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March 10, 2010
Lack of Government Policy, Not Technology, Is Barrier to Climate Change Mitigation
    by Robert Kropp

A climate scientist and a business leader join forces to assert the validity of climate science, and recommend the adoption of a market-based cap-and-trade program.

Beginning their white paper entitled Climate Change for Policymakers and Business Leaders with the simple assertion that "Climate change is real, and human activities are the major cause," co-authors Christopher Field of the Carnegie Institution for Science and Peter Darbee, Chairman and CEO of PG&E state further, "Substantial greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions can be achieved in the near term using technology that is here today."

The authors cite recent studies finding that the cost to each household in the US of decreasing GHG emissions to levels recommended by the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) would amount to about $500 annually. Furthermore, according to the authors, the cost analyses of the reports they cite "don't measure the significant economic, social, and environmental benefits, which are likely to be much greater."

Because much of the technology for mitigating the effects of climate change exists already, the key barrier to realizing substantial GHG emissions reduction is not a need for more technical innovation, but the "need to coordinate policies and align incentives to
drive adoption of existing technologies," the authors state. A market-based cap-and-trade program, in which companies whose emissions exceed their allotted allowance can either reduce emissions or purchase surplus allowances from low-emitting companies, would be the most effective strategy, according to the authors.

In support of their recommendation for adoption of cap-and-trade, the authors refer to the success of the Clean Air Act Acid Rain Program in the US, and the European Union's European Trading Scheme (ETS). According to studies, the ETS has led to reductions in GHG emissions of between 2% and 5% in each of its first three years.

Unfortunately for advocates of a cap-and-trade program in the US, recent news reports indicate that the inclusion of such a program in climate change legislation in the US Senate is unlikely. Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, one of the architects of the legislation currently being rewritten, was quoted recently as saying, "Cap-and-trade is dead."

Arguing that "early commitment to aggressive investments in clean-energy technology and infrastructure makes policy and business sense," the authors note that "China is already the world's leading producer of renewable electric power." If the US delays taking action on climate change until an international accord is reached, it would be "sacrificing important near- and long-term economic opportunities."


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