U.S. Should Show Leadership in Reduction of GHG Emissions

The United States is the world’s most significant polluter, and should take action on climate change before asking developing countries to do so.

WASHINGTON, DC, US, 2001-07-06 [SolarAccess.com] The United States is the world’s most significant polluter, and should take action on climate change before asking developing countries to do so. During the past century, industrialized countries had 20 percent of the world’s population but were responsible for 60 percent of net carbon emissions that are driving global warming, according to a report from the World Resources Institute. The U.S. emits 30 percent of the GHG total, while China contributed 7 percent and India was 2 percent. The U.S. will continue to dominate the production of heat-trapping gases despite increasing carbon emissions from developing countries, and will be responsible for 300 megatonnes by 2010. The per-capita level in 1999 was 5.6 tons of carbon, which is 20 times the level in India and 10 times that of the average Chinese resident. “The U.S. should attend to curbing its own prodigious output of greenhouse gases before asking developing countries to do more,” says report author Kevin Baumert. “Emission constraints can have a dynamic effect on technological progress and the development of new markets, such as those for renewable energy,” the report notes. If power producers are not obliged to address GHG emissions domestically, U.S. companies will pay less attention to cleaner power generation technologies and “dilute their ability to compete in these fast growing businesses abroad.” “The view that developing countries should adopt legal emission commitments carries the implicit assumption that such actions would lead to a better global environmental outcome,” it explains. “Developing countries are actually already taking substantial actions to reduce emissions growth, even in the absence of international commitments.” Although Mexico, India, Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia rely on coal and oil for electricity, “they have all made national goals (targeted locally) to increase renewable energy and improve energy efficiency,” it notes. “Many countries … are phasing out fossil fuel subsidies. These measures should not be taken for granted.” The report was released as government officials start discussions in The Hague over the Kyoto Protocol. Formal negotiations on the climate treaty will resume in Germany next month. U.S. President George Bush has rejected the agreement, insisting that developing countries should limit their GHG emissions. “Over the long-term, most countries, including developing countries, will need to do more to rein in their greenhouse gas emissions,” agrees co-author Nancy Kete. “To get the ball rolling in the near term, however, climate protection requires the leadership of a few countries that bear historical responsibility for the problem and that have considerable capability to act – that means first and foremost, the U.S.” The United States has used climate change to export to other countries while, at the same time, “financing billions of dollars worth of carbon-intensive investment in those countries,” the report says. Between 1994 and 2001, the U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation and Export-Import Bank of the United States provided energy loans or guarantees worth $27 billion in developing countries, while “by comparison, little has been provided to promote renewable energy technologies.” The report says financial support for renewables projects during that period was only $2 billion. “The sheer magnitude of the carbon-intensive flows, and the paltry renewables investment, illustrate a clear inconsistency within U.S. policymaking,” it charges. “On the one hand, the U.S. justifies domestic inaction on global warming because developing countries are not doing more. On the other hand, U.S. government agencies use taxpayer dollars to finance expanded fossil fuel use in poor countries.”
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