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Think Tank: US Climate Bill Falls Short


WASHINGTON  - A drastically weakened U.S. climate bill released Monday favors polluting industries over truly sustainable clean energy solutions, argues Daphne Wysham, director of a sustainable energy and economy think tank.

What's the Story?

"Right out of the starting gate, the [American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009] provides a ridiculous number of giveaways to industry," writes Wysham, Institute for Policy Studies fellow and director of the Sustainable Energy & Economy Network.

Specifically, 85 percent or more of pollution permits would be given free of cost to the electricity sector, leaving low- to moderate-income families vulnerable to inevitable energy price hikes.

The bill would also create the largest market for carbon emissions in the world. This will enable industries that pollute above permitted emissions levels to buy carbon credits from companies that pollute below these levels. However, "the Government Accountability Office (GAO) claims it's virtually impossible to verify whether carbon offsets represent real emissions reductions," notes Wysham.

Finally, continues Wysham, the bill "makes a mockery of our common understanding of 'renewable energy,' favoring dirty smokestacks over truly clean, renewable energy."

One example of this is the act's classification of municipal solid waste incinerators as "waste to energy" projects. According to the bill, the incinerators are renewable because energy can be produced by burning waste, which is constantly being produced. However, "burning garbage produces more [carbon dioxide] per unit of electricity generated than the dirtiest coal power plants," says Wysham.

Climate Bill May Increase Pollution

An element of the proposed U.S. climate change bill to reduce carbon emissions and invest in clean energy could actually spur a rise in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions until 2026, said a coalition of environmental organizations last month.

Criticizing the significant carbon offsets provisions in the draft bill, 26 environmental and clean energy organizations warned: "to craft a bill that allows for 2 billion tons of offsets per year -- roughly equivalent to 27 percent of 2007 U.S. greenhouse gas emissions -- is to allow for continued and dangerous delay in real action by our country at a time when the world is looking to the U.S. for leadership on climate change."

"Increasing evidence is revealing the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), the world's biggest carbon offset market, is failing to deliver real climate or sustainable development benefits," continued the coalition in their open letter to the bill's sponsors. "Most fundamentally, the CDM has actually facilitated an increase in overall greenhouse gas emissions -- undermining the most fundamental and critical goal of all -- stemming the growth of greenhouse gas emissions in the Earth's atmosphere."

From Climate Change to Catastrophe

"Developing countries, who face catastrophe if climate change is not held in check, are demanding rich nations cut their emissions by at least 40 percent on 1990 levels by 2020," reported the international development agency Oxfam International at the close of a climate conference in Bonn, Germany last month.

So far, rich countries have only pledged to slash emissions by between 4 and 14 percent on 1990 levels by 2020. "The 2.8 - 4 degree temperature rise which would result, could lead to an additional 3 million more deaths from hunger and malnutrition and water shortages affecting up to 4 billion additional people -- the vast majority in the developing world," notes Oxfam.

Adds the environmental advocacy group, Greenpeace International: "Developed nations must collectively achieve emissions cuts of at least 25-40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 and 80-95 percent by 2050." But the new U.S. climate legislation only sets U.S. emission targets at 4 per cent below 1990 levels, a much less ambitious target than previously anticipated. "Rapid emissions reductions in the short-term are critical to avoiding the worst effects of climate change," says Greenpeace.

Take Action

To help people around the world get involved in climate protection efforts, OneWorld has launched the Web site, a new social networking space for sharing ideas and experiences on climate change.


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