The next conference on climate change is due to hold in Copenhagen in December. It will establish the next climate change protocol to replace the current Kyoto Protocol
, KP, which lapses in 2012. The KP mandated binding targets for the respective parties to it but mainly 37 industrialized nations and the European community for the reduction of six main Greenhouse Gasses (GHGs) over the five-year period 2008-2012. Under the provisions of the protocol, industrialized nations were assigned larger reduction quotas in recognition of their principal contribution to GHGs due to over 150 years of industrial activity. The United States however was not a signatory, citing lower reduction quotas assigned to developing nations like China and India. Previous US administrations waffled on the issue and even questioned the reality of climate change. The United States is a major energy consumer accounting for example for about a quarter of all crude oil consumption and by far the largest single GHG
contributor. Any meaningful discussion on GHG
reduction would require its participation.
The KP was essentially a forum for establishing the necessary framework for an effective emissions reduction program. Moderated by the United Nations, it provided for the negotiation and ratification by 2012, about 3 years away, of a proper regime of GHG emissions reduction. Such negotiations are often protracted and so as December approaches, a series of preliminary meetings has been scheduled by the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate Change, countries which account for about 75% of all GHG emissions. The meetings are designed to facilitate the substantive December conference.
The US may not have solutions to all the world’s ills, but as the world’s largest economy by far, it can certainly set and sustain the agenda. President Obama has risen to the occasion. He has signalled the intention of the US to lead the climate change talks, to the delight of many delegates of the first of the MEFECC meetings.
While the talks could certainly use a US leadership, the US may well ponder a note or two on environmental issues and renewable energy.
The current economic meltdown has really challenged the US business model and its perceived invincibility. The imminent collapse
of its home-grown automobile sector is telling. It resisted calls for better emissions standards and therefore better fuel efficiency and environment-friendliness. Such resistance may have only postponed the inevitable. Aided by administrations of the day, the automobile companies racked up untenable production costs, skimped on quality and were effectively shielded from competition. Countries like Japan and Germany now build more efficient automobiles even in the US. A proper regime of good emissions standards, cost effectiveness, quality control among others would have stood these companies in better stead.
Cost and reliability of energy have been in recent times, of great concern to the world’s industrialized countries. The impact on the US, of last year’s oil price surge is still fresh. There was on outcry for energy independence. Some of the proposals for attaining such independence were unrealistic, not unexpected of politicians and their spin doctors in an election year. Reports
attributed to the US Geological Survey that the Arctic may hold up to a fifth of undiscovered oil and natural gas reserves fueled demands for opening offshore regions including the Arctic for oil and gas exploration. Even if the whole arctic field belonged to the US (the said field lies mostly in Russian territory), it would at best provide only “3 years’ supply of gasoline, heating oil and other petroleum needs”
for the world. As oil and gas explorations move to remote offshore terrains, it will become more difficult and expensive to make recoverable discoveries. Recourse to alternative energy sources then becomes imperative. The biofuels and renewable energy protocols were designed to bring cleaner environment and better energy management regimes. The US faces a possible power crunch as a result of increased demand and inadequate infrastructure. A significant and growing proportion of its energy requirement will come from renewable energy sources and its ageing power grid needs urgent upgrade.
In its present state the grid may be unable to sustain the load from renewable energy sources. Also many of the renewable energy sources such as solar, are in unpopulated or sparsely populated areas and require new transmission lines to connect to the grid. Reportedly, as of January 2009, there were wind plants with 13,000 MW and solar plants with 30,000 MW waiting to connect to the grid in the state of California. There are similar accounts in other regions of the country. A spending boost in the current economic recession, to resuscitate the power grid will be constructive. It will not only provide the much needed jobs, but will also prepare the ailing power grid to meet the energy needs of the future.
Set to lose about a quarter of its generating capacity by 2015 due to ageing plants, the United Kingdom also faces its own power crunch problems and is looking towards renewable energy
sources for solution.
In Copenhagen, the developing countries which have in the main been leery of their motives will be looking up to the developed, hoping for sincerity and commitment. Energy being a driver of industrial growth, the developed countries will do well to help make energy use among the developing cleaner, not to seek its reduction. With his global appeal, President Obama is certainly poised to bring in the necessary level of trust for a successful conference.