Sunday, February 8, 2009

Time To Step Up

In 301 days delegates from nations across the globe will position themselves in Copenhagen, Denmark to negotiate the renewal of the Kyoto Protocol. This summit will be the last formal meeting between government heads before the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012. The hopes for the meeting are high. Ideally, negotiations and compromises will result in the Copenhagen Protocol that will layout the terms for greenhouse gas reductions. Pragmatically however, contentious debate will surely prevail over the developing countries responsibilities to the global environment. Basically, there are many moving pieces that need to align in order to call December’s meeting in Copenhagen a success. I argue that the biggest alignment needs to take place in America.

The Bush Administration rejected ratifying the Kyoto Protocol for two main reasons. First, China was granted an exemption meaning they were not required to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. The thought was that if we were expected to reduce our burden on the environment why should China, or any developing countries for that matter, be exempted if they are mass emitters of greenhouse gases. Second, the Bush Administration was not ready to reduce emissions at the cost of slower GDP growth.

The logic behind not ratifying the Kyoto Protocol is skewed. True, China is now the largest emitter of greenhouse gases globally. Is comparing China’s total greenhouse gas emissions to that of the United States fair considering that China’s population is almost four times larger? I don’t think so. According to Carbon Planet U.S., greenhouse gas emissions per capita outstrip that of China’s by a factor of nearly eight. Additionally, the cumulative environmental damage the United States has posed to the global climate is far greater compared to China or any other developing country. It’s the United States’ responsibility to take ownership for its current and cumulative contribution to climate change. At the very least, this requires the United States to make binding agreements to cut greenhouse gas emissions no matter what other countries decide to do. In order for there to be a Protocol to sign the United States has to take a lead role at the negotiating table in Copenhagen. Doing this will send a very clear signal to the world that the United States is in a position to lead again. President Obama has echoed these sentiments in his campaign and in the early weeks of his administration. However, the true test will be in December.

The Bush Administration was partially right when it suggested that U.S. economic activity would suffer as a result of mandated greenhouse gas reductions. Yes, economic activity is likely to slow down in the short-term due to emissions caps, but think about the long-term potential. The United States has a vibrant energy industry, look no further than Texas for an example. If this industry could be harnessed to accept the reality that renewable energy is the wave of the future, America could manufacture a core competency that could fuel our economy for the long-run. Caps on emissions are the perfect incentive for the U.S. energy industry to jump on the renewable energy band wagon. Think of the export potential if the United States was home to the most advanced technologies for the production of renewable energy. With over one-sixth of the world’s population The demand for energy from India and China, which accounts for over one-sixth of the world’s population, could create thousands of jobs and billions of dollars of economic activity. In light of our current economy, I hope the Obama administration will seize this opportunity to take the lead role at the Copenhagen summit this December and ratify an agreement that puts the United States in a position to be the pioneers of the renewable energy revolution and climate change.

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
Carbon Planet


David Wogan said...

Agreed. Speaking of leading in the future, I don't know if you saw in the Saudi Oil Kingdom video on CBS, but the Saudis are planning on exporting electricity generated from solar. You've got to adapt or get left behind!

gully said...

I think this posting reflects on one of the most pertinent issues with respect to government mandated emissions reductions - who pays the price?

We currently operate under an energy supply where cost is essentially independent of the environmental impacts of our actions. Cap and trade or a carbon tax are perhaps the most likely options for near-term solution to this issue and for our country to meet the demands of a reduced emission infrastructure such as likely demanded by the Copenhagen summit. But to me this raises several issues, should emissions be the focus of our efforts? Should the refiners and coal plants be the ones paying the premium for supplying dirty energy? Putting these companies in a more stringent economic environment seems a difficult path to result in them investing in the necessary R & D to develop more environmentally sound energy sources. However, it should make sense that any price increase should/would be reflected down to the consumer, potentially resulting in a price increase sufficient to fuel the transition to more renewable, less harmful forms of energy generation. And I believe the consumer should be the one paying the price, affluence and wasteful energy practices at home and in the industry should be the first target. However, would this not result in a regional discrepancy in energy prices? The forecasting economics of implementing such a plan is something I would very much like to see.