Gas prices are back in the news

Filed Under (Environmental Policy, U.S. Fiscal Policy) by Don Fullerton on Mar 11, 2011

Gas prices are back in the news, simply because gas prices are rising.  Reporters like to discuss WHY gas prices are rising, but who knows?  The price of gasoline or crude oil can vary with any change, either in supply or demand.  We can always point to shifts in demand (like the growing economies of China and India), and we can always point to shifts in supply (like the shutdown of production due to unrest in countries of the Middle East and North Africa).  But it’s very difficult to sort out the net impact of each such factor, since the price is affected daily by so many different changes.

Instead of trying to answer that question here and now, let’s take a step back and look at whether any of the current changes are really that unusual.  Is the price of gas really high by historical standards?  And how much of that gas price is driven by energy policy, taxes, and factors under the control of policymakers?  In other words, let’s just look at the facts for now, and then try to analyze them later!

Here are the facts, for the fifty years since 1960.  The first figure below is from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).  Look first at the BLUE line, where we see what you already know:  the nominal price of gasoline has risen from $0.31/gallon to what’s now $3.56/gallon.  It’s driving us broke, right?

Well, not so fast.  The RED line corrects for inflation, showing all years’ prices in 2011 dollars.  So both series stand at $3.56/gallon in 2011, but the red line shows that the “real” (inflation-corrected) price of gasoline back in 1960 was $2.33/gallon.  In fact, compare the red line from 1960 to 2009: over those fifty years, the real price of gasoline only changed from $2.33 to $2.42 per gallon – virtually no change in the real price at all! 

From 2009 to 2011 the real price increased beyond $2.42, rising to $3.56/gallon, but that may be temporary.  You can see that the red line bounces around for the whole fifty year period.   In 1980, the real price was $3.35/gallon, so the current price is not much different from previous upward blips in the real price of gas.

Now look at the U.S. Federal Gasoline Tax Rate, in the next figure.  The red line in the next figure shows that the nominal statutory tax rate was four cents per gallon for years, and then it was increased in various increments to 18 cents per gallon today.  But of course, inflation has changed the real value of that tax rate as well.  Using 2011 dollars again, both real and nominal tax rates are 18 cents per gallon today.  But in 2011 dollars, the 4 cents per gallon back in 1960 was really equivalent to 29 cents today.  In other words, the real gas tax in the green line has fallen from 29 cents per gallon fifty years ago to only 18 cents today.

The gas price may be rising, but not due to any increase in the Federal gas tax.  That Federal gas tax is falling in real terms.  In the next entry, we’ll take a look at the various State gas tax rates, and we’ll look at how many of those taxes are fixed per gallon – so that they fall in real terms as inflation reduces the real value of those State tax rates.

How Much Should Congress Leave to the Regulators?

Filed Under (Environmental Policy, U.S. Fiscal Policy) by Don Fullerton on Feb 11, 2011

The very existence of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has long been a point of contention between the two political parties.  What is, and what ought to be the role of the EPA with regard to policy making?  Congress cannot possibly enact laws that contain every detail about subsequent implementation, monitoring, and enforcement.  And they should not put everything in the law anyway, in order to allow enough flexibility to deal with future contingencies.  Besides, those in Congress don’t have the science background necessary to decide all of the details of some technological aspects of pollution prevention.

The law does not say that every electric power plant must reduce emissions of each pollutant to no more than some number, like 37 micrograms per cubic meter.  Instead, the law from Congress just says that EPA should protect human health to an adequate margin of safety.

Yet some would prefer that the EPA disappear, along with every agency having any regulatory power.  This agency, which was conceived in 1970 under Richard Nixon, has analyzed and supported some of the most important pieces of legislation of the last forty years, ranging from the Endangered Species Act to – more recently – the new emissions standards going into effect this year. 

In 2007, the United States Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision called “Massachusetts vs. EPA”, that the EPA could in fact regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act, on the grounds that such emissions do affect human health.  When combined with the new Republican-dominated Congress, we have set the stage for yet another ideological battle. 

Throughout the past decade, much of the discussion about controlling carbon dioxide emissions has largely centered around the idea of Cap and Trade.  That system would effectively put a price on each unit of pollution emissions.  It would create a market where the need for emissions and the cost of emissions are balanced in a way that can achieve economic efficiency.  However, the most viable attempt at this in recent years, the Waxman-Markey bill of 2009 (H.R.5454), passed the House and not the Senate.  It would not even get past the House in this term.  

