Goldman School of Public Policy - University of California, Berkeley

News Center

CEPP’s New Executive Director

An interview with Ned Helme ('77)

You founded the Center for Clean Air Policy (CCAP) and served as its president for 30+ years. What need did you see that led you to found this organization?  Are there milestones you are particularly proud of from your tenure there?

I founded CCAP with a bipartisan group of 7 state Governors led by Wisconsin Governor Tony Earl, early in President Reagan’s second term. This was a time when environmental policy was under attack and air pollution and acid rain were major challenges, largely ignored by the Administration. I sensed that Washington needed new bipartisan approaches with sound economic and market principles as our best hope for breaking the national deadlock on environmental and energy policy. 

My training at GSPP had taught me the importance of understanding the underlying economics of policy issues and the need to build coalitions based on those interests and on cost-effective regulations as opposed to the conventional higher cost “command and control” approaches to environmental regulation. 
Immediately prior to founding CCAP, I was the Director of the Natural Resources Division of the National Governors Association, where I had been able to build an emerging policy consensus for national legislation to amend the Clean Air Act in a cost-effective market-based way.  However, opposition from governors from the high sulfur coal producing states of the Midwest limited our ability to push aggressively for national legislation through the NGA, so the bipartisan group of governors agreed to launch CCAP as a think tank to champion the first national emissions cap and trade program to reduce acid rain.  We built a powerful congressional coalition in 1987-88, and when one of our governors became new President George H.W. Bush’s chief of staff, our ideas formed the basis for the Bush Administration’s legislative proposal.  This launched CCAP as a major player in national and increasingly international environmental and energy debates.

One of the keys to CCAP’s success over the years was our reliance on policy dialogues that combined a search for consensus, careful listening to stakeholders, and use of objective analytic modeling and other tools to inform those dialogue discussions.  Again, my training at GSPP was critical to my understanding what objective economic analysis was and how to make it digestible to governors, senators, UN negotiators, developing country ministers, policy advisors, and other non-technical participants. That unique dialogue approach helped me in my work in the US and has been a cornerstone of my work with both developed and developing countries, with UN negotiators, and with diverse stakeholders in a variety of nations.

CCAP’s clean air success came in part from a close connection we had built between US Governors and their counterparts in Germany who had spearheaded that nation’s successful effort to reduce air pollution that was killing the revered Black Forest in the mid-1980s.  We continued to build on our connection to Germany and to the EU in the 1990s and with their encouragement, stepped into the climate change debate in 1991, contributing to the design of the Kyoto Protocol in 1997 and expanding to work with the major developing countries of China, India, Brazil and Mexico in 2002-10 on cost-effective win-win approaches to carbon emissions reduction. Notable CCAP successes included:

Brokering the first project in the world that used private sector investment to reduce coal-fired air pollution and greenhouse gases at a Czech Republic heating plant in return for carbon credits (a key model for the successful Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) of the Kyoto Protocol),
Facilitating successful developed and developing country negotiations to design the CDM, as well as leading a US-Europe dialogue on emissions trading that led to Europe’s decision to create the first GHG emissions trading system,

Leading the principal advisory team that developed the original design for the EU’s CO2 emissions trading system (ETS) and continued to provide advice to the EUETS implementation, and
Assisting key states in the US to develop the first climate change regulatory programs from 2001- 2008, laying the groundwork for the Obama Administration’s domestic climate initiatives in recent years.

One of the benefits of directing a nongovernmental organization is the fact that you can build on your successes, extend your reach in new directions, and change strategy and focus to deal with changed political realities, (provided of course that your donors follow you). After the infamous 2009 UNFCCC Conference of Parties meeting in Copenhagen failed to agree on a top-down climate treaty, I redirected CCAP’s efforts to focus instead on pioneering a new bottom-up approach to developing country emission reduction policies, one that emphasized strategies that produce both climate and sustainable development, health and quality of life benefits. With financial support from Germany and Denmark, we built successful on-the-ground programs in Colombia, Chile, Pakistan, and Peru that formed the model building blocks for developing country commitments that were made in the Paris Climate Agreement. 

As we had done in the Czech Republic years before, we proved that real-world programs on the ground could provide multiple benefits and win broad political support. Those win-win programs combined policy change with innovative financing mechanisms that catalyzed private sector finance. Those examples helped us to craft critical consensus in last December’s Paris Climate Agreement on providing finance to developing countries to assist with the implementation of their national commitments under the Paris Agreement.

What drew you to CEPP?  What are your priorities for CEPP?

The passage of the Paris Climate Agreement last year coincided with my 30th year directing CCAP. The Paris Agreement has established the core bottom-up country-driven strategy for climate action in the coming years. The next challenges lies in implementation on the ground, so it’s a natural point for a change for me personally.   
CEPP appeals to me because of the clear opportunity, for the Goldman School and the University as a whole, to play an important role in this next critical implementation phase for climate and energy policy. It is a time to continue to attract and bring together at Berkeley the proverbial “best and the brightest” to work on the key research, policy, and financial steps and programs that will help the world generate the $90 trillion in public and private investment in low carbon infrastructure that the UN estimates we need over the next 15 years to insure that global temperatures do not increase more than the 1.5 degree C threshold experts suggest we must not exceed to protect our planet. Climate is an issue that cuts across all disciplines and all economic sectors. Tackling it requires careful integration, synthesis and collaboration, and the University of California is an ideal place to connect faculty, staff, students, alumni, trustees, boards of advisors, donors, and administrators.

For CEPP specifically, my early thinking centers on the potential to build on GSPP’s strong executive programs to provide direct and continuing training to key developing country policymakers in the areas of climate mitigation and transformative energy policy in particular. Developing countries hold the key to whether we can attain our Paris goals – if just six developing countries (China, India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines) build all the coal-fired power plants envisioned for their nations, the game will be over. 

I would see inviting teams of senior policymakers from selected developing countries to come to Berkeley for periodic tailored training coupled with on the ground assistance between visits. This will need to be a collaborative effort with potential Berkeley partners, including the Haas Energy Institute, CNR, LBL, CEGA, and BECI, working with the leaders in the developing countries to insure that the training fits with the economic, political and development realities they face.
In addition to training, CEPP could potentially host dialogues on specific climate and energy policy issues, bringing together key developing country policy makers with their counterparts from the EU, the US, California, and the private and NGO sectors.  Such dialogues can point the way to policy innovations and provide vital peer review.  California is a global leader in both climate policy and in design of the new electric utility regulatory paradigm. CEPP can mobilize faculty and stakeholders in dialogue to help California sort out the challenges of meeting both environmental justice and climate policy priorities in its implementation of the new 40 percent greenhouse gas reduction target, as one example. 

What’s it like to be back at GSPP?

Coming back to the Goldman School gives me a chance to “give back” to an institution that had a profound impact on my career. It gives me the chance to share what I have learned with today’s students who I find to be incredibly committed to these issues and to have much broader experience than I and my classmates did when we entered GSPP. The climate issue is a true generational issue, and it’s time now to help develop the next set of leaders for the challenges ahead. 
Being back at the University is a fascinating experience. Learning new things in the climate field, even after 25 years of doing climate policy is refreshing. And being exposed to the enthusiasm of students and their zest for learning and for the policy challenges ahead is empowering. I haven’t lost the sense of wonder that Berkeley inspired in me when I was a student.