Too Big To Fail
Following the 12 years since Kyoto, the climate change crisis ever more clearly presents a challenge that is too big to fail to meet. Nearly one-quarter of the increase in the atmospheric carbon dioxide levels since industrialization occurred after 1997, as greenhouse gas emissions continued to grow in almost all countries. We no longer have time for false starts or half-measures because, if we are to avoid dangerous warming of the planet, global emissions will have to peak within the next 12 years and the emissions of the U.S. and other developed nations even sooner.
Earlier this year, the G-8 nations agreed that we must limit worldwide temperature rises to no more than 2°C (3.6°F) from the pre-industrial level in order to prevent dangerous and irreversible global warming. Recent scientific estimates indicate that global emissions will have to be reduced by 80 percent by 2050 in order to have even a 70 percent likelihood of avoiding a 2°C rise. If only developed countries achieve the 80 percent reduction, the approximate goal set in both House and Senate cap-and-trade bills, the probability of avoiding a 2°C increase is less than half. Achieving these global emission reductions requires that they peak prior to 2020 and decline quickly thereafter; otherwise truly daunting reductions exceeding a Kyoto Protocol target each year would be required.
U.S. participation in addressing this daunting challenge is clearly essential. We can't afford to hold that we won't make commitments unless the developing nations do as well. Even China, which has now surpassed the U.S. as the largest emitter of greenhouse gases, has set energy efficiency and alternative energy supply goals. Passage of Senate cap-and-trade legislation will provide the U.S. credibility needed for leadership in Copenhagen, but it is certain that whatever is accomplished there, much hard work lies ahead.
Donald F. Boesch
October 5, 2009; 12:57 AM ET
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