US Puts Faith in Technology to Curb Warming
By Alister Doyle, Environment Correspondent
OSLO (Reuters) – Washington will brandish its faith in
technology to solve global warming with the launch of a
six-nation climate pact in Australia this week but critics say
it looks half-hearted without tough targets or incentives.
Washington and Australia, the only rich nations to reject
the U.N.’s Kyoto Protocol meant to limit warming, will team up
with China, India, Japan and South Korea to promote technology
like “clean coal” or ways to bury heat-trapping gases.
Some Kyoto backers reckon President George W. Bush, via the
Asia Pacific Partnership for Clean Development and Climate, is
trusting too much in clean technology breakthroughs that might
never come or even be sufficient if they do.
“We welcome (technology pacts) as part of efforts to reduce
greenhouse gas emissions but they won’t do the trick,” a
European Commission spokeswoman said of the six-nation plan, to
be launched in Sydney on Wednesday and Thursday.
“If we are serious about reductions the Kyoto Protocol is
the way to go.”
Kyoto imposes caps on emissions of greenhouse gases by
about 40 nations. The United States, the world’s top emitter of
such gases, shuns such limits.
Many experts doubt that companies will invest enough in new
clean energy technology unless they get a carrot-and-stick
approach to help stave off what could be disastrous climate
changes ranging from desertification to rising sea levels.
“The new partnership has no real drivers,” said David
Doniger of the Washington-based Natural Resources Defense
Council. “A problem of this size is not going to be solved by a
small amount of money and cheerleading.”
Doniger, who was a U.S. climate negotiator under President
Bill Clinton, urged creation of environmental markets, like in
the European Union, to give clean energy producers an advantage
over burners of dirty fossil fuels.
“Technologies do not just appear from nowhere; they have to
be developed, mostly in response to new markets,” echoed
Jonathan Kohler, an economist at England’s Cambridge
“The Americans are right that technology will be the
solution…but this plan is not enough.”
The new partnership groups nations accounting for 48
percent of greenhouse gas emissions against 35 percent bound by
caps under Kyoto.
The EU has set a price on carbon dioxide, the main
industrial gas blamed for warming the planet, as a step toward
squeezing emissions of heat-trapping CO2 from fossil fuels
burned in thousands of factories and power plants.
European factories and power generators get permits to emit
carbon dioxide which will be cut in coming years. Those
emitting above quota will have to buy permits in a market where
carbon dioxide now trades at about 23 euros ($28) a tonne.
“You need a price for carbon dioxide of about 20-50 euros
per tonne and then many of the most advanced technologies
become competitive — clean coal, sequestration of carbon
dioxide and most renewables,” said Ottmar Edenhofer of
Germany’s Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.
The United States, however, argues that technology has
solved many of humanity’s challenges, and can do so again
without a complicated market system.
Many of its allies are unconvinced.
“Let us not be seduced by the illusion of technology,”
French President Jacques Chirac wrote in a message to
environment ministers at U.N. talks in Canada last month,
warning that there would be no “miracle solutions.”
The Kyoto Protocol obliges developed nations to cut their
emissions of greenhouse gases by 5.2 percent below 1990 levels
by 2008-12. Bush pulled out of Kyoto in 2001, saying it would
cost U.S. jobs and wrongly omitted developing nations.
Backers of the U.S.-led plan say it complements Kyoto and
is not a rival. Yet comparisons are inevitable. Australian
Prime Minister John Howard once said: “the fairness and
effectiveness of this proposal will be superior to the Kyoto
Doniger said the United States had argued strongly in the
1990s for the creation of markets to rein in climate change.
“Five years ago nobody but the United States really
understood the logic of the market structure. In the interval
every other country has got it.”