Here’s a piece I wrote for Energy and Capital, about the various governmental initiatives that are being developed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to increase renewable energy generation.
A Fighting Chance
February 23, 2007
By Chris Nelder
After decades of resistance and delay in responding to the world’s most pressing twin challenges – peak oil and climate change – it’s hard to believe, but governments the world over, from federal to local, are finally starting to take serious action.
For those of us who have spent many years agitating for solutions to these problems, it’s like a mirage. We’ve been let down before. We’re calloused, weathered and tired, and we’ve nearly given up hope as we find ourselves at the brink of disaster . . . exactly as we have feared for so long, and shouted ourselves hoarse over.
But now, at this late hour, there are signs of hope, and highly visible currents of change afoot.
A couple of days ago, environment ministers from the 27 nations of the European Union meeting in Brussels set a firm “20 in 20” goal – to cut carbon dioxide emissions 20% from 1990 levels by the year 2020.
And, like a game of global CO2 poker, they signalled that they’re willing to raise that to 30% if the U.S. and other industrialized nations will follow suit.
Germany is willing to raise us even higher, with a parliament that has already backed a 40% cut in emissions.
German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel, who led the talks, said there was unanimous opinion that a global goal was “right and necessary in order to keep global warming below 2 degrees centigrade by the end of the century.”
“Those who took the floor said that their daughters asked them exactly what they did when they came to such meetings and did they come home with good results,” he said. “I think that’s a pretty good incentive to make sure that we do go home with good results.”
Environmental activists take note: scientific papers may be dismissed, but shaming by daughters is quite effective.
Unable the swallow the pill of economic effects that reducing emissions would initially entail, neither the U.S. Congress nor the White House have committed to achieving solid targets as has the EU. But early indications are that the new Congress finally intends to do something real.
In what has been described as a “frenzy” of discussion about climate change in Washington since the new Democratic majority came into power, at least four different bills have been proposed to address the issue, and at lease three more are expected.
Cities and States Take the Initiative
Unwilling to wait for the federal government, action at the state and city levels has been far more aggressive. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger started the year by issuing an executive order that will slash the carbon content of all passenger vehicle fuels sold in California by 10% percent by the year 2020.
By the end of the year, at least a dozen other states are expected to have laws on the books to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Even city governments are getting into the act. In San Francisco, a city accustomed to providing leadership for the rest of the country on environmental matters, the Board of Supervisors developed a Climate Action Plan that sets an even more aggressive target, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 20% percent below 1990 levels by the year 2012.
And under the new U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, nearly 360 U.S. mayors from every state in the union (except South Dakota) have set a target of a 7% reduction by 2010.
Also, green building initiatives are being adopted in cities all across the country with a whole array of methods, from requiring more energy-efficient homes, to reducing fees and streamlining permits for wind, solar and geothermal construction, to developing new rail corridors, to switching over fleet vehicles to biofuels and natural gas.
The Green Energy Boom Has Begun
While initiatives such as Schwarzenegger’s that cut the carbon content of fuels offer innovative approaches to the greenhouse gas problem, the heavy lifting of achieving emissions reductions targets will be done by switching over to green, renewable energy.
Twenty states already have portfolio standards that require their utilities to produce some percentage of their power from renewable sources.
Pennsylvania and Maryland have just announced proposals that would establish some of the most aggressive incentives for solar power in the country, covering up to 50% of the cost of a home photovoltaic system.
California has pledged $3.2 billion in incentives for solar. Arizona, which has the best solar resource in the country, has a modest solar incentive, but lawmakers are considering additional incentives for new energy-efficient homes and tougher conservation standards for public buildings. In New Mexico, new legislation would create a tax credit for renewable energy production. In Colorado, the legislature is considering doubling the renewable portfolio standard (the amount of power utilities must get from renewable energy sources) from 10% by 2015 to 20% by 2020.
Utility-scale solar projects are underway as well. Nevada is constructing a 64 megawatt solar power plant, and California is planning another 800 megawatts’ worth.
These are all partial solutions. Ten in twenty, even twenty by twenty, is still far short of the approximate 70% reductions we need to make in greenhouse gases to get back to a level that the planet can process. We have a long, long way to go.
But for the first time in years, I’m optimistic. There has never been a more promising day for renewable energy and environmental protection.
I think we’ve got a fighting chance.
For information on incentives available in your area, go to http://www.dsireusa.org .
Until next time,
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