March 12, 2001
Volume 79, Number 11
CENEAR 79 11 pp.11
ISSN 0009-2347
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G-8 nations commit to reaching agreement on climate-change pact


Two major events occurred in the area of global climate change last week.

First, environment ministers from the Group of 8 industrial nations meeting in Trieste, Italy, approved a communiqué that commits those nations to reaching agreement on outstanding issues in the Kyoto protocol on climate change. This raised hopes that at the upcoming climate-change meeting, scheduled for July 16–27 in Bonn, nations can resolve conflicts that led to the collapse of negotiations last November in The Hague.

And second, a United Nations report concludes that greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced at a lower cost than previously believed.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christine Todd Whitman, the U.S. delegate in Trieste, pleased environmentalists at the meeting by signing the communiqué and declaring that the U.S. is committed to combating global warming. "Global warming is one of the greatest environmental issues we face, if not the greatest challenge," she said.

"Administrator Whitman provided a clear and welcome signal to her G-8 partners that the U.S. is serious about tackling global warming. The next step is embracing the Kyoto protocol and joining their international partners who cannot wait forever," says Jennifer Morgan, director of the climate-change campaign at World Wildlife Fund.

However, the Bush Administration plans to review every aspect of the Kyoto protocol before the negotiations begin in Bonn. The positions taken by the Clinton Administration when climate talks were suspended last November will not be the Bush Administration's starting point for new talks, Whitman explained.

The communiqué Whitman signed is strong in several respects. "We commit ourselves at the [Bonn meeting] to strive to reach agreement on outstanding political issues and to ensure in a cost-effective manner the environmental integrity of the Kyoto protocol," it says. It also says nations should achieve the majority of their greenhouse gas emissions reductions domestically rather than through emissions trading or through sponsorship of clean energy projects in developing countries. Whether most of the emissions reductions should be achieved domestically was a major sticking point in The Hague.

The UN report prepared by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is the final study in a series of three. The first two reports released earlier this year concern the causes and impacts of climate change. This final report concludes that, in 1990, global greenhouse gas emissions totaled 6.9 billion to 8.4 billion metric tons (bmt) in carbon equivalents and that emissions could be cut by 3.6 to 5.1 bmt annually by 2020 from a projected total of 12–16 bmt. "Half of these potential emission reductions may be achieved by 2020 with direct benefits (energy saved) exceeding direct costs (net capital, operating, and maintenance costs)," the report says. The other half of the reductions could cost up to $100 per metric ton of carbon equivalents.

Significant progress in technologies that reduce emissions of greenhouse gases will make cutting emissions cheaper than expected, the report says. Examples include advances in wind turbines, efficient hybrid-engine cars, fuel-cell technologies, and carbon removal from fuels or flue gas and storage in deep underground aquifers.

"The message of this report is that there are plenty of technical opportunities both in the near term and the long term to address climate change. An enormous amount can be done at negative cost and relatively low cost," says William R. Moomaw, an author of the report and professor of international environmental policy at Tufts University.--

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