Former President Clinton and mayors of some of the world’s largest cities announced an initiative Tuesday to combat climate change and increase energy efficiency in everything from street lights to building materials.
The partnership joins Clinton and the resources of his presidential foundation with the Large Cities Climate Leadership Group — an alliance of Rome, London, Mexico City, Los Angeles and other cities that have pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
The aim is to pool technology and resources to slash the emissions that many scientists fear are contributing to global warming.
“This is a very, very serious problem, but also a phenomenal opportunity,” Clinton said at the University of California, Los Angeles, where he signed the pact in the company of the mayors of Los Angeles, San Francisco and London, as well as British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Clinton faulted the Bush White House for moving too slowly on global warming and said an era of environmental catastrophe awaits if more isn’t done at home and abroad.
“The entrenched thought patterns and economic interests of yesterday are our common enemy,” Clinton said.
In response, a spokeswoman for the White House Council on Environmental Quality said that the Bush administration supports efforts to cut emissions.
“The administration encourages all levels of government — including the states and local governments — to find ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” Kristen Hellmer said. “This approach reinforces the approach advanced by the president, and the administration looks forward to exploring ideas to achieve real results.”
The pact is similar to one signed Monday by California and Britain, which will share information and technology to cut pollutants linked to climate change.
“Our aim is simple — to change the world,” said London Mayor Ken Livingstone.
The plan calls for Clinton to help the cities pool their purchasing power to lower the price of energy-saving products and accelerate the development of technology to reduce greenhouse gases.
Schwarzenegger critical of Bush
On Monday, Blair and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced an agreement to bypass the Bush administration and work together to explore ways to fight global warming.
“We see that there is not great leadership from the federal government when it comes to protecting the environment,” Schwarzenegger said. “We know there is global warming, so we should stop it.”
Addressing business leaders during an earlier panel discussion, Blair called global warming “long-term, the single biggest issue we face.”
The agreement calls for collaboration on research into cleaner-burning fuels and technologies, and looking into the possibility of setting up a system whereby polluters could buy and sell the right to emit greenhouse gases. The idea is to use market forces and market incentives to curb pollution.
Environmental groups questioned the value of the agreement, calling it little more than a symbolic gesture.
California is looking to cut carbon dioxide — a byproduct of coal, oil and gasoline combustion — and other heat-trapping gases that scientists say are warming the planet. President Bush has rejected the idea of ordering such cuts.
“This is an agreement to share ideas and information. It is not a treaty,” said Schwarzenegger spokesman Adam Mendelsohn. “Right now, all we are doing is talking about sharing ideas.”
“It will be markets, not governments, that will decide which technologies are chosen in the future. Governments can give clear, credible, long-term signals to the market which will enable companies to develop the technology that will result in cleaner technology, more energy efficient technology,” said a Blair spokesman, speaking on condition of anonymity, in line with government policy.
Kristen Hellmer, a spokeswoman for the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said the agreement was “a wonderful amplification” of talks last year between the president and Blair.
“It’s just another step forward,” she said. “This is a way to share ideas, what works and what doesn’t work.”
For Schwarzenegger, a Republican who is running for a full term in November, the agreement comes at a time when he has been trying to distance himself from Bush in this mostly Democratic state.
His aides disputed speculation that the agreement was an attempt to sidestep the White House. In a conference call with reporters, state Environmental Secretary Linda Adams said the agency is in “constant contact” with federal regulators, but added that there was no discussion with Washington about Monday’s agreement.
Activist: Voluntary not enough
Craig Noble of the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group, said the pact had symbolic value, but that “the time for talk is over.” He urged passage of a proposal, pending in the state Legislature, that would make California the first state to limit greenhouse gas emissions from industrial sources.
“The bottom line is, voluntary is not enough,” Noble said.
While partnering with Britain, Schwarzenegger is seeking changes to the state bill that Democrats say would undermine its goals.
Schwarzenegger has proposed creating a board of agency heads who would set emission limits after taking into account the economic effects. Democrats say the independent state Air Resources Board should oversee the program.
The world’s only mandatory carbon dioxide trading program is in Europe. Created in conjunction with the Kyoto Protocol, the 1997 international treaty that took effect last year, it caps the amount of carbon dioxide that can be emitted from power plants and factories in more than two dozen countries.
Companies can trade rights to pollute directly with each other or through exchanges located around Europe. Canada, one of more than 160 nations that signed Kyoto, plans a similar program.
Although the United States is one of the few industrialized nations that have not signed the treaty, some Eastern states are developing a regional cap-and-trade program. And some U.S. companies have voluntarily agreed to limit their carbon dioxide pollution as part of a new Chicago-based market.
Focus on vehicles
A main target of the agreement between Britain and California is the carbon dioxide from cars, trucks and other modes of transportation. Transportation accounts for an estimated 41 percent of California’s greenhouse gas emissions and 28 percent of Britain’s.
Schwarzenegger has called on California to cut its greenhouse gas emissions to 2000 levels by 2010. California was the 12th-largest source of greenhouse gases in the world last year, bigger than most nations.
Blair has called on Britain to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to 60 percent of its 1990 levels by 2050. Britain also has been looking at imposing individual limits on carbon pollution. People who accumulate unused carbon allowances — for example, by driving less, or switching to less polluting vehicles — could sell them to people who exceed their allowances — for example by driving more.
Bush has resisted Blair’s efforts to make carbon dioxide reduction a top international priority. After taking office, Bush reversed a 2000 campaign pledge to regulate carbon dioxide emissions, then withdrew U.S. support from the Kyoto treaty requiring industrialized nations to cut their greenhouse gases to below 1990 levels.
The United States is responsible for a quarter of the world’s global warming emissions. Bush administration officials argue that requiring cuts in greenhouse gases would cost the U.S. economy 5 million jobs.
Instead, the administration has poured billions of dollars into research aimed at slowing the growth of most greenhouse gases while advocating a global cut on one of them, methane.