U.S. Climate Bill: No Emission Reduction Until 2026

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The major climate bill now working its way through the US Senate has a fatal flaw: it doesn’t require polluters to stop polluting

An article by Payal Parekh on the International Rivers website offers these comments on the Obama-supported  American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, also known as the Waxman-Markey Bill.  Democratic Party leaders say the bill will cut emissions 17% from 2005 levels, by 2020, but according to Parekh, there is much less here than meets the eye.

The bill eventually caps 85% of all US greenhouse gas emissions, mainly from fossil fuels and industrial processes. But a polluter can purchase an offset “credit”, essentially a permit to pollute beyond the cap. The offsets can be purchased from sectors in the US not subject to emissions caps (such as farming, ranching, forestry and landfills) or from developing countries. The bill allows up to two billion offsets each year (one billion domestic, one billion international) – each supposedly an avoided emission of one metric ton of carbon dioxide. This is equivalent to almost 30% of 2005 emissions! ….

What does this mean in terms of greenhouse gas emissions? If polluters indeed use the maximum allowable number of offset credits, domestic emissions in 2012 would increase by 38% rather than decrease by 3%, the reduction that the cap sets. Emissions would not dip below 2005 levels until 2026, 17 years from today. If all eligible offsets were used, the 20% reduction supposed to happen by 2020 would not actually be reached until 2036. The reduction in 2050 would be only 50% rather than the stated 83% (see Figure). These reductions are clearly not enough to prevent global temperature from rising by more than two degrees Celsius (3.6F), a threshold that many scientists believe will lead to dangerous consequences, if crossed.

There’s more … International Rivers has published a 10-page report on the offset provisions of the Waxman Markey Bill. They are, I think, too uncritical of the Bill as a whole, but their critique of the offsets is dead on.

Note to Canadian readers: in the recent B.C. provincial election campaign, the NDP promised to fight global warming with what their program said would be “a ‘cap and trade’ plan - just like US President Obama.” The forgoing shows just how effective that would be.