The question then becomes, what exactly are the cards that the EPA retains in their deck? 

A recent article is titled “Greenhouse Gas Regulation Under the Clean Air Act” by researchers at Resources for the Future (RFF, by Burtraw, Fraas, and Richardson).  It seeks to explore the options available to the EPA, in-depth.  What they find is that the EPA can implement measures that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions significantly in a measured and cost-effective manner.  For this to happen, however, they argue that the EPA must become bold and decisive in their actions. 

Bold action may be taken as an example of government overreach, and so the EPA must be careful.

Republicans are currently in discussion to introduce the Energy Tax Prevention Act of 2011 .  They recognize that the EPA holds some powerful cards after the Supreme Court ruling in 2007, and they want to take that power away.  This Act would shift the EPA’s ability to regulate from the Agency to the legislative branch.  Yet such an action could take any decision-making ability from the scientists and put it in the hands of the politicians.  As EPA leader Lisa Jackson said, “Politicians overruling scientists on a scientific question – that would become part of this committee’s legacy.’”  Herein lies a problem with democracy.  The people in charge of making the decisions that affect us all, often have little knowledge of the actual issues at hand.  After all, Republicans from oil-rich states like Oklahoma still claim global warming is nothing but a hoax.

The State of the Union may be strong, but the state of America’s energy policy is less clear

Filed Under (Environmental Policy, U.S. Fiscal Policy) by Don Fullerton on Jan 28, 2011

On Tuesday night, President Obama gave the State of the Union (SOTU) Address (transcript) before a joint session of Congress.  The speech drew upon imagery from the Cold War past in order to spur action regarding America’s energy policy.  “This is our generation’s Sputnik moment,” the President declared, and thus he will send a budget to Congress that invests “especially [in] clean energy technology, an investment that will strengthen our security, protect our planet, and create countless new jobs for our people.”  To deal with this “Sputnik moment”, the President set forth two goals: (1) become the first country to have a million electric vehicles on the road by 2015; and (2) get 80% of America’s energy from clean sources by 2035. 

(Not quite as inspiring as President Kennedy’s urging on May 21, 1961 that “this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before the decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.”  On July 20, 1969, Apollo 11 landed on the Moon and Neil Armstrong took his first step on the lunar surface.)

I have three issues with the President’s approach.  First, the wording of the goals in the SOTU Address needs to be parsed carefully in order to understand their meaning or lack of meaning.  For instance, does “electric vehicles” mean all-electric vehicles or do hybrids count towards that goal?  Similarly, what is the definition of “clean sources”?  Fortunately, in this case we have an answer later in the Address.  As the President admits, “Some folks want wind and solar.  Others want nuclear, clean coal and natural gas.  To meet this goal, we will need them all.”  However, ambiguity still exists because clean coal and natural gas technologies can be deployed with or without carbon capture and sequestration technologies.

Second, the President did not offer details about HOW to achieve these goals.  The Address includes references to investments in clean energy technology, but it specifies neither investment level nor investment horizon required to meet the stated goals.  He did not say, for example, $10 billion annually for 10 years.  If clean energy is really a priority for the President, and given concerns about the fiscal deficit, then clarity about the needed investment level would be helpful so that other programs can be identified for cuts in order to balance the budget.  Also, the President said that “clean energy breakthroughs will only translate into clean energy jobs if businesses know there will be a market for what they’re selling.”  I agree.  However, an efficient, well functioning market requires a price signal.  This brings me to my last point.

Third, the President did not directly address environmental policy when setting his goals.  If the President really means “low-carbon” or “no carbon” when he says “clean”, then the absence of a carbon policy in the Address becomes conspicuous.  Specifically, the President did not indicate if he would again push for a cap-and-trade bill.  Given the composition of the new Congress, a cap-and-trade bill or any other piece of legislation that puts either an explicit or implicit price on carbon emission seems politically infeasible.  To have a market for these clean energy technologies, where is the price signal going to come from?  

In their forthcoming book called “Accelerating Energy Innovation: Insights from Multiple Sectors”, Rebecca Henderson and Richard G. Newell look at lessons from the histories of innovation in other industries and implications for the energy industry.   The introduction says: “Taken together the histories point to three key factors as critical to accelerating innovation: (1) well funded, carefully managed public research that is tightly linked to the private sector; (2) rapidly growing demand; and (3) antitrust, intellectual property and standards policies that together promote vigorous competition and the entry of new firms.”

