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'Kyoto' era begins

The still-controversial Kyoto Protocol, a pact among 35 countries, aims to curb industrial pollution.

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"Whether you still believe that Kyoto is based on fuzzy science or is a stealth campaign by other countries to damage US companies, it's time to face reality," Industry Week editor in chief Patricia Panchak wrote recently. "Kyoto likely will affect how you do business no matter where your company is."

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Meanwhile, nine eastern states (the six New England states plus Delaware, New Jersey, and New York) have formed the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative requiring large power plants to reduce carbon emissions through a cap-and-trade system. Auto-clogged California is even trying to force automakers to limit emissions.

The Bush administration refused, along with 95 US senators, to sign on to Kyoto for two principal reasons: That it would harm the US economy by requiring very costly changes to manufacturing, transportation, and other aspects of business; and because the agreement did not initially cover the most rapidly developing countries - India and China - where economic advancement is valued over smokestack issues.

But the president has begun to feel some political heat from his friends on global warming. British Prime Minister Tony Blair, while not a big fan of Kyoto, is raising alarms. "What is now plain is that the emission of greenhouse gases, associated with industrialization and strong economic growth from a world population that has increased sixfold in 200 years, is causing global warming at a rate that began as significant, has become alarming and is simply unsustainable in the long-term," Mr. Blair said in a speech to Parliament last fall.

Sen. John McCain warns of the "devastating consequences of climate change." The Arizona Republican has joined with Sen. Joe Lieberman (D) of Connecticut in sponsoring the Climate Stewardship Act. The bill would require mandatory reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from the electricity generation, transportation, industrial, and commercial sectors of the economy, which represent 85 percent of overall US greenhouse gas emissions.

Sen. Chuck Hagel, the Nebraska Republican who led the Senate fight to reject Kyoto, now says, "Achieving reductions in greenhouse gas emissions is one of the important challenges of our time."

As everyone acknowledges, the job won't be done even if all Kyoto goals are met by 2012. Discussions about how to lower greenhouse gas emissions beyond that already are under way.

Warming's potential impact, up close and personal

Tuesday, a research team from three universities offered the first in-depth model of how rising global temperatures could affect one coastal city - Boston. The report, funded by the Environmental Protection Agency, foresees significant change for the Massachusetts port:

• Temperatures rising 6 to 10 degrees F. by the end of the century. The number of 90-degree days could double, to 30 per year.

• Sea levels along Boston's coastline could rise at least 24 inches, flooding inland parks and walkways.

• Property damage and emergency services following flooding could total $94 billion during this century.

• By 2030, the average number of days in July requiring air conditioning could increase by 24 percent.

• A sea level rise of 1 foot could give a typical 10-year storm the force of a what is now a 100-year (once a century) storm.