CEOs Guilty of Crimes against Humanity Seek a Plea Bargain

by Steven Biel

January 15, 2009

Here’s my statement on today’s USCAP proposal, which is getting a decent amount of attention across the media.

 “The U.S. government’s chief climate scientist James Hansen once said that the CEOs of big fossil fuel industries should be tried for crimes against humanity. USCAP is their initial bid for a plea bargain.

“Unfortunately, the USCAP proposal falls short of what the science tells us is needed to prevent catastrophic global warming. It’s also a bad deal for taxpayers. Congress and the Obama administration should view this proposal as the absolute low bar for the debate on global warming and should respond with policy that is consistent with the findings of the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. It could mean the difference between a healthy planet for future generations and one that is inhospitable to life as we know it.

“The good news is that the proposal represents how far the global warming debate has come. Just a few years ago, some of these industries denied global warming was even a problem. For that, we can thank the American people, who have come to understand the urgency of the problem and voted for new political leadership that is committed to science-based action on global warming.

“But, while Greenpeace welcomes the change represented in this agreement, it should be viewed for what it is: a political document from polluters hoping to cut a favorable deal for themselves. It is not a science-based response to global warming.”

Key Points and Shortcomings of the USCAP Proposal:

USCAP has proposed reductions of 14-20% from the country’s 2005 emissions levels by 2020 and 80% by 2050. These reductions translate to about a 0-7% cut from 1990 levels by 2020 and a 77% cut by 2050. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) finds that to have a 50% chance of preventing the worst effects of global warming (and keep warming below 2 degree C), developed nations as a whole must cut emissions by 25-40% from 1990 levels and 80-95% reductions by 2050 from 1990 levels. Therefore, USCAP’s targets fall short of even the lowest end of the range needed to achieve a 50-50 chance of preventing catastrophic global warming.

But even these numbers overstate the reductions that would be achieved by the plan. USCAP allows for a massive share of the emissions reductions proposed in the plan to be met through carbon “offsets,” which could allow polluters to demonstrate reductions on paper that are never achieved in the real world. In fact, the proposal would allow up to 3 billion metric tons of emissions “cuts” to be achieved via these offsets. According to EPA, the entire U.S. economy emitted 7.130 billion metric tons of global warming pollution in 2005. Therefore, all of the 42% emissions reduction required by the proposal by the year 2030 could be achieved with these offsets. This is a scenario that is wholly incompatible with what the science shows is needed under virtually any scenario.

Finally, USCAP would provide polluters with windfall profits by allowing them huge numbers of free, tradable pollution credits. The plan also provides large direct subsidies for pursuing the hypothetical technology of “carbon-free coal,” which has never been shown to work on even a pilot basis despite enormous public subsidies. We should be investing scarce resources in proven, truly clean technologies like wind and solar power.

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