How many people would ‘demand’ electric vehicles at a high price, just out of the goodness of their hearts?  Or would that demand depend on the existence of a policy that raises the price of burning fossil fuels?

The President noted that when Sputnik was launched, NASA did not exist.  Yet, the Department of Energy has existed for many years, and America’s energy policy is still unclear and uncertain.

America’s Knowledge of Climate Change

Filed Under (Environmental Policy) by Dan Karney on Oct 29, 2010

The Yale Project on Climate Change recently released a report titled “America’s Knowledge of Climate Change”.  The Project quizzed a representative sample of Americans on a wide range of questions about climate change and assigned grades to the participants.  Unfortunately, over half of the individuals surveyed answered less than 60% of the questions correctly, and with a curve 27% received a failing grade.

However, more interesting than the overall grades are the responses to individual questions.  For instance, 63% of Americans believe that climate change is happening, but only 45% understand that carbon dioxide traps heat from the Earth’s surface.  In general, the report reveals confusion about the basic science of greenhouse gases.  Here are two examples.

First, a large majority of Americans incorrectly believe that reducing toxic waste (67%) or banning aerosol spray cans (69%) would reduce climate change.  While toxic waste and depletion of the ozone layer are important environmental problem, they are not directly related to the production greenhouse gases.  The confusion here is understandable as individuals might be conflating issues that each receives, or has received, the considerable the attention of environmental activists.

Second, only 67% surveyed know that the burning of fossil fuel emits carbon dioxide.  I find this result most troubling.  Regardless of whether one believes climate change is happening, basic chemistry shows that fossil fuel combustion necessarily leads to the emission of carbon dioxide.  Indeed, any logical argument for reducing fossil fuel use to combat climate change must begin with the acknowledgment that burning fossil fuel creates CO2.  Without this basic knowledge, policymakers have a more difficult time advocating for renewable energy sources rather than relying on natural gas, oil, and coal.

After its publication, the Yale Project’s report was picked-up on the Huffington Post (here).  The Post asked its readers to rate on a scale from 1 (“Not Too Surprising”) to 10 (“That’s Ridiculous”) the results of fourteen questions from the survey.  The readers selected the result that “12% of Americans say that global warming is happening, but will be more beneficial than harmful” as the most ridiculous.

While many Post readers think that the statement about global warming being beneficial is ridiculous, upon closer inspection it might not be so ridiculous after all.  Scientists predict that climate change will have differential impacts: some places warmer, some colder; some places drier, some wetter; and so on.  Therefore, it is entirely possible that some places in the U.S. could receive a net benefit from climate change.  Indeed, this is one of the many problems that makes political consensus on climate change so difficult.  Perhaps the readers of the Huffington Post should receive a failing grade too!

Without Climate Legislation, We Might Get More Regulations!

Filed Under (Environmental Policy, Finance) by Don Fullerton on Oct 22, 2010

On Tuesday October 19, the Center for Business and Public Policy (CBPP) presented a panel of experts on “Environmental Regulation: Building a Low-Carbon Economy.”  It was sponsored by the College of Business and the MBA Program with financial support from State Farm.  This blog may help tie our virtual audience to activities at the “brick and mortar” University, with a few reflections of my own.

Climate legislation recently failed in this Congress, so the U.S. will not soon adopt any cap-and-trade policy.  To provide incentives for Congress to act, however, the Obama Administration had said that otherwise the EPA will act to reduce carbon emissions using other forms of regulation under the Clean Air Act.   The key question here is what can or should be done without climate legislation.  The Panel members were asked to discuss the future of energy use, its role in creating a low carbon economy, and what future energy policies and regulations will be needed.

The first speaker was William A. Von Hoene Jr., the Exelon Corporation’s Executive Vice President for Finance and Legal.  Exelon has 17 nuclear reactors at ten locations, as well as other plants powered by hydro, wind, solar, landfill gas, and fossil fuels.  Their electricity is relatively low in carbon emissions, with 5.4 million customers primarily in Illinois and Pennsylvania.  They favor carbon pricing because it reduces overall abatement costs relative to a patchwork of tax credits for certain technologies and mandates such as “renewable portfolio standards.”   Those policies might not target the cheapest form of abatement, whereas a carbon tax or cap and trade price would provide clear and crisp signals to reduce emissions in any of the cheapest ways.  He also talked about their “Exelon 2020” business strategy of greening their operations, helping customers reduce emissions, and producing more low-emission electricity.

