic situation a reason to delay action.

Here are some excerpts:

Jim Rogers (Duke Energy): "I believe it is imperative for Congress to act on this issue immediately. The current economic downturn provides Congress with its best opportunity to pass meaningful and sustainable climate legislation that will equally protect our environment, our economy and consumers. Additionally, and because of the economic situation we are currently in, immediate action on climate change can stimulate private investment in the new technologies that will be needed in a low-carbon economy by providing a price signal for carbon and also provide the regulatory clarity industries need in order to move forward."

James Mulva, CEO of ConocoPhilips: "The need to begin the transformation of our economy to a sustainable, secure, low-carbon future is compelling and timely; indeed, this will only become more difficult, and more costly, if Congress delays action."

Peter Darbee (PG&E): "The need to begin the transition to a sustainable, secure, low-carbon economy is compelling and timely. For example, according to the Brattle Group, the electric power industry is expected to invest on the order of $1.5 trillion over the next 15 to 20 years to meet future demand and modernize the nation's electric infrastructure. These investments will be made regardless of the nation's response to the climate challenge. The important questions are where will these investments be made, and how can we ensure that they will support our future environmental, economic and energy security goals."

Preston Chiaro (Rio Tinto): "Rio Tinto believes that broad international participation and cooperation are necessary to stabilize atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases. Nevertheless, it is entirely appropriate for the United States to take a leadership role in addressing climate change, particularly with respect to the development of low-emitting technologies which can enable widespread, cost-effective emissions abatement. The accelerated development and subsequent transfer of low-emitting and abatement technologies to other national can ultimately assist both developed and developing countries to manage their own greenhouse gas emissions."

These statements are important because they accept the necessity of moving now to meet the challenge of global warming. They themselves are a recognition that our economic fortune is tied together with the fate of our climate, and the nature of our response.

As President Obama stated in his inaugural speech yesterday, "Nor can we consume the world's resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it." In other words, its time to face reality.