Global warming: UN climate report warns on emissions, but some signs of progress
A UN climate report sounds the alarm on rising greenhouse gas emissions fueling global warming. While the developed world shows some progress in smarter energy use, surging growth in emerging economies threatens to overwhelm that progress, prompting the renewed warning from the UN climate report.
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"Those sort of companies don't get as much press as they did when there was a bubble, but they’re out there," Roy Torbert, a buildings sector consultant for the Rocky Mountain Institute, an efficiency nonprofit based in Colorado, says in a telephone interview. "They’re part of the economic recovery, and their mission is to have this recovery be not only economically prosperous, but – from a climate perspective – sustainable."Skip to next paragraph
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Still, the US is not on track to meet its goal of reducing those emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. As it stands now, US greenhouse gas emissions are projected to be only 4.6 percent lower than 2005 levels in 2020, according to the State Department's report.
The Obama administration has pushed for those reductions in the form of clean-energy funding, efficiency standards on appliances and cars and, most recently, limits on carbon emissions from power plants. That targeting of the power sector has stirred opposition from lawmakers, industry, and citizens from energy states where coal underpins local economies.
Politically, the issue of climate change is divisive. Some policymakers in Washington challenge the veracity of the UN's assessment, pointing to a recent pause in global warming. Even among those who agree human activity warms the Earth's atmosphere, some question how perilous the trend is, and say attempts to combat climate change do more harm than good.
Critics are already planning to challenge the president's Climate Action Plan in court and on Capitol Hill. They charge that it will raise electricity prices for residents and businesses alike, slowing an economic recovery that's barely under way. Power plant regulations, critics contend, effectively serve as a ban on a source of power that currently makes up about 40 percent of the nation's electricity mix.
"If these regulations go into effect, American jobs will be lost, electricity prices will soar, and economic uncertainty will grow," Sen. Joe Manchin (D) of West Virginia said in a statement last week responding to the new regulations. "We need the federal government to work as a partner, not an adversary, and to invest in America’s energy future."
But for the hundreds of scientists from more than 30 countries who contributed to the report, one thing remains certain: Human beings will be better off if they curtail activities that contribute to a changing climate.
The global picture is quite sobering. While energy use within the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which represents the developed nations, is projected to grow only 17 percent between 2010 and 2040, outside the OECD, it's expected to rise by 90 percent, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). Carbon-heavy coal will likely serve as the dominant source of that growth.
The growing use of coal is a major reason global emissions are expected to rise 46 percent over the next 30 years, according to the IEA.
"We should all be very concerned about that," Steven Cohen, executive director of Columbia University's Earth Institute, says in a telephone interview. "Billions of people are off the grid and they want to get on the grid. Part of the reason they're going to coal is because it's already there and it's cheaper."
The solution, according to Mr. Cohen and others, is to leverage public and private enterprise to drive down the cost of renewable energy, making it competitive with traditional fossil fuels.
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