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Climate Change: A Hot Debate in '08

Climate Change: A Hot Debate in '08According to The Fletcher School's William Moomaw, the corporate world is beating out Capitol Hill in the battle against climate change. But the government is slowly picking up the pace.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [01.15.08] With the introduction of green buildings and employee education programs, some companies have beaten the government to the punch when it comes to dealing with climate change. But it's not the first time the government has trailed the corporate world in tackling a major environmental issue.

"When we eliminated chemicals that were depleting the ozone layer, for example, government's role was six months behind the corporations that were finding ways to make a better profit by getting rid of the old chemicals and introducing new ones," The Fletcher School's William Moomaw recently told CNBC Asia on its popular program, "Squawk Box.""And then government would ratify that six months later and take credit for it."

The government is lagging behind the corporate sector once again-this time in its efforts to address climate change. But with a change of power coming in the Oval Office in 2009, the focus on climate change on Capitol Hill is growing.

"There are now 13 [climate change] bills before Congress," Moomaw, a professor of international environmental policy, told CNBC Asia. "What's absolutely incredible is nine months ago, it was unthinkable that the U.S. Congress would be considering climate legislation."

In October, Moomaw, who is also the director of The Fletcher School's Center for International Environment and Resource Policy, testified before Congress on a climate change bill introduced by Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Sen. John Warner (R-Va.). If passed, America's Climate Security Act of 2007 would require the Environmental Protection Agency to establish a program to decrease emissions of greenhouse gases.

"It was as though the world had been transformed in Washington," Moomaw explained to CNBC about his visit to Capitol Hill. The buzz about climate change is intensifying, he added, "in anticipation that there will be changes."

While Moomaw doesn't expect any of the bills to be passed until after President George W. Bush has left office, he said the groundwork is being laid.

"It's sort of like cranes doing a mating dance for quite a long time before they get to the real event," he told CNBC. "They have to go through this process, and it will take a couple of years of kind of testing things out, getting some kind of consensus."

The corporate world, however, is moving at a quicker pace, according to Moomaw.

"I think one could argue that there are corporate sectors that are doing much more to address climate change than governments are," he told the news program. "Governments are in fact laggards because they have to deal with the competing interests of a whole range of interests and different types of corporations, some of whom are responsible for climate change as well as those who could benefit from doing something."

According to Moomaw, HSBC, one of the world's largest banking and financial services organizations, is a corporate leader in addressing climate change. He said that the company's CEO, Michael Geoghegan, committed to dealing with this issue several yearsago.

"HSBC, I think, was maybe the first bank to offset all of its carbon emissions from all of its travel, all of its operations," he told CNBC. "[The company] refurbished its headquarter buildings and its banks, and has run these incredible programs to educate all of its employees on climate change."

But even if companies like HSBC are ahead of the government in dealing with climate change, the future looks promising, according to Moomaw.

"These bills [before Congress] start at 50% reductions in emissions and go up to 80% percent reductions in emissions," he told CNBC. "It's quite a transformation actually."

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