Analysis: CO2 cap needed to curb warming

By DAN WHIPPLE, UPI Environment News

BOULDER, Colo., July 10 (UPI) -- The Pew Center on Global Climate change has gone where the Environmental Protection Agency dared not, issuing a report that says even under the most optimistic scenarios, U.S. carbon emissions will rise significantly over the next 35 years.

The report, "U.S. Energy Scenarios for the 21st Century," warns that without a mandatory cap on carbon emissions, the nation's contribution to greenhouse gases will increase 15 percent over year 2000 levels under the most technologically optimistic scenario. If the use of cheap, traditional fossil fuels continues apace, the figure is likely to be closer to 50 percent.


"The bottom line in all (the) scenarios is that emissions are up over 2000 levels in 2035, which seems to me to be a key point," Pew Center director Eileen Claussen told United Press International. "It's something that makes us conclude that we have to have some kind of mandatory reduction scheme if we are going to reduce greenhouse gas emissions."


The report's conclusions, Claussen added, "led us to believe that you have to start now with policy and investments, along with a mandatory policy of some sort."

Raymond Kopp, senior fellow at Resources for the Future, which specializes in climate issues, told UPI, "I think most people would agree with that. Unless you undertake some specific policy activity right now -- and we all have our views on what that activity ought to be -- but if you don't undertake something, this is not going to be a self-correcting sort of a problem."

The problem, Kopp explained, is there is no cost currently associated with emitting carbon into the atmosphere, "therefore there is no regulatory incentive or market incentive to reduce them." That contradicts the Bush administration's approach of relying on voluntary reductions and market forces to reduce greenhouse emissions.

Two weeks ago, the Environmental Protection Agency issued its own report on the state of the U.S. environment, which received strong criticism for virtually ignoring the climate change issue. The report did chronicle 30 years of improvements in many environmental categories -- improvements that were made under a regime of strict traditional regulation.

The Pew report examined three scenarios for future U.S. energy policy and then estimated the resulting greenhouse gas emissions. The news was not encouraging.


The first was called "Awash in Oil and Gas," in which the United States maintains abundant supplies of oil and natural gas available, with low prices. Energy consumption rises considerably and conventional technologies dominate, with few incentives for conservation. Under these conditions, carbon emissions rise 50 percent above 2000 levels by 2035.

The second, called the "Turbulent World," envisions "U.S. energy markets are repeatedly buffeted by developments both home and abroad, with unsettling effects on energy prices and mounting threats to energy security." This assumes high and unstable prices, along with slow economic growth and indecisive energy policies.

"Despite slower economic growth in (the Turbulent World scenario)," the report says, "carbon emissions rise 20 percent above the year 2000 level by 2035."

The third and most optimistic of the scenarios is called "Technology Triumphs." It involves "an array of driving forces" that converge to accelerate the successful commercialization in the U.S. market of many technologies that improve energy efficiency and produce lower carbon emissions.

"Despite sustained economic growth," the report continues, "and an increase in energy consumption, carbon emissions rise 15 percent above the year 2000 level by 2035."

Claussen was careful to point out these scenarios are not predictions of the future. Instead, they are plausible assumptions about a wide range of energy futures that permitted a calculation of carbon emissions.


The report suggests "that technology research and development efforts coupled with voluntary measures cannot reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and it highlights the need for a mandatory climate change policy to address carbon emissions -- regardless of how the future unfolds," Claussen said.

One undiscussed issue in the Pew report is the cost of a mandatory cap on greenhouse gas emissions. In 1999, a report by the National Center for Policy Analysis examined the cost of meeting the goals stipulated in the Kyoto Treaty, which would slow the rate of increase in greenhouse gases.

"Without any offsets or credits, U.S. GDP would be 3.6 percent to 5.1 percent lower in 2010, representing a loss of $330 billion to $467 billion or about $1,100 to $1,600 per capita," the NCPA report concluded.

RFF's Kopp said there has been a wide range of such cost estimates, however. "If you look at the Kyoto protocol targets," he said, "for the U.S. it is 5 to 7 percent below our 1990 emissions by 2010. Estimates of the cost range from $100 per ton of carbon removed to as high $300 to $400 per ton."

About $100 per ton of carbon removed works out to about 25 cents per gallon of gas, Kopp added. "Most folks who are in the camp I'm in -- where you start out smaller than that -- you generate a cost per ton of not more than $25. That's only six cents per gallon of gas." The cost would increase over time, giving consumes time to adopt alternative technologies and for those technologies to develop."


This assumes, of course, that global warming really is a problem to be solved. Although most scientists are convinced the problem is real, Myron Ebell, director of global warming policy for the Competitive Enterprise Institute told UPI, "We think that the scientific case for global warming has not only been collapsing, but on any reasonable judgment actually has already collapsed. Based on the underlying science, there is no reason to be any longer alarmed about global climate change. The modeling continues to be based on assumptions that are wildly improbable."

Ebell said his group prefers to let free markets find a solution rather than "have people suffer for a generation in the hope that it will lead to something good."

Kopp said, "This is a great difficulty. You are trying to do this in a world of tremendous uncertainty ... Bad things could happen. Will it happen? I don't know."

He added: "What you are buying is insurance. You're paying a little bit now to put in the institutions, and should the science prove to be right, you're in a position to bring the technology in."

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