A report released by the independent Pew Center on Global Climate Change calls for the United States to take broad steps to reduce industrial emissions that scientists believe are causing global warming. The Pew Center's Agenda for Climate Action includes wide-ranging recommendations for U.S. emissions cuts and urges the Bush Administration to join global talks to curb rising greenhouse gas emissions.
The new report focuses on the fact that the United States is the world's biggest polluter. The U.S. comprises 5 percent of the world's population yet accounts for 25 percent of the world's climate warming emissions.
And the situation is getting worse.
The Department of Energy says climate-changing carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S. have grown by 18 percent since 1990 and are predicted to increase another 37 percent by 2030.
The Pew Center's Agenda for Climate Action culminates a two-year project that involved leaders from business, government and non-profit organizations. Pew Center policy analyst Vicki Arroyo says the result is a road map for action across all areas of the U.S. economy. "This agenda provides both polices that promote technology development and those that will bring the technologies into the market, and it aims to do so in a cost-effective pragmatic manner," she says. "Some believe the answer to addressing climate change lies in technology incentives. Others say limiting emissions is the only answer. Our agenda says we need both."
Topping the list of recommendations is a market-based program that would cap greenhouse gas emissions from large sources like power plants and utility companies.
Much like the European Union's carbon-trading model, the program would allow lower- emitting companies to sell their allowances of greenhouse gas emissions to companies that produce more than their allotment.
Vicki Arroyo says required emissions reporting would be a stepping stone to economy-wide trading. "As of now, we don't even have required reporting in this country of greenhouse gas emissions. The program would work much in same way as cap-and-trade we have with the acid rain program that controls sulfur dioxide emissions in this country."
The Pew report suggests adopting a similar approach to the transportation sector, which accounts for roughly one-third of U.S. global warming emissions. Arroyo says there must be a new effort to adopt higher automobile fuel economy standards for America's cars and light trucks, a serious source of controversy in the industry. "What we propose is changing that to a greenhouse gas focus program and having cars and light trucks together in that program, but announced in advance so that companies can reach (the targets) over time and benefit from a program, like the acid rain program to be able to get the most cost effective reductions."
The Pew report recommends mandatory emissions cuts. The Bush Administration favors voluntary reductions.
John Stowell is Vice President for Cinergy, a leading gas and electric company in the American Midwest. He says a growing number of multi-national companies with major U.S. operations -- including such giants as BP (British), Shell (Dutch) and Whirpool (USA) -- support mandatory controls on emissions.
"We are really just saying let's get started now. Let's not wait because we really think that we can make choices now that make good economic sense," Stowell says. "We don't need a crash program, but what we are concerned about as we build our next generation of generation (power) that we just simply know what the rules of the road are, and we will comply with those rules."
The Agenda for Climate Action also recommends new investment in science and technology, increased efficiency in buildings and products, greater production of renewable fuels like ethanol and biomass and the capture of carbon from burning coal.
Pew analyst Vicki Arroyo says that, while U.S. states and regions have come up with impressive initiatives to address climate change, they are simply not enough. "It is going to be a piecemeal approach, people are not going to know what their regulatory commitments are from one state to another. And you are then going to have different product standards in different states. It just doesn't make sense. We need a federal policy and that is what we are trying to promote," she says.
Arroyo says that federal policy must include a commitment by the U.S. to participate in international climate negotiations. She says action on all these fronts must start now. Further delays, the Pew report says, will only make the challenge before us more daunting and costly.