We must capture every opportunity
Looking at the global options to reduce emissions, I come to two conclusions:
1. The job is possible and affordable if done right, and
2. There is no silver bullet.
No sector or country can meet the challenge alone. Indeed, if we don't pull all the levers for change we can reasonably afford, we will not succeed.
Today's climate policies do not attempt to cap all sources of emissions. One issue is geographical, as poorer countries are not yet expected to take on caps. The other is sectoral, as national cap-and-trade systems, for practical reasons, do not cap every emission source.
Yet we must reduce these other emissions as fast as we can. Particularly important are forestry and conversion of land for agriculture, activities that account for around a quarter of global emissions. The most important opportunities are in the developing world, where rainforest protection and slash-and-char (not burn) agriculture could slow emissions and provide positive benefits for ecosystems and local economies. These changes typically cost much less than other emissions reductions, though they will require financing support from the developed world.
Allowing these reductions to be used as 'offsets' in cap and trade systems will lower the total cost of fighting climate change. Some object that doing so relieves industrial emitters of their responsibilities, but this misses the point. Emissions from land use and forestry must be reduced if we are going to succeed, and offset programs bring much needed private sector money to the task.
Details matter: offsets will have to be limited, or caps lowered, to ensure that domestic targets are met. And time is needed to develop measurement and monitoring systems for forestry and land use offsets. Nonetheless, these projects can, and should, play a role in reducing emissions.
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