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Old Baldy, Canada | photo by Cameron Schaus
Chapter Chair's Column
Are we ready to reduce greenhouse gas emissions?
December 2009

By the time you read this the Copenhagen Conference on Climate Change will be winding up and we will know if we have the world’s leadership in agreement on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This conference is an opportunity to negotiate a successor treaty to the Kyoto Protocol climate pact of 1997 and put the world on track for sustainable energy solutions. The global economy downturn has created a small window of opportunity for change by plunging current and near future energy demands, but this reduction is unlikely to remain as the economy rebounds.

According to world news reports, some major powers are taking strides to reduce carbon emissions. China has already been making investments in clean energy technology, and in the last two years has emerged as the world’s leading builder of more efficient, less polluting coal power plants. While the United States is still debating whether to build a more efficient kind of coal-fired power plant that uses extremely hot steam, China has begun building such plants at a rate of one a month.

India and the United States signed an agreement last month to collaborate on energy security, energy efficiency, clean-energy technology, and research to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. Both countries will work together on wind- and solar-energy development and clean-coal technology, including carbon capture and storage. Indonesia, the third biggest emitter of greenhouses gases after China and the US, is exploring several options to curb deforestation and peat emissions. South Korea has committed to adopting a 2020 emissions cap and plans to spend $85 billion over the next five years on initiatives that will encourage energy efficiency, renewable energy including solar and wind power, carbon credit trading, hybrid cars, and biofuels.

There is evidence that the United States is actually decarbonizing its economy at a remarkable rate. Only three years ago, projections were that U.S. emissions of CO2 would increase from 6 billion tons to 7.5 billion tons by 2020. Instead of increasing, they flattened out and then fell. But a national preoccupation with the slow economy and competing issues such as the health care crisis could delay or thwart continuing progress or prevent urgently needed legislation. Another impediment is the shortage of money flowing to basic energy research and large-scale demonstrations of non-polluting energy technology. While the Obama administration and Congress have directed some stimulus money to these objectives, such spending comes only after decades of declining investment in newer energy-saving practices.

If you are interested in working on these issues with a national focus, go to the Sierra Club National website for more information and updates:

—Rita Dalessio

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