Monday, February 25, 2008

UN climate head: US climate stand a "nonstarter"

For the first time on Monday, the Bush administration said the United States would accept a binding commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions - if major developing nations are included in the agreement.

The White House has long held off on signing the Kyoto Protocols, in the past pushing instead for a system of voluntary targets for greenhouse gas reduction. Part of their resistance has been that when Kyoto was negotiated developing large industrial nations - Brazil, China and India - were left out of the agreement. It was thought that having to meet pollution reduction targets would stall their growing economies and halt their development.

But in the years since Kyoto was negotiated, their economies (and greenhouse gas emissions) have greatly increased - China is now set to overtake the US as the world's top greenhouse gas polluter. Yet they remain opposed to hard limits on emissions, saying that established industrialized nations have a long history of pollution, so its unfair for the newly-developed ones to now be asked to meet the same burden.

"If the intent is to achieve a comparable effort on the part of developing countries, then that is not realistic and not in line with what was agreed in Bali," said Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the UN's climate secretariat.

You have to ask why shouldn't they (China especially) be held to the same set of caps as other industrialized countries, if the goal of Kyoto, Bali and other negotiations has been to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions? China is firing up a new coal-burning power plant every few days - plants that pump out tons of greenhouse gases into the air. Unless there is a reason to make air pollution controls a priority (like hard caps on gas emissions) they won't. And in the future the large number of coal-fired plants will be cited as a reason why China can't comply with gas emission limits - it will cost too much to bring all of the existing plants up to code.

We have dealt with a similar problem here in the Northeast for years. Coal-fired power plants in the Midwest cause acid rain to fall in the Northeast, particularly in upstate New York. Acid rain has even killed off some lakes in New York State. The solution is simple, make the power plants in the Midwest cleaner, everyone knows that. Yet it still hasn't happened because it’s said to be too expensive to retrofit all of these plants. It’s the same argument China will make in the future.

Better to lock them into a plan now that requires cleaner power plants and factories to be built from the ground up than to argue about fixing them in the future. If reducing greenhouse gases is the goal, then all the major polluters should have to share the burden.
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