Overcoming Setbacks in the Climate Change Crusade
Promising signs even as opponents refuse to accept efforts to limit greenhouse gas emissions
Engineers and architects are among the leaders of the movement to slow climate change. Their opponents, including many big industrial companies and the elected officials who support them, won’t go down without a fight or attempts to compromise the goal of limiting greenhouse gas emissions. One example is the Senate’s approved version of a new comprehensive energy bill, which includes a fatal flaw deserving of President Obama’s promised veto: a repeal of target goals for reduction of carbon emissions by federal buildings.
Perhaps the nonsensical pretext for the repeal is that federal buildings should be fuel-agnostic during a time when the oil-and-gas business is down. Yet climate change and all the problems it entails won’t wait while commodity-price cycles run their course. Action is needed now.
As the American Institute of Architects points out, it makes “no public policy sense for Congress to cave in to the oil-and-gas lobby and kill requirements to reduce fossil-fuel consumption in federal buildings,” especially since architects have designed net-zero buildings. Because buildings account for four out of every 10 tons of carbon dioxide that float into the atmosphere, federal buildings should set an example for the private market.
Another aspect of climate-change reform that some believe has been undermined is the European Union’s 10-year-old cap-and-trade system for carbon. The Europeans included incentives—in the form of salable emission credits—to encourage big carbon emitters to keep operations where they are and overhaul them. Cement production, for example, theoretically contributes about 1% of the world’s carbon emissions.
Carbon Emission Credits
The designers of the European Trading Scheme (ETS) never expected that Europe’s sprawling cement-supply giants would actually profit from what critics now claim are much-too-generous emission credits. The cement suppliers deny that they manipulated or gamed the system and point out that they have invested heavily in zero-emission processes and technology. The creators of newer cap-and-trade systems—California, for example—are benefitting from Europe’s mistakes. The best way forward is to adopt a multipronged approach that integrates renewable-energy goals with cap-and-trade and other programs.
More troubling, the world has not reached a consensus on the urgent need to act. Recently, China’s government has let it be known that it has canceled or postponed 106 GW of coal-fired generation plants.
Typified by the new climate-change treaties recently signed in Paris, the efforts to reduce carbon emissions are only now reaching adolescence. When all owners and governments insist on low- or zero-emission products, industry will provide them. And trading schemes that involve government-created “markets”—and all the pitfalls they involve—won’t be needed at all.