The US Congress must pass a “strong” climate change bill before the global warming summit in Copenhagen this December if it is to have a chance of persuading China and India to sign up to a new treaty, says Bill Clinton.
“First of all if we don’t adopt a workable but a strong [cap and trade] bill then we can’t get them to sign up because we won’t have any credibility,” Mr Clinton told the Financial Times in an interview on Wednesday.
“They will dodge – they won’t play in that arena unless we are clearly there.”
The former US president, whose administration negotiated the Kyoto protocol in 1997, which failed to be passed by Congress because it largely spared the big developing countries from obligations, said China was in some respects ahead of the US on clean energy.
“They’re already doing a lot of things better than we are,” Mr Clinton said. “All of their new coal plants are going to be at higher technology than our own coal stock . . . They have already invested more than we have in high-speed rail. The only thing they are still behind us on is vigorous energy efficiency.”
Mr Clinton’s comments coincided with the first signs of progress on the cap and trade bill before the House of Representatives. However, some groups have raised concerns that the bill, which is largely the result of compromise between “rustbelt” and “sunrise” state Democrats, may have excessively watered down President Barack Obama’s campaign commitments.
Mr Obama pledged to auction off 100 per cent of the permits. Under the emerging bill, which is expected to pass the House later this year but will face a rougher passage in the Senate, more than half of the permits would be given away to utility companies, energy-intensive manufacturers and oil refiners.
Mr Clinton said the bare minimum for the US in Copenhagen would be to have passed a strong cap and trade bill in the House and a clear signal it was about to pass the Senate.
He added that the talks in Copenhagen would not even reach discussions about how China and India could move to more energy-efficient economies unless Congress had reached that point. “We won’t get to the core question unless America crosses the threshold first because they kind of got to hide behind our skirts last time [at Kyoto],” he said.
The former president’s Clinton Global Initiative is organising an effort to refit buildings in an energy-efficient way in 40 cities around the world – most recently the Empire State building in New York. Mr Clinton said China could re-employ many of its 35m jobless manufacturing workers re-tooling its buildings.
On clean energy, Mr Clinton cited a recent US government report showing that 35 to 50 per cent of US energy needs could be met from wind and air if the transmission systems were put in place. And he pointed to ways to change the American lifestyle that would apply in the developing world.
“Even in Germany, which is the auto capital of Europe, they’re now building car-free suburban villages. If the president [Obama] stays on his current course, we may move away from internal combustion engines to electric motors.”