A problem, of course, is that none of these other technologies are very cheap.  Protections for nuclear power may prevent any new plant, and the U.S. has no long term storage plans anyway.  Other renewable options like wind or solar are not cost-effective unless the cost of coal-fired electricity is raised by a carbon dioxide tax of more than $30 per ton.

The second speaker was Mark Brownstein, Deputy Director of the Energy Program for the Environmental Defense Fund.  He talked first about “what went wrong” with climate legislation in Congress.  Divisions were not just by party but by region, since the President’s plans were offset by a coalition of Republicans and coal-state Democrats.  The recession also added to perceptions that markets don’t work, which spills over to carbon permit markets.  He also talked about “what’s next”, including renewed effort to put climate legislation back on track, with eyes on state action and EPA regulations.   Finally, he discussed “what’s the focus” at EDF.  Besides continued discussion of climate policy and EPA, they are interested in energy market reform.  For example, smart grid technology that links various electricity markets can allow more people to buy power from areas that have newer and cleaner production.

The third speaker was Jon Anda, UBS Securities’ Vice Chairman and Head of Environmental Markets.  He also extolled the virtues of carbon pricing, because it would encourage new technology that could help the U.S. compete internationally.  It would “decarbonize” production at the least cost, minimize leakage, and realize various “co-benefits” (reductions in other pollutants).   In particular, he pointed out that a carbon permit system should not apply to utilities only, because reduced emissions among utilities would be offset by increased emissions elsewhere (“leakage”).  It needs to cover all use of all fossil fuels. 

For example, carbon pricing for utilities only would raise the price of electricity, but that could discourage the use of electric vehicles.  Carbon pricing also needs to apply to gasoline, for drivers to make the right tradeoffs between whether to buy an electric car or a fuel-efficient gasoline car.

Uncertainty is not a reason to wait, but MORE reason to act!

Filed Under (Environmental Policy, U.S. Fiscal Policy) by Don Fullerton on Jul 25, 2010

Nobody has any doubt that climate forecasts are uncertain.  They are uncertain with or without anthropogenic (human caused) effects of greenhouse gas emissions.  Then, when trying to gauge the effects of humans, we have to take the difference between the uncertain climate forecast with extra emissions and the uncertain forecast without extra emissions.  That only compounds the uncertainty!

Suppose for example that without our extra carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions, the temperature in 2050 is predicted to average 50°F plus or minus 5°.  And suppose the temperature with our current rate of emissions is predicted to average 52°F plus or minus 5°F.  Then the difference (the effect of emissions) is not just 52-50 = 2°F.  Rather, it could be anywhere between 57-45 = 12°F, at the high end, or 47-55 = -8°F, at the low end.  We just don’t know.

That simplified example is overstated.  But look at the figure from the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report’s “Summary for Policymakers”.  It shows a set of model simulations with a range of results anywhere from no global warming to about 4°C (which is about 7°F).   That is a lot of uncertainty, but that figure does not reflect all possible uncertainties.  Those include (but are not limited to): uncertainties about the amount of GHG emissions in the future, about the effect of those GHG emissions on ambient atmospheric concentrations, about the effect of ambient atmospheric concentrations on air temperature, about the effects of air temperature on ocean water temperature at different depths, about the feedback effects of ocean water temperature back on air temperature, the effects of all those changes on polar ice caps, the effects of polar ice caps on sea level rise, the effects of sea level rise on millions of miles of coastline around the world, and the effect of all those changes on economic damages.

ipcc-ar42

Many have taken this inherent uncertainty as a reason not to act now, but instead to wait, to undertake more research, and to try to reduce that uncertainty.

That may be a natural initial reaction, but it is not a good one.  It assumes that uncertainty reduces the need to act, when in fact increases in uncertainty only increase the need to act!  That is not to say research is unwarranted, or that we have nothing more to learn. We can and should try to find out more and try to reduce uncertainties.  But a lot of that research may raise additional considerations and uncertainties!  Uncertainty is inherent to the problem and will never disappear, so waiting for resolution of the uncertainty means waiting forever and doing nothing forever.

Uncertainty itself is a problem we need to face, as it raises additional costs we can reduce.  A single hot summer or drought is a problem with which we have learned to cope.  But now we don’t even know whether we are facing that same level of heat and drought, or perhaps much more heat, reduced rainfall, extreme storms, huge loss of landmass, etc., etc., etc.  It is the unknown possibility of such loss that ought to make us act now to protect ourselves.

To the extent that anthropogenic GHG emissions raise uncertainties about future climate, the more we need policies that are resilient to those uncertainties: policies that increase our abilities to deal with drought, to make it possible to increase crop production with less rainfall, and to protect ourselves against the possibility of storms worse than Katrina.

Which brings us to the key distinction between adaptation and mitigation.  One way to protect ourselves is to adapt to droughts and storms, as just mentioned.  But another way to protect ourselves against those adverse possibilities is to start now to mitigate climate change by reducing GHG emissions.

Wind Power is a Lot of Wind

Filed Under (Environmental Policy) by Don Fullerton on May 19, 2010

You probably read about “Cape Wind”, a proposal to build 130 wind turbines off the coast of Massachusetts.  They will be 440 feet tall, covering 24 square miles of Nantucket Sound, with a cost of more than $1 billion. 

Yes, we need to shift from carbon-intensive fossil fuels to other cleaner renewable fuels.  But is this the way to do it?  An article in the NYTimes says “Opponents have argued that the venture is too expensive and would interfere with local fishermen, intrude on the sacred rituals and submerged burial grounds of two local Indian tribes and destroy the view.”

Yes, all those environmental costs need to be taken into account, but I think all those complaints are just a lot of wind.   I could care less about affecting the view of some rich Kennedy’s beachfront property.  No, for me, the problem is in later paragraphs, which say:

“The current price tag for a fully installed offshore wind system is estimated at $4,600 a kilowatt, nearly double the $2,400-a-kilowatt price for a land-based system, … .  By comparison, production tax credits and other incentives have driven the cost of land-based wind power to less than 5 cents a kilowatt-hour in some places, and that’s still more expensive than other sources like coal and hydropower.”

Coal is cheap!  Wind power is extremely expensive by comparison (and solar power is even MORE expensive).  Maybe those renewable alternatives are worthwhile, and maybe they are not.  But how can we ever tell, if policymakers keep trying to decide this issue for us??

Neither Barak Obama nor any other politician has the expertise to decide whether wind power is the right alternative, or something else.  They just want to “do something” about global warming.  Okay, fine, but the thing to “do” is to enact a carbon tax, or a permit price per ton of carbon dioxide emissions that reflects the true social cost of those carbon dioxide emissions.  THEN if wind is cheaper, we’ll get wind power!  And if wind power is still too expensive, then the true experts can get on with the business of finding what IS the cost-effective alternative to burning fossil fuel.

So ALL the arguments both for and against wind power are a lot of wind.   Any decision in the political arena will lead to excess costs.  A carbon price will allow the experts and the market to decide.

Another Problem Caused by Deforestation

Filed Under (Environmental Policy, U.S. Fiscal Policy) by Don Fullerton on Apr 12, 2010

anotherproblemcausedbydeforestation

Why Low-Carbon Technology Innovation is Not Enough

Filed Under (Environmental Policy, U.S. Fiscal Policy) by Don Fullerton on Mar 19, 2010

Nobody likes new taxes.   When policy wonks like me talk about addressing the problem of global warming by introducing a carbon tax, nobody listens (even though all of the tax revenue could be returned by cutting OTHER distorting taxes on labor or on investment!).  Instead, policymakers like to use the Manhattan Project analogy, essentially saying that we can solve the whole global warming problem just by research and development (R&D), innovation and diffusion of new technology.  We’ll just throw money at the scientists, and they will solve the problem for us.  Policymakers want to subsidize or require wind power, solar power, and other low-carbon technologies.

Here is why that idea will not work, for reasons based on some new research in a book called “Accelerating Innovation in Energy: Insights from Multiple Sectors”, edited by Rebecca Henderson and Richard G. Newell.     To see what might work for energy, they look at technology innovation in all the other sectors where R&D has been successful (the internet, chemicals, agriculture, and semiconductors).  They find that three elements were key in ALL of those success stories: “(1) the substantial, differentiated, end-user demand that enables private firms commercializing the technology to anticipate healthy returns; (2) the sustained funding and effective management of fundamental research; and (3) the development of an institutional environment that includes robust mechanisms to promote the widespread diffusion of both knowledge and technology and that favors vigorous private-sector competition.”

My point is all about #1: there has to be demand in the market for the technology.  No matter how much money Congress throws at the problem of research into new energy technologies, the program will not be successful unless people want to USE those new technologies.  And people will not particularly want to use those new low-carbon technologies, unless they face a carbon tax!  The researchers and developers of new low-carbon technologies might have great ideas, but those ideas will not come to fruition unless people are chomping at the bit to get those new technologies and use them to increase their profits or reduce their carbon tax burden.

My own thinking about this problem relates to the fundamental reasoning for any government policy intervention: the private market works fine unless you can point to a fundamental market failure.  One market failure is the pollution externality from carbon emissions, and that can be addressed by a carbon tax.  A different market failure is that any private firm might not have sufficient incentive to undertake R&D if they don’t capture all the benefits from it.  Patents only last for 17 years, not all ideas can be patented, other firms can see those ideas, and other firms can get similar patents for similar technologies.  These “knowledge spillovers” are a possible justification for government intervention to subsidize basic research, the kind of research that private firms would not undertake sufficiently.

But we still have two different market failures!  Two different market failures require two different policies to address them.  Subsidies for research might help address the knowledge spillover problem, but we still need a carbon tax to get people to want to use those technologies.

That is why we can’t solve the global warming problem by just throwing money into research.

The Glass is Not 90% Empty; It’s 10% Full!

Filed Under (Environmental Policy) by Don Fullerton on Dec 22, 2009

Happy Holidays, everybody.  I’ll keep this short, since we’re all out of school and busy with family.  I just had a few thoughts on the further deliberations about climate change in Copenhagen.

Some observers might be disappointed about how little was achieved there, but I think that such a view would be based on expectations that were entirely unrealistic.  It would seem impossible to get 193 different nations to agree on anything!  The process is long and difficult, and we could not have expected more than a step or two in the right direction.

Certainly we could not expect a major leap into stringent mandatory reductions of all greenhouse gas emissions.   The world does not yet have enough experience with climate policy, in order to know how it works, how expensive it will be, what are the abatement alternatives, and how the permit trading will operate.   Only some of the nations of the world agreed to the Kyoto Protocol in 1998, and that was viewed as a major achievement.  Even that agreement delayed the first major mandatory cuts by ten years, to 2008-2012.  To prepare for that mandatory phase, the European Union instituted a Phase I of permit trading to meet its own voluntary reductions during 2005-2008.  This “emissions trading system” (ETS) became the largest pollution trading market in the world, and it offers several lessons to the rest of us.  It started with only moderate emission reductions, and a price of only 10-15 Euros per ton of carbon dioxide.  The businesses and other institutions gained experience with permit trading and are now ready to participate in Phase II.

Similarly, it would be a great achievement to involve more nations of the world, even with only slightly more stringent emissions reductions, to gain more experience before leaning on the rest of the nations to participate.

Much of the debate is about whether the U.S. should enact legislation unilaterally, without any new international agreement.  It might be dumb to give everybody else a major advantage in term of production costs.  Again, I would point out the difference between initial small steps, as opposed to the large steps that are needed eventually to deal seriously with climate change.  If we all wait until all nations agree to major cuts, it may never happen.  An important and viable alternative is for the U.S. to lead the way with some small steps, even by ourselves – to establish a climate policy, to impose some moderate emissions reduction, to set an example for the rest of the world, and to proceed then to lean on other nations to join an agreement.

I’d recommend reading the blog by Robert Stavins of Harvard.   He provides a very useful summary of the Copenhagen agreement and some analysis of it.  As inducement to click on his link, I’ll paste just his concluding paragraph here:

“The climate change policy process is best viewed as a marathon, not a sprint.  The Copenhagen Accord – depending upon details yet to be worked out – could well turn out to be a sound foundation for a Portfolio of Domestic Commitments, which could be an effective bridge to a longer-term arrangement among the countries of the world.  We may look back upon Copenhagen as an important moment – both because global leaders took the reins of the procedures and brought the negotiations to a fruitful conclusion, and because the foundation was laid for a broad-based coalition of the willing to address effectively the threat of global climate change.  Only time will tell.”