More on Kyoto

Discussion in 'World Events' started by kmguru, Aug 2, 2001.

  1. kmguru Staff Member

    Ref: USNEWS 8/6/01

    When President Bush dismissed the Kyoto climate change treaty as "fatally flawed," he meant to spare American companies from paying dearly to control pollution. But now that about 180 countries have pushed ahead with the pact without the United States, American businesses with overseas operations are wondering if they'd be better off at the dance than on the sidelines.

    Under the treaty, companies that reduce their own emissions of greenhouse gases can sell credits–essentially "licenses to pollute"–to other businesses. But the fine print is still unclear. So U.S. companies such as chemical giant DuPont, which is already cutting its greenhouse gas emissions, may never get to earn Kyoto credits for reductions inside U.S. borders. "The United States will now have less influence over the development of the protocol and the rules governing it," says Daniel Lashof, a climate-change scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

    There may be other unintended consequences. The Kyoto treaty, without the United States, will become a giant commodity exchange, with companies and countries swapping emissions credits–but it might not end up cutting pollution. That's because the market for credits may tilt out of balance. Countries of the former Soviet Union, for example, will pocket extra credits because the post-Communist industrial collapse reduced emissions there. They'd be sellers. The brokers will be companies such as energy giant Enron, which hopes to dominate a new commodity market for emissions credits.

    Where are the buyers? David Victor at the Council on Foreign Relations doubts there will be many. Take away American industry, which spits the most carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by far, and there might not be enough polluters demanding the credits that excuse them from emissions targets. In this scenario, credits could become so cheap that companies would purchase them constantly, rather than clean up. "Without the United States in the system," says Victor, "the actual effect of the Kyoto treaty may turn out to be exactly zero."

    The United States may still participate, somehow. Bush has yet to decide whether he will propose a different approach or accept a parallel system. A future U.S. president could also decide to join Kyoto. The uncertainty unnerves American companies looking at making long-term investments in factories, power plants, or emissions-credit-swapping systems.

    Since last week's Kyoto deal, pressure is building on Capitol Hill to implement new restrictions on emissions of several pollutants. The fight will be over whether to include carbon dioxide. Key Republican legislators, despite White House opposition, favor a market-based system that's not as stringent as Kyoto. "We need something on carbon," admits a GOP aide. American businesses may need something, too. -Kevin Whitelaw

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