Political Climate Won’t Stop U.S. Climate Change Initiatives

| by AFL-CIO

AFL-CIO Industrial Union Council Director Bob Baugh is a member of a global union delegation led by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) attending the new round of United Nations climate change negotiations in Cancun, Mexico. This is the second of a series of blogs on the talks. Read the first blog here.

Congress’s failure to pass climate change legislation and the election of a conservative majority in the next House have led many delegates from other countries to ask if the United States can meet the commitments it made in Copenhagen to reduce carbon emissions.


We answer that there are many things we can do as a nation without congressional action to help retain and create good jobs, reduce carbon emissions and build the political support needed for future legislation.

U.S. Special Envoy Todd Stern foreshadowed these questions in an October speech at the University of Michigan, when he said:

President Obama is not backing away from the target we put forward in Copenhagen last year, and there are any number of ways to get there, using both legislative and regulatory tools. 

For example, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is already beginning to issue guidance and notice of proposed rules. Upcoming legislation for upgrading our infrastructure will also include programs to lower carbon emissions.

In a meeting here with U.S. union delegates, Secretary of Energy Steven Chu said the nation needs a 50-year vision for a modern infrastructure and diverse energy base that includes a broad clean energy standard. He said we must be a leader in innovation and “have a national goal to create good jobs by making the technology in America.” 

Chu’s comments about infrastructure and energy efficiency speak directly to the issues being considered by unions and our allies in the Apollo Alliance, Blue Green Alliance, and Green for All. Other union allies in the nonprofit CERES and the Heartland Funds investment group want to link investments to a sustainable clean energy manufacturing economy.

There are opportunities to address energy and appliance standards at the federal level, and to move the Apollo Alliance Transportation Manufacturing Action Plan, which calls for rebuilding our nation’s transportation infrastructure.

There also is much we can do at the state and local levels, such as updating building codes, establishing energy standards and providing incentives for low cost weatherization through property tax breaks and mortgage adjustments.