At the Western Governors’ Association Annual Meeting on June 15, 2009, the Western Governors heard a sobering  and candid report from Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, which, at its core, indicated that climate change is real and happening faster than scientists previously warned.  According to Secretary Chu, "the news is getting scary . . . but the most scary thing in my mind is the [scientific] observations.  People can be entitled to their own opinions, but they are not entitled to their own facts."  A few of the observations cited by Secretary Chu included the following:

  • Loss of 1/2 of the Northern polar ice cap in the last 10 years
  • Sea level rise
  • 40% of the British Columbia pine is dead
  • Extreme water stress in the Western United States (with exception to the Pacific Northwest) as a result of decreased snow pack and changing weather patterns

Secretary Chu was particularly concerned with the continued melting of the permafrost in the Northern Hemisphere, which he predicted could have "runaway effects" due to the massive release of CO2 and methane from the biomass that has accumulated over time. 

President of the World Bank, Robert B. Zoellick, also participated in the discussion on climate change, indicating that the rule making that will be necessary for implementing climate change policies will stay with us for decades and will be some of the "toughest negotiations" he has ever seen.  Mr. Zoellick stressed the importance of having the Governors plugged into the rule making process since this will be the framework that the states will have to live with.  There was also an acknowledgment among the group that the farmers and ranchers are skeptical about climate change, but that this is a key stakeholder group that needs to be part of the equation.  Governor Bill Richardson commented that the key will be the creation of a carbon offset market that will  work.  Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, concurred indicating that a carbon offset market will be critical to the survival of rural communities. 

The climate change discussion continued during the morning session on June 16, 2009, following presentations from Dr. Susan Shirk, Director of the University of California Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation, University of California, San Diego, and Eric Heitz, President of The Energy Foundation.  The presentations focused on the potential for the United States and China to jointly lead the way forward in Copenhagen and beyond with respect to global climate change policies.  However, some of the challenges cited by Dr. Shirk and Mr. Heitz included:

  • China and the U.S. have used each other as reasons not to commit to climate change policies
  • China believes the U.S. and other developed countries should lead the way in implementing climate change policies
  • While there is an opportunity for increased relations between the U.S. and China, we could also see China balk due to suspicions that the U.S. is trying to slowdown the Chinese economy
  • Both countries have domestic policies that will need to be managed
  • Some of China’s provincial governments prefer to concentrate on economic growth versus policies that will slow that growth
  • China is trying to bring 1 billion people out of poverty

Despite these challenges, the key in achieving success with China will be to understand and build on China’s motivations, which include, among others, resolving local water and air pollution issues that have given rise to health concerns and China’s desire to be the world leader in green technology development.

Eric Heitz debunked the myth that "China is not doing anything on clean energy or climate change" by demonstrating that China has already adopted an ambitious suite of clean energy policies.  According to Mr. Heitz:

  • China made a $12 billion investment in renewable energy in 2007
  • In 2005, China initiated a renewable portfolio standard that resulted in doubling installed wind capacity in 2006, and which doubled again in 2007
  • China has initiated its own "green stimulus" package by commiting $221 billion (which of 5% of China’s 2008 GDP) in furthering "green technology"
  • China is positioning itself to be a competitor in the world auto market through the manufacture of electric vehicle

During this discussion, the Western Governors identified a WGA initiative aimed at working with the Chinese provincial governments and an organized trip to China to engage in those efforts.  President Obama’s appointment of Governor Jon Huntsman as the ambassador to China, will certainly be instrumental in setting the ground work for the WGA’s work in China.

On a final note, the Western Governors adopted two important policy resolutions aimed Global Climate Change Policies: