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Top-Down & Bottom-Up Climate Fixes: Both Are Needed

In today's New York Times, I take issue with Dan Esty's dismissal of "top-down" measures, including international climate change accords and federal clean energy programs, as ways to slow the slide toward climate catastrophe.  Here's what I wrote in response to his op-ed, "Bottom-Up Climate Fix," which ran in yesterday's Times:

To the Editor,

I disagree with Daniel C. Esty that we should throw in the towel on top-down measures to combat climate change.  Local initiatives are crucial to curbing greenhouse gas emissions, but national and international commitments are not the ineffectual measures he makes them out to be.

Take the European Union's mandate to cut carbon emissions 20 percent by 2020, using 1990 emissions as a baseline.  Individual E.U. nations face individually adjusted targets under this regime, expected to yield a 22.2 percent drop in global warming gases by the target date.  For 2050, the E.U. has set 80 percent to 95 percent lower emissions as its goal, and is now working with member states to meet interim milestones.

Mr. Esty also chides "top-down" American clean energy programs for "picking winners."  This is a caricature of current federal policies, which most prominently feature tax incentives available to homeowners, businesses and utility-scale power generators alike.  Together with the renewable electricity mandates adopted by 29 states plus the District of Columbia, federal tax credits are the primary drivers of America's shift toward clean energy.

Philip Warburg

Newton, MA

The writer is an environmental lawyer and writer.