Experts see states as force in fighting global warming

Experts see states as force in fighting global warming
Published: 19 November 2004

With the re-election of President Bush, state governments and big business will likely be the biggest forces pushing policies and developing innovative technologies aimed at reducing US emissions of the gases scientists say are causing global warming. That forecast by leaders in the environmental and business communities is based on the Bush administration’s opposition to the Kyoto Protocol, the international agreement that seeks to cut the amount of so-called greenhouse gases that enter the atmosphere.

When the president rejected the treaty in 2001, he said the agreement was fatally flawed because it excluded developing nations, such as China and India. Forcing US.businesses to reduce their emissions while letting companies in those countries off the hook would drive up the cost of American products and cost jobs, Bush said.

Instead of mandatory programs, the administration favours voluntary measures to reduce emissions from automobiles, power plants and factories. It has also allocated several billion dollars to support the development of new technologies, such as hydrogen cells that would power cars without producing carbon dioxide. Those technologies are thought to be many years away from widespread use.

Meanwhile, emissions continue to rise, despite the first halting efforts to address the problem. From 1990 to 2002--the most recent year for which figures are available--greenhouse gas emissions rose 13.1 percent in the US. In recent years, the focus of efforts to control future greenhouse emissions has shifted to the state level. According to the Pew Center, at least 28 states have undertaken measures to reduce such emissions, including a new Colorado requirement that large utilities there must produce 10 percent of their electricity from renewable energy sources, such as wind power, by 2015. Voters approved that measure in last week’s election.

And in September, a California agency said greenhouse gas emissions from new vehicles would have to be cut 30 per cent by 2016. Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York have said they will follow California’s standard. In response, many manufacturers have begun to cut emissions, especially large multinational corporations such as Ford Motor Co. and IBM, which face tough regulations in countries that have adopted the Kyoto Protocol.

Some companies have found that the year-old Chicago Climate Exchange, a new kind of commodities market, has provided an efficient way to buy and sell emissions credits, a technique that has proved effective in reducing power plant emissions of sulfur dioxide, a cause of acid rain. Manufacturers that can reduce emissions cheaply below an agreed-upon target level receive credits that they can sell through the exchange to other companies that might face heavy expenditures to install cleaner-running equipment.

In the exchange’s first year, its 75 members, including Ford, Motorola and DuPont, were supposed to reduce greenhouse emissions by one per cent. Instead, the members’ total carbon dioxide output fell by more than eight per cent, according to exchange Chairman and CEO Richard Sandor, a former chief economist for the Chicago Board of Trade. Such "cap and trade" mechanisms are a key part of the Kyoto agreement, inserted at the insistence of the US when the treaty was negotiated in 1997.