Cheer­less cli­mate change

A sliver of hope came from a mod­est agree­ment at cli­mate meet­ings in Can­cun, Mex­ico, ear­lier this month, on a more solid multi­na­tional com­mit­ment to find­ing ways to cut emis­sions.

The Pak Banker - - Editorial - Kate Gal­braith

It be­gan with gloom, af­ter the col­lapse of the Copen­hagen cli­mate meet­ings in De­cem­ber 2009. The mood dark­ened fur­ther as it be­came clear that cap-and-trade leg­is­la­tion to com­bat green­house gas emis­sions would not pass the US Congress.

A sliver of hope came from a mod­est agree­ment at cli­mate meet­ings in Can­cun, Mex­ico, ear­lier this month, on a more solid multi­na­tional com­mit­ment to find­ing ways to cut emis­sions. An­other devel­op­ment, bring­ing per­haps more re­lief than hope, was the re­jec­tion by Cal­i­for­nia vot­ers of an ef­fort, backed by oil com­pa­nies, to sus­pend the state's land­mark law to com­bat global warm­ing. The year 2011 may not bring too much im­prove­ment, from en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists' per­spec­tive. Bud­get deficits and a still-slug­gish econ­omy in the United States and else­where may com­pli­cate in­vest­ments in cleanen­ergy tech­nolo­gies. And in­ter­na­tional ne­go­tia­tors have plenty of tough work ahead, the progress at Can­cun not­with­stand­ing. "I'm pes­simistic about this in­ter­na­tional process," said Jur­gen Weiss, a prin­ci­pal at Brat­tle Group, a con­sult­ing firm based in Mas­sachusetts. The Can­cun agree- ment was not legally bind­ing, so while vows to limit the planet's warm­ing to a mod­est amount are all very well, Weiss said, it would be "ut­terly shock­ing if these things re­main more than just words."

Next year, some big mile­stones are set to be reached. The United States is to be­gin reg­u­lat­ing green­house gas emis­sions for the first time in Jan­uary. The rules at first will be mild and will ap­ply only to new or ex­pand­ing big plants. But last week, the US En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency an­nounced a timetable for is­su­ing rules to con­trol green­house gas emis­sions from power plants and re­finer­ies - two ma­jor sources of the heat-trap­ping gases - in 2012. (The EPA also de­clared last week that it would take over the is­su­ing of green­house gas per­mits for big plants in the one state, Texas, that has made clear its un­will­ing­ness to carry out the reg­u­la­tions.)

Among other 2011 de­vel­op­ments, in­ter­na­tional cli­mate talks are sched­uled to take place in South Africa late in the year. They are in­tended to build on the Can­cun ac­cords, which spanned a range of good in­ten­tions, in­clud­ing as­sis­tance from wealthy coun­tries to poorer ones.In­deed, two of the ma­jor play­ers in Can­cun - China and the United States - will have an op­por­tu­nity for fur­ther dis­cus­sion on cli­mate, as the Chi­nese pres­i­dent, Hu Jin­tao, is sched­uled to visit the United States next month.

Much of the fo­cus for 2011, how­ever, is likely to re­main on the race to de­velop a clean-en­ergy econ­omy. The Euro­pean Union is to be­gin work on a new "en­ergy sav­ings di­rec­tive" to help with fi­nanc­ing and other is­sues re­lated to en­ergy ef­fi­ciency. A pro­posal from the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion is likely to be re­leased in the third quar­ter of 2011, with ad­di­tional ne­go­ti­a­tions and dis­cus­sions to fol­low, ac­cord­ing to Bendt Bendt­sen, a Dan­ish mem­ber of the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment and a drafts­man of the Par­lia­ment's po­si­tion on en­ergy ef­fi­ciency. China too is likely to fo­cus on its bur­geon­ing wind and so­lar sec­tors.

"With or with­out in­ter­na­tional agree­ments, Asian coun­tries are tak­ing ac­tion to pro­mote re­new­able en­ergy," Yo­tam Ariel, an in­de­pen­dent so­lar con­sul­tant based in Shang­hai, said in an e-mail. How­ever, the pro­mo­tion of re­new­able en­ergy by China in par­tic­u­lar is likely to be a big is­sue next year in Washington, as US of­fi­cials con­tinue to scru­ti­nise Chi­nese cleanen­ergy ex­ports and po­ten­tially com­plain to the World Trade Or­gan­i­sa­tion about trade prac­tices.

Ear­lier this month, the ad­min­is­tra­tion of Pres­i­dent Barack Obama brought a case to the trade group al­leg­ing that the Chi­nese govern­ment had il­le­gally sub­sidised pro­duc­tion of wind-tur­bine equip­ment; that case was strongly backed by the United Steel­work­ers, a US labour union.

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