The Challenges Ahead
The world is a very different place in 2009 than 1997, so the challenge is now the same for all -- actually reducing emissions in the face of rising energy demand globally. Although burgeoning demand is accelerating the use of energy sources such as wind and solar, it is also accelerating the demand for coal, oil and gas. Rising coal use is particularly problematic for global emissions.
The United States is but one region facing this challenge and whereas in 1997 it may have been able to at least make a dent in the issue on its own, that is now far from the case. Real action will have to be collective, which means a significant departure from the approaches of the 1990s. Global emissions have jumped by a third since the start of the Kyoto Protocol discussions and most of that increase has come with rapid development in major new economies such as China (over double), Mexico (up by nearly half), Saudi Arabia (over double) and Vietnam (a four fold increase).
The solution isn't easy, but we do at least know what it is. By using national or regional cap-and-trade systems to introduce a price for carbon into the global energy system we can disrupt the status quo and start to force a change in direction. We won't see the change immediately, but 20 years down the road the differences will be significant. But in the United States, such a shift is struggling to gain traction, which means it has little hope globally. Although the European Union has made a start, that won't be enough.
The challenge in Copenhagen is to reach a consensus on collective action, and for the United States, the challenge will be to lead from the front by demonstrating its huge capacity for both legislative and technical innovation.
October 4, 2009; 10:07 PM ET
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