With the re-election of President Bush, state governments and big business will likely be the biggest forces over the next four years to craft new policies and develop innovative technologies aimed at reducing U.S. emissions of the gases scientists say are causing global warming.
NEW YORK − With the re-election of President Bush, state governments and big business will likely be the biggest forces over the next four years to craft new policies and develop innovative technologies aimed at reducing U.S. 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, where they trap heat.
The treaty requires industrialized countries to cut their emissions of carbon dioxide and other climate-changing substances on average by 5.2 percent below their 1990 levels.
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 U.S. 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.
An August report by an administration official indicated that the build-up of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere was the most likely explanation for global warming, a shift from the administration's previous position of emphasizing the scientific uncertainties of climate change.
But in a post-election interview with The Associated Press, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Mike Leavitt said Bush still believes that rejecting the Kyoto accord was the right move.
Instead of mandatory programs, the administration favors 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.
"I can't see anything in the tea leaves that indicates things are going to be any different in the next four years," said Eileen Claussen, head of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, a foundation that supports research on the subject.
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 U. S.
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 percent 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.
The Kyoto accord will take effect early next year as a result of Russia's ratification. Russian President Vladimir Putin added his signature to the treaty last week. 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 proven 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 1 percent. Instead, the members' total carbon dioxide output fell by more than 8 percent, 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 U.S. when the treaty was negotiated in 1997 in the Japanese city for which it is named.
At the time, France, Germany and other European nations resisted the idea, Sandor said, but because of the success of the U. S. sulfur dioxide trading program, they have become some of the leading advocates of the approach. The European Climate Exchange, a subsidiary of the Chicago exchange, is to begin operations in January.
Given the level of activity among the states, Sandor said businesses may eventually seek a single national standard rather than face a patchwork of state regulations.
"My feeling is that independent of the administration, this thing has an energy and a momentum of its own," he said.
Two reports this week provide new evidence that greenhouse emissions are leading to a variety of changes in ecosystems.
In a report requested by the U.S. and seven other countries with Arctic territory, a group of international climate experts said Arctic temperatures are likely to rise up to twice as fast as the global average, leading to less ice cover.
That could help whales and some fish, such as cod, but it would also mean less habitat for polar bears, which hunt for seals and other prey on ice floes.
A separate study commissioned by the Pew climate center found that several species of birds and butterflies in North America already have begun to shift their migration patterns northward as temperatures rise. The report, which summarizes previously published studies involving approximately 150 species, notes that, among other examples, robins are returning earlier in the spring to Wisconsin.
But the ability of one species to adapt can mean another suffers. The red fox is expanding into the territory of the Arctic fox, pushing that species into a shrinking habitat."Even if you're not impressed by the health of one particular organism, these organisms have always been useful as indicators of the overall health of the ecosystem," said ecologist Hector Galbraith of the University of Colorado, one of the study's authors. "They're the canaries in the coal mine, and the canaries are squawking."
Source: Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News