By Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 2, 2006
Twenty-two of the world's largest cities announced yesterday that they will work together to limit their contributions to global warming in an effort led by former president Bill Clinton.
The Clinton Climate Initiative -- which will create an international consortium to bargain for cheaper energy-efficient products and share ideas on cutting greenhouse gas pollution -- includes Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and New York as well as Cairo, Delhi, London and Mexico City. While the group is not setting specific targets for reducing emissions, Clinton said he is confident the effort will both cut pollution and create jobs in the cities that contribute most to higher temperatures.
"It no longer makes sense for us to debate whether or not the Earth is warming at an alarming rate, and it doesn't make sense for us to sit back and wait for others to act," Clinton said, speaking at a Los Angeles news conference with Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (D) and London and San Francisco city leaders. "The fate of the planet that our children and grandchildren will inherit is in our hands, and it is our responsibility to do something about this crisis."
The endeavor comes on the heels of Monday's announcement by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) that he will work with British Prime Minister Tony Blair to trade carbon dioxide emissions and share clean-energy technology.
It is unclear how much Clinton's initiative can achieve in the absence of broader mandatory limits on greenhouse gases. The 40 cities he is targeting account for 15 to 20 percent of the world's emissions, according to Clinton aide Ira Magaziner. City officials can cut their governments' energy use and govern local building codes and land use, but they do not regulate the automobiles or power plants that account for much of a city's carbon dioxide emissions.
Climate experts said the effort could help but by itself it will not achieve the major reductions needed to curb global warming. Drew Shindell, an atmospheric physicist at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said emissions must be cut in half by mid-century to keep Earth's temperature from reaching dangerous levels. "They can make progress, but it will be quite limited, I would think," Shindell said.
But London Mayor Ken Livingstone -- who spoke at the news conference and whose city charges a daily fee to drive cars downtown during peak traffic times -- said cities are already "at the center of developing the technologies and innovative new practices that provide hope that we can radically reduce carbon emissions."
The Clinton Foundation will focus on providing technical assistance and bargaining power to the participating cities, all with area populations of 3 million or more, employing the same model it has used to lower the price of AIDS medicine for poorer countries.
In a telephone interview Monday, Clinton -- who was criticized by some environmentalists for not moving aggressively enough as president to curb greenhouse gases -- said he cared about climate change before but feels "a greater sense of urgency" about the problem now in light of the mounting scientific evidence.
"The thing that's different is the combination of a new sense of urgency about the problem and a sense of optimism that dealing with the problem can produce economic prosperity," he said.
President Bush has promoted voluntary measures to curb greenhouse gases, such as promoting cleaner technologies, but has consistently opposed mandatory targets.
"The administration welcomes and encourages all levels of government to find ways to cut greenhouse gas emissions," Kristen Hellmer of the White House Council on Environmental Quality said of Clinton's initiative.
The Clinton Foundation plans to help major cities measure their emissions and track their reductions, as well as share information about energy-efficient building design and street lighting. Smaller cities such as Baltimore and the District cannot formally join the initiative, but they will be able to buy energy-efficient products at the same low negotiated prices as larger cities, which D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) said he would welcome.