For nearly a quarter of a century, the United Nations has released periodic reports collating thousands of scientists’ assessments of climate change. The bottom line: the accumulation of greenhouse gas emissions from the human enterprise constitute a threat to the planet. That makes climate change the most urgent, consequential, dangerous, and difficult challenge of our time. Arguably, it fits that billing for any time. The only other case of humanity threatening its own survival is the specter of global thermonuclear war, which is easier to deal with: avoiding World War III is a matter of leaders’ not doing something—pressing the buttons that launch the missiles. Keeping climate change at bay is a matter of taking action on numerous fronts and doing so seriously, massively, effectively, and soon.
That’s not happening. The United Nations’ reports have been accepted by Republican and Democratic administrations in the United States and by other governments around the world, but acceptance hasn’t been translated into action.
Making up for lost time is a universal responsibility, but the United States bears a double burden—as the No. 1 emitter of greenhouse gases, and as the nation with the most power to exert international leadership. As I wrote in 2012, Americans today have an unprecedented and onerous distinction: they are the first generation to realize that they live in the era of global warming and also the last generation with a chance to do something about it. The effort requires the commitment and engagement of virtually every sector of society.
That’s why contributing to the search for a transformative climate and energy policy is a Brookings priority. In the dozen years that I’ve been at Brookings, my colleagues and I have been on the case. We have published dozens of books on the subject, including one that Bill Antholis and I wrote in 2010. All five of our research programs have promoted climate and change and clean energy research—designing local energy innovation initiatives, shaping the design and economic assessment of national approaches, shaping the structure of global negotiations, and crafting diplomatic strategies for U.S.-China cooperation. We have worked closely with administrations and members of Congress from both parties, the media, and numerous NGOs to contribute our ideas directly into the public debate and the policy process.
Findings of the latest UN assessment, released in recent months, raise the urgency of the threat and alert us to its magnitude. That requires us to up our game—locally, nationally, and globally. At Brookings, that means expanding the scope and increasing the impact of our work in the months, years, and, I hope, decades to come.
We’ve already begun to augment our team. In April we announced that Professor Qi Ye would join us as a senior fellow and director of the Brookings Tsinghua Center. He has been for nearly two decades one of China’s leading authorities on environmental implementation, and collaborates on climate change issues with the National Development and Reform Commission, which supervises strategic planning for the Chinese government. The Brookings India Center led by Vikram Mehta, an expert on energy policy, will make climate and clean energy an important part of its agenda.
We announced three weeks ago that one America’s leading authorities on water resources, Patricia Mulroy will join our team as a senior fellow in Metropolitan Studies, heading up an initiative on Climate Adaptation and Environmental Policy.
Given the wide-ranging challenges around the globe, the most powerful changes may be a combination of subnational action and international agreements. Two years ago, I predicted that not only would the United States score zero progress on the climate/energy issue, but there would be backsliding in terms of the public debate and education that surround it.
Across all of Brookings, we hope to play our part in reinvigorating the public debate and designing smart policies that can reduce carbon emissions, without sacrificing energy security or American competitiveness. It is with that in mind that we launch this blog: PlanetPolicy: The Intersection of Energy and Climate Policy.
The contributors to this new Brookings blog will cover the whole range of questions and solutions for the climate and energy challenges facing the U.S. and the world. This includes understanding how the world’s largest democracy might proceed on climate if a new party leads the government of India, how state and local leaders right here in the U.S. will finance clean energy investments, and how nations can come to agreements on future climate policy based on the evidence at hand.
Given the unique stakes for all of us, and future generations, I hope you will join in this discussion.