Climate reform good for job creation

He’s right — markets can recover and stocks can regain value, but the effects of greenhouse gas emissions will be permanent, at least in most of our lifetimes.

But nature can point the way forward — and it has throughout this recession. Conventional wisdom assumed tough economic times would trump progress on legislation to address climate change. But in fact, the opposite is true because more than ever we need to reinvigorate our economy and we can transform the way we use energy in a way that tackles climate change and creates millions of new jobs. That’s why we have the best opportunity I have seen in my 25 years in the Senate to align our economic, national security and environmental interests with our economic imperative to grow jobs here at home.

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Climate and energy reform can be the engine of job growth for every state in the nation, creating millions of jobs to help rejuvenate our manufacturing sector, weatherize our homes and offices and upgrade our infrastructure. And these jobs cannot be shipped overseas.

Research by The Pew Charitable Trusts indicates the clean energy economy is poised for explosive growth driven by strong consumer demand, venture capital investment and federal and state government support. It found that the clean energy economy, while “still in its infancy,” is still “relatively substantial in size” — with 770,000 jobs, venture capital investment exceeding $12 billion and public investments of $85 billion in direct spending and tax credits.

A number of non-government studies have tried to pinpoint exactly how many jobs our climate change legislation will generate. They all conclude that we can combat global climate change and at the same time generate badly needed jobs. A Center for American Progress study estimates 800,000 new clean energy jobs. The American Wind Energy Association predicts up to 500,000 new jobs. And the Solar Energy Industries Association says 440,000 new jobs.

One of the more detailed studies was conducted by researchers at the University of California at Berkeley using state-of-the-art forecasting models. Their study concluded that comprehensive clean energy and climate protection legislation would create between 918,000 and 1.9 million new jobs, increase household income by $487 to $1,175 per year and boost GDP by $39 million to $111 billion.

But all of that happens only if we act before other countries.

A recent report by the environmentalism group E3G analyzing the low carbon competitiveness of the 20 major economies found that the United States ranks 10th while France, Japan, the United Kingdom, South Korea and Germany are best placed, today, to deliver prosperity for their citizens in a low-carbon world. The report also found that although the United States has the potential to capitalize on the clean energy revolution, it is held back by its carbon-intensive energy infrastructure.

China and several European nations, especially Germany and Denmark, have recognized the potential size of markets for clean, efficient energy — $537 billion over the following decade, according to Pew — and are moving swiftly to gain as much of the market share as they can. In 2008, Europe led the world in clean energy investments, spending nearly $50 billion. And now the Chinese government is planning to invest $400 billion on clean energy technology during the next decade.

They are positioning themselves to be the leaders in the 21st century clean energy economy. But well-designed policies will enhance the competitiveness of U.S. firms in these emerging markets. An America fueled by renewable clean energy would mean not just less imported oil and fewer carbon emissions, but also economic rebirth: new technologies, new industries and — when America needs them most — jobs.

Kerry chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.