This year, the United Nation's International Panel on Climate Change issued a series of reports that concluded there is no longer any doubt that human activities are causing the planet to warm up. The IPCC called for an immediate response from the international community. The U.N. panel's work earned them a share of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. The panel's findings heightened international awareness of the need for urgent action to mitigate climate change and to prepare for its consequences.
By any measure, 2007 stands up as a critical year in the effort to combat global warming, according to Eileen Claussen, President of the non-profit Pew Center on Global Climate Change. "It was a spectacular game-changing year, which doesn't mean that we have everything resolved yet, because we don't. But in terms of setting the stage of what we need to do, I think it was terrific."
Claussen says 2007 got off to a good start with the announcement of the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, "which was an alliance of 27 corporations and six non-profit organizations in the U.S. saying we need a mandatory national program with the goal of reducing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 60-to-80 percent by 2050."
That commitment to scale back from high 1990 emission levels -- the marker for such improvements -- was re-affirmed in early December in Bali at the United Nations Conference on Climate Change where members of the alliance upped the ante, pledging to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 90 percent by 2050.
Claussen says that this is a significant step because industry had formerly rejected the binding commitments associated with the Kyoto Protocol, the global climate change agreement. "Many, many companies have already set voluntary emission reduction goals, which means that they had to inventory their emissions and figure out what they could do," according to Claussen. "Companies that develop technology are looking ahead to a carbon-constrained world and the kinds of technologies that will be demanded by that world. And so there are companies beginning to invest significant amounts of money to prepare for what they see as inevitable."
U.S. Efforts to Fight Global Warming
Claussen says in the absence of a substantive commitment by the federal government, U.S. states have stepped in to pick up the slack. "In February, we had a Western Climate Initiative, which includes seven states and two Canadian provinces. We've got work that is ongoing in the northeast and the mid-Atlantic and then in I think really big news we had a mid-Western regional gas accord with six U.S. States and one Canadian province," says Claussen.
If that Midwest alliance were a country, it would be the fifth largest carbon producer in the world behind the United States, China, India and Russia. The Midwest pact sets ambitious goals to cut global warming gases. It mandates increased energy efficiency, greater use of biofuels and requires that coal-fired power plants capture and store carbon emissions. And by 2030 the region hopes to generate 30 percent of its power from renewable sources.
Wisconsin governor Jim Doyle says the regional agreement charts a new energy direction for his state. "We have an opportunity here in Wisconsin to build a large part of our economy around energy independence. We have great agricultural production. The northern half of our state is vast forest in which we are discovering a great deal about biomass that can be used as energy. Forests, agriculture and research: We have them all, and we want to make sure that we are a major part of the growing economy," says Doyle.
The same message came from a meeting in Lisbon, Portugal, in late October where a coalition of European countries, New Zealand, and several U.S. States and Canadian provinces joined to form the International Carbon Action Partnership.
Premier Gordon Campbell from British Columbia and New Jersey governor Jon Corzine were in Portugal to sign the pact. They say the agreement gives them another forum in which to coordinate market action on carbon. "We build consistency and stability over the long term for this [carbon trading] and it's a critical component of us reducing carbon emissions and greenhouse gases globally," says Campbell. "And maybe more importantly from my point of view set a framework for the [national] debate on the establishment of a global trading system on carbon," says Corzine.
That debate is heating up as the U.S. Congress considers a bill to cap carbon emissions. The White House has openly opposed such a mandate, favoring voluntary emissions reductions instead.
Eileen Claussen with the Pew Center for Global Climate Change is confident that that Congress will pass a law that would require the U.S. -- a major global polluter -- to reduce what it emits. "I would like to see a bill passed in the U.S. Congress in 2008 and getting the president to sign it is a challenge also."
Claussen says the law may have to wait for the inauguration of a new U.S. president in January, 2009. She believes that change of administration will put the U.S. into a better bargaining position as nations try to hammer out a successor to the Kyoto Protocol before it expires in 2012. "The notion of commitments for all the major emitting countries either has to be explicitly on the table, which I think is a huge challenge or at least not precluded from negotiations that will start sometime after Bali."
Eileen Claussen says two stories sum up the encouraging trends in 2007. First, 2007 was a year in which a U.S. state rejected a permit for a coal-fired power plant based on climate change. And, secondly it was the year when 80 heads of state met in a U.N special session and acknowledged the urgent need to act on climate change. Claussen says these are powerful signs that the political will exists to work toward a healthier and more sustainable planet.
This story was first broadcast on the English news program, VOA News Now. For other Focus reports click here.