Climate Change: Think Out Of The Box

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For too long, the debate on climate change has been deadlocked. It’s time to move beyond that. The US takes the issue of climate change very seriously, remains committed to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, and is resolved to move forward aggressively on this issue. The Climate Change Technology Bazaar being held in Delhi this week is an opportunity to think of innovative ways to address this issue.
The US recognises the importance of near-term actions while maintaining economic growth. It also emphasises that any solution will require the development and deployment of “transformational” technologies to produce and use energy with little or no net atmospheric greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and technologies that will allow the use of abundant fossil fuels.
Emission management and technological innovation are the bases for the Administration’s long-term climate change strategy. That commitment includes cutting GHG in-tensity by 18% over the next 10 years and will prevent more than 500 million metric tonnes of carbon-equivalent emissions through 2012 – the equivalent of taking 70 million cars off the road. It is based on the common sense idea that economic growth is key to environmental progress be-cause such growth provides resources for investment in clean technologies and in-creased energy efficiency. In support of these alternatives, President Bush’s 2003 budget provides a record $4.5 billion for climate-related progra-mmes, an increase of $700 million from the previous year. This commitment of resources is greater than that of any other nation in the world. The US recognises that we must first understand the issue better if we are to address it effectively. Contrary to the claims of some, we lack the necessary data re-quired to understand the Earth system. To address this deficiency, the US hosted the Earth Observation Summit in Wash-ington this summer, attended by over 40 nations and international organisations, inclu-ding India. The summit’s goal was to design and implement over the next 10 years a new global, integrated, sustained, and comprehensive Earth observation system that will greatly advance our understanding of climate change.
It is becoming increasingly clear that existing energy technologies cannot meet the growing global demand for energy while delivering the emissions reductions necessary to stabilise atmospheric GHG concentrations. We must develop and deploy transformational technologies in energy production, distribution, storage, conversion, and use. Carbon sequestration and hydrogen technologies are two excellent examples. The former involves removing carbon dioxide from fossil fuel combustion emissions streams and permanently storing it in deep underground formations, such as depleted oil and gas reservoirs, unmineable coal seams, and deep saline aquifers. It is a top priority for the US because of our large coal reserves and the fact that fossil fuels will continue for the foreseeable future to be the world’s most reliable and lowest-cost ener-gy resources. It could have similar applications in India.
The Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum is a multilateral effort to advance technologies that capture and store carbon emissions. It was inaugurated formally in June 2003 when 13 coal-producing


and consuming nations, including India, and the European Commission signed an international charter establishing a framework for cooperative re-search and develop- ment. The Forum’s partners will be invited to participate in our $1 bn FutureGen project – an initiative to design and construct the first emission-free coal-fired power plant. FutureGen will be a living prototype, testing the latest technologies to generate electricity, produce hydrogen, and sequester GHG emissions and will help lead to the development of clean fossil fuel power plants worldwide.
Earlier this year, the US announced a plan to change our nation’s energy future to one that utilises the most abundant element in the universe – hydrogen. It has a high-energy content, is non- polluting when used to create energy in fuel cells, and can be produced from different sour-ces. Over the next five years, the US has pledged $1.7 bn to fund the ambitious Freedom-CAR and Hydrogen Fuel Initiative to develop emission-free automotive operating systems that run on hydrogen.
The US has called for the establishment of an International Partnership for the Hydrogen Economy (IPHE). The public-private collaborations envisioned under it will address the technological, financial, and institutional barriers to hydrogen and develop globally-recognised technology standards to speed market penetration of new hydrogen-based technologies. India will be one of 14 countries and the EC at a ministerial in Washington to discuss the IPHE.
Finally, there is economic sense in reducing emissions. Eliminating GHG emissions before they enter the atmosphere costs less than addressing the consequences later. Add to this the potential economic benefits from tackling global warming. Two major corporations have found tackling global warming to be cost-effective: Dupont decided to reduce its emissions to 65% below its 1990 level and British Petroleum committed to reducing its emissions to 10% below its 1990 level. Both companies have reported cost savings as a result of their actions, with Dupont reaping $1.5 billion and BP $650 million. Other industries also stand to benefit. Farmers would be able to profit by adopting pro-environment practices, such as increasing carbon levels in their land, and selling emission credits to polluters. Such market-based incentives encourage the private sector to make and sell more efficient, cleaner energy technologies.
Through greater co-operation, sustained funding, and data-sharing, we can enhance our understanding of the environmental challenges we face and the quality of our decision-making in responding to these challenges. Together we must challenge conventional wisdom, think outside the box, and use our imaginations to make lasting improvements in the quality of our environment.
The writer is Charge d’Affaires of the US Mission
(Indian Express Newspapers)