Kerry Touts US CO2 Reduction Achievements – Then Says it Hasn’t Done Enough

By Patrick Goodenough | May 15, 2013 | 11:34 PM EDT

Secretary of State John Kerry is greeted by Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt in Kiruna, Sweden, where they attended an Arctic Council ministers’ meeting on Wednesday. (Photo: State Department)

( – Secretary of State John Kerry said Wednesday that the United States was now emitting less carbon dioxide than required by both the expired Kyoto Protocol and an aborted U.S. cap-and-trade bill – but then added that it was still not doing enough to combat climate change.

Speaking in Sweden, where he was attending a meeting of countries with interests in the Arctic, Kerry identified climate change as his top priority when setting future policies in the ecologically-sensitive far northern region.

“The Arctic is a precious treasure for all of the world,” he told reporters at the Arctic Council meeting in Kiruna, a town north of the Arctic Circle. “And the United States recognizes that we are one of the two major contributors to global emissions [of carbon dioxide and other “greenhouse gases” blamed for climate change]. More than 50 percent of the world’s emissions come from two countries, China and the United States.”

Kerry, who during his Senate career positioned himself as a leading voice in Congress on the global warming issue, noted that President Obama had in two major speeches this year – his inaugural address and State of the Union – “embraced the importance of dealing with climate change.”

“The United States of America today is below Kyoto levels in emissions,” he declared. “People don’t know that.

“The United States today is actually below the Waxman-Markey legislation mandates that didn’t pass,” he continued. “So we’re doing things – automobile efficiency, standards, efficiencies, building codes, fleet purchase, all kinds of things, but not enough. No-one is doing enough.”

Kerry went on to point out that one country’s reduction of greenhouse gas emissions can be negated by another country’s increase.

“The problem is that everything that we do or everything one other nation does is going to be wiped out by China or another nation if they continue with coal firepower at the rate that we are proceeding,” he said.

The U.S. is due to assume the chair of the eight-nation Arctic Council for two years in 2015, and Kerry signaled that when it does, it will focus strongly on “the needs for all of us to do things that recognize the global impact on the ecosystem of what is happening in the Arctic.”

Kerry in his comments referred to two sets of targets for carbon dioxide (CO2) emission reductions – the Kyoto Protocol and the 2009 “Waxman-Markey” cap-and-trade bill, the American Clean Energy and Security Act.

The 1997 Kyoto agreement set industrialized countries targets to reduce their emissions during the 2008-2012 period by an average of 5.2 percent below 1990 levels.

President Bush drew international reproach when he rejected Kyoto. His administration argued that its mandates would harm the U.S. economy and pointed out that it did not set emission cut targets developing countries like China and India, even though they are major CO2 emitters.

Last month, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported that the U.S. in 2012 emitted the lowest levels of energy-related CO2 since 1994. It attributed the achievement in part to reduced use of coal (the most carbon-intensive fossil fuel) for electricity generation and increased use of natural gas (the least carbon-intensive fossil fuel) – a shift which it said was the result of lower natural gas prices.

That announcement prompted some commentators to say that the U.S. had therefore met its Kyoto obligations – despite having rejected the treaty – since the 2012 CO2 level (5,293 billion metric tons) was 5.3 percent lower than the 1997 level (5,584 billion metric tons).

(In fact, that’s not strictly true, since although Kyoto was negotiated in 1997 its emission-reduction benchmark was not the 1997 level but the 1990 one – and in 1990 the U.S. CO2 emission level was 5.038 billion metric tons, according to the EIA statistics.)

Kerry in Sweden also cited the 2009 American Clean Energy and Security Act, authored by Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.), which sought to set up a system to limit and trade COs emissions.

The controversial measure passed in the U.S. House in June 2009 by a margin of just seven votes, but died in the Senate.

The failed legislation’s emission-reduction targets included one of 97 percent of 2005 levels by 2012.

According to the recently-released EIA figures, U.S. emissions in 2012 (5,293 billion metric tons) were at 88 percent of the 2005 level (5,999 billion metric tons).

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow