US unrivalled as top carbon polluter

by Danielle Knight

Washington, 26 Jun 2001 (IPS) - The United States will continue to be the world’s largest producer of carbon dioxide pollution ten years from now, according to a report released here Tuesday.

Developing countries’ emissions also will rise but will remain dwarfed by US output of the so-called greenhouse gas, blamed for global warming, said the World Resources Institute (WRI), a Washington-based environmental think-tank.

If current trends continue, the United States will have increased its carbon emissions by about 300 million tons by 2010, the report said. China and India, the favourite targets of US companies and politicians opposed to emission reductions under the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, together will account for only four-fifths of the US total.

The report appeared as government officials began closed-door discussions on the final text of the Kyoto Protocol prior to formal negotiations in Bonn, Germany, scheduled for 17-27 July.

Europe has vowed to move forward with the international treaty despite US President George W. Bush’s repudiation of the agreement.

Bush has argued that the agreement is “fundamentally flawed” because it does not include binding commitments from developing countries. China, with its huge population and endless coal reserves, Bush said, will overtake the United States early this century as the biggest source of heat-trapping greenhouse gases.

Nancy Kete, co-author of the report and director of WRI’s climate programme, countered that while industrialised nations leave their promises unfulfilled, developing nations - especially China - are taking meaningful action to reduce emissions, despite the lack of legal commitments.

“China’s achievement is unprecedented,” Kete said. While emissions from the world’s wealthiest nation continue to rise, the world’s most populous country reduced its emissions by 17% between 1997 and 1999. During the same time period, China’s economy grew by 15%, she said. “These reductions, achieved through sweeping energy pricing and policy reforms, as well as the promotion of energy efficiency (are) equal to the 400 million tons of carbon that the US transportation sector emitted last year,” Kete added.

In 1996, China launched a campaign to modernise its coal-combustion industrial boilers, the country’s leading source of carbon dioxide pollution. It has also taken action to reduce subsidies for fossil fuels and to invest in research on energy efficiency.

Other developing nations have also taken action to reduce emissions, according to the WRI report, ‘The US, Developing Countries, and Climate Protection:

Leadership or Stalemate?’ Although Mexico, India, Thailand, the Philippines, and Indonesia rely on coal and oil for electricity, they have all outlined national goals to improve energy efficiency and increase renewable energy such as wind and solar power.

In Argentina, 10% of the automobile fleet runs on compressed natural gas. India has implemented natural gas use for heavy vehicles in its major cities and for most of New Delhi’s public transport system, the report noted.

Many developing countries, including Indonesia - a member of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) - are also phasing out fossil fuel subsidies.

“These measures should not be taken for granted,” the report said.

Such action has “required leadership and entailed political and economic costs, for which these countries deserve recognition,” it added.

The United States has undertaken many emission reduction programmes, the report conceded, such as the One Million Solar Rooftops programme developed under the Bill Clinton administration. Such efforts remain small in scale and have not led to actual emission reductions, however.

“Many measures are voluntary and they are not coordinated economy-wide,” WRI said. Quite the contrary: emissions have risen in the United States every year since 1991.

By 1999, US emissions averaged about 5.6 tons of carbon per person - about 20 times the per capita figure for India and more than 10 times that of China, the report said.

The report scored the US for justifying domestic inaction on global warming on the grounds that developing countries are not doing more while at the same, “US government agencies use taxpayer dollars to finance expanded fossil fuel use in poor countries without providing strong incentives for clean energy technology.”

Between 1994 and 2001, the US Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) and Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im) provided loans or guarantees for projects worth some $7.7 billion in energy intensive sectors in India and China, WRI said. Over this same period, OPIC and Ex-Im supported $27 billion worth of energy-intensive projects in the developing world as a whole, with little promotion of renewable energy technologies.

Instead of funding fossil fuel projects, the report argued that if the United States is seriously concerned about carbon emissions from developing countries, it should recognize and build on emission reduction policies already being undertaken in developing nations. – SUNS4924

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