CCS CEO Identifies Conditions Needed to Achieve Climate Goals

White Plains, New York. Tom Peterson, President and CEO of Washington-DC based Center for Climate Strategies, joined an expert panel of thought leaders at a Pace University-sponsored policy colloquium to discuss “Foundations and Principles for a New Era of Environmental Law.”  

Increasing political resistance to looming environmental issues, paired with evidence of significant implementation gaps on a variety of globally agreed-upon goals, raise important questions about the best approaches to future law and policy. These trends aside, tension between perceived government paternalism and local-determination has long been a factor impeding significant progress on environmental objectives.  

In his comments, Peterson highlighted how more attention must be paid to encouraging the willingness to act (or “willpower”), instead of relying primarily on setting aspirational goals (or “ambition”), citing the Paris Agreement as an example where more balance between these concepts might be needed for it implementation.  

“While goals set under the Paris Agreement represent major steps toward long-term stabilization of the climate, many countries are not on track for full implementation even for these current commitments,” explained Peterson. “Approaches that focus on environmental stringency, even with some added flexibility and public awareness, are unlikely to address willpower needs without broader strategic focus.”

 Instead, Peterson suggests there are five key conditions needed to unlock the “willpower” required to achieve the “ambitions” for climate change based on high-level field experience. They include:

1) alignment of climate policy with national priorities (such as economic and energy development);

2) assurance of program capacity in terms of manpower and money;

3) public support through public involvement in all phases of government decisions;

4) freedom of choice and self-determination for new laws and policies; and

5) access to effective tools for policy development and implementation.

Peterson pointed to the Low Emissions Development Strategies (LEDS) program, Low Carbon Development (LCD), and other multi objective, country and feasibility driven, action planning approaches involving high levels of stakeholder participation as working examples of CCS’ “willpower-building” template that capitalize on climate change as a growth and development opportunity. 

Chaired by Pace University Law Professor Joseph Siegel, this panel included representatives of the American Bar Association’s Section of Environment, Energy, and Resources and other leaders in academia and private practice, who noted the need for similar approaches within the private sector. Speakers also called for environmental law to become more responsive to the needs of vulnerable communities, as well as to political and economic trends. 

More detail on Peterson’s views about the important role of both ambition and willpower in achieving environmental goals can be found in the December 2016 issue of the Environmental Law Institute Comment, “Unlocking Willpower and Ambition to Meet the Goals of the Paris Climate Change Agreement (Part One): Shifting Needs of Law, Policy, and Economics”.