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Brendan Smith, Kristen Sheeran and May Boeve's Posts

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Fixing old water and gas pipelines would create far more jobs than building Keystone XL

fixing an old pipeline
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In the coming months, President Obama will decide whether to approve the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport crude tar-sands oil from Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico. We know that the pipeline would greatly aggravate climate change, allowing massive amounts of the world’s dirtiest oil to be extracted and later burned.

The payoff, say supporters such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, is a job boom in construction industries, which are currently suffering from high unemployment. Earlier this month, Chamber of Commerce CEO Tom Donohue called on the president “to put American jobs before special interest politics.”

If you believe headline-grabbing challenges such as Donohue’s, the president is painted into a corner on the KXL pipeline -- trapped by a stagnant economy and an ailing environment.

The president knows KXL’s jobs promises are way overblown. In July, he explained it this way to The New York Times: “Republicans have said this would be a big jobs generator. There is no evidence that is true.” The most realistic estimates, said the president, show that KXL “might create maybe 2,000 jobs during the construction of the pipeline, which might take a year or two.” And after that, “we’re talking about somewhere between 50 and 100 jobs in an economy of 150 million working people.”

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From top-down to bottom-up: New directions for climate at Rio+20

A version of this article originally appeared on Real Climate Economics.

In 2009, I published a book with Graciela Chichilnisky, Saving Kyoto, that argued passionately for preserving the economic and political architecture of the only international treaty on climate change the world has known -- the Kyoto Protocol. The book was timely: The countdown to compliance with Kyoto’s mandated emissions targets had begun; the international community was gathering that year in Copenhagen to negotiate the next round of climate commitments; and there was hope that the Obama administration could usher the U.S. back to the negotiating table in earnest.

More importantly from my perspective, however, was the growing realization that the window of opportunity for stabilizing the earth’s climate system was rapidly coming to a close. The urgency of the crisis demanded immediate, extensive emissions reductions. And I firmly believed that a coordinated international effort that mandated reductions from the world’s largest emitters was the fairest and most efficient way to stave off climate disaster.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the famous Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro and the signing of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), the international governance framework that eventually gave rise to the Kyoto Protocol. As the global community convenes again this week in Rio to establish goals and strategies for sustainable development for the next 20 years, its failures to arrest climate change over the last 20 years will be hard to deny. But it will also be hard to ignore the real energy, innovation, and progress around climate change that is emerging from the ground up all over the world.

Read more: Climate Policy