Those concerned about global warming were likely hoping for a different outcome in this year's U.S. presidential election. But Russia's ratification of the Kyoto Protocol – which means the treaty will finally enter into force – reminds us that opportunities still exist to reinvigorate efforts to prevent climate change.
Carbon pollution knows no boundaries. A smokestack in one part of the world may contribute directly to the destabilization of the climate in another part. And the legacy of our pollution makes the consequences of our inaction a burden to our children and future generations.
Global warming is an environmental, health and economic challenge requiring coordinated action on a global scale. Sadly, the U.S. government continues to reject the imperative of the problem. But fortunately, other governments – at the national, state and local levels – and businesses are expanding their efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
As representatives of "Building Global Alliances for the 21st Century," a partnership between progressive international leaders seeking cooperative solutions to global challenges, we believe that action must be taken now to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. To this end, we recently published a paper outlining an ambitious agenda to prevent climate change.
Specifically, we argue that we must intensify efforts to develop local, national and regional emissions trading markets for greenhouse gases with the ultimate objective of a global trading market. We should share lessons learned and build linkages between distinctive trading markets at all levels.
Emissions trading programs cap the total output of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, allowing businesses to buy and sell – "trade" – emission allowances, thereby achieving cost-effective emission reductions.
The United States has used an emission trading program to reduce acid rain pollution. It has proven to be more cost-effective than most traditional environmental regulatory programs, while securing an unprecedented level of compliance.
On January 1, 2005, a European Union (EU) emissions trading market will become effective, enforcing caps laid out in the Kyoto Protocol and encompassing almost half of the EU's total emissions of CO2. The EU program is designed to include the other Kyoto mechanisms and allow for linkage to emission trading markets in other parts of the world.
In the United States next April, nine states in the New England region plan to launch a trading market within the power sector. Businesses have also begun to experiment with an emissions trading market at the Chicago Climate Exchange. These efforts are crucial to spurring private sector investment and momentum to deploy cost-effective alternatives to old technologies and fuels that contribute to carbon pollution. Our challenge is to ensure that this new economic instrument develops into an efficient policy tool with the potential to serve as a building block in a future global emissions trading market.
Going forward, we must include all countries in a multilateral framework and develop an equitable accord that respects the diversity of circumstances and conditions around the world for the period beyond 2012. Therefore, we must initiate a broad discussion on how best to combat global warming beyond 2012.
More than 2500 scientists agree that human-induced climate change is real. It is a global problem that requires a global solution. Failure to act now leaves future generations with problems that they will be unable to solve. Global Alliances chooses to take actions now that improve the quality of life for current generations and do not foreclose options for future generations.
Dr. Lena Sommestad, who holds a PhD in Economic History, has served as Minister for the Environment of Sweden since 2002. Carol Browner served in the President's cabinet as head of the United States Environmental Protection Agency from 1993 to 2001. She is currently a Principal with The Albright Group LLc=