February 20, 2006

U.S. think tank offers a blend of practical, policy measures to reduce GHG emissions

A greenhouse gas emission reduction plan proposed for the U.S. by the Pew Center on Global Climate Change calls for a combination of technology and policy and urges action in six key areas: (1) science and technology; (2) market-based programs; (3) sectoral emissions; (4) energy production and use; (5) adaptation; and (6) international engagement. Within these six areas, the Agenda for Climate Action outlines 15 specific recommendations that should be started now, including U.S. domestic reductions and engagement in the international negotiation process.

While reductions across sectors and sources of emissions are key, the report recognizes that such steps are not likely to happen simultaneously, nor without costs. However, its recommendations have been designed to be cost-effective and capable of implementation in the near-term.

The Agenda's fundamental premise is that there is no single technology fix, no single policy instrument, and no single sector that can solve this problem on its own. Rather, a combination of technology investment and market development will provide for the most cost-effective greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions, and will create a thriving market for GHG-reducing technologies. To address climate change without placing the burden on any one group, the report urges actions throughout the economy.

"Some believe the answer to addressing climate change lies in technology incentives. Others say limiting emissions is the only answer. We need both," said Eileen Claussen, President of the Pew Center and a former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs.

The Agenda is the product of two years of work and represents the first comprehensive plan to reduce GHG emissions in the United States. The nation's carbon dioxide emissions have risen by more than 18% since 1990, and the U.S. Department of Energy now projects that they will increase by another 37% by 2030.

The Pew Center's proposed Agenda outlines both broad and specific policies, combining recommendations on economy-wide mandatory emissions cuts, technology development, scientific research, energy supply, and adaptation with critical steps that can be taken in key sectors. A number of proposals would take advantage of existing government programs.

Stabilizing GHG concentrations will require a fundamental shift in the country's energy system, but the report maintains that this transition will have other benefits, including enhanced competitiveness, job creation, increased security and better air quality and public health. The transition will not be easy, but it is crucial to begin now.

The recommendations are as follows.

Science and technology

1. Ensure a robust research program though the Climate Change Science Program.

2. Offer long-term, stable fundinf for GHG-related technology research and development.

Market-based programs

3. Create a mandatory GHG reporting system as a basis for an economy-wide emissions trading program.

4. Implement a large-source, economy-wide cap-and-trade program for greenhouse gases.

Sectoral emissions

5. Transportation: Convert the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) program into strengthened, tradable corporate average emissions standards. Support biofuels, hydrogen, and other low-GHG fuel alternatives.

6. Manufacturing: Provide outreach and incentives to manufacturers for improvements in industrial efficiency and low-GHG technologies, and support the production of low-GHG products.

7. Agriculture: Raise the priority and funding levels for Farm Bill programs and other federal initiatives on carbon sequestration.

Energy production and use

8. Coal and carbon sequestration: Provide funding for tests of geologic carbon sequestration and for research, development and demonstration (RD&D) projects on separation and capture technologies, in combination with advanced generation coal plants. Establish an appropriate regulatory framework for carbon storage.

9. Natural gas: Expand natural gas transportation infrastructure and production.

10. Renewables: Significantly "ramp up" renewables for electricity and fuels, extending and expanding the production tax credit, setting up a uniform system for tracking renewable energy credits, and increasing emphasis on biomass.

11. Nuclear power: Provide opportunities for nuclear power to play a continuing role in a future low-carbon electricity sector. Although the report recommends support for advanced generation of nuclear power, it emphasizes that issues such as safety and waste disposal must also be addressed.

12. Efficient energy production and distribution: Support the development and use of combined heat and power (CHP) installations, distributed generation technologies, and test beds for an upgraded electricity grid.

13. Energy efficiency: Reduce energy consumption through policies that spur efficiency, including appliance and equipment standards, building R&D and codes, and consumer education.

Adaptation

14. Develop a national adaptation strategy through existing climate change science and technology programs, and fund the development of early-warning systems for related threats.

International engagement

15. Review options for a new or modified agreement to ensure fair and timely action by all major emitting countries, and participate in negotiations to establish binding climate commitments consistent with domestic interests.

These 15 recommendations are not the only means of achieving a lower-carbon future, says the report, but taken together, they would chart a climate-friendly path for the U.S.

All of them will require government leadership, private sector commitment and time. Nonetheless, the details of specific recommendations in the Agenda are less critical than the compelling need to get started. Further delay, the report concludes, will only make the challenge more daunting and costly.

The Agenda for Climate Action report may be viewed on the Pew Center Web site, www.pewclimate.org.

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