New Year”s Resolutions

Sept. 26, 2010

Voluntary Cuts In Greenhouse Gas Emissions

A new year is upon us, and it’s time to take that annual look in the proverbial mirror to assess where opportunities exist for self-improvement. For operators of fluid handling processes, one of this year’s top-of-mind issues should be greenhouse-gas emissions and climate change.

Last month at a two-week United Nation’s conference in Montreal,
delegates, including representatives from the United States, met to discuss international efforts to limit greenhouse-gas emissions. The controversial Kyoto Protocol, which the United States and Australia have rejected, is set to expire in 2012, and the United Nations is hoping to reach a more inclusive agreement on emissions control.

For the United States and Australia, the key sticking point is the idea of mandatory curbs on emissions. The United States continues to hold a strong stance against any treaty that would require limits on emissions, arguing instead that limits should be voluntary and efforts should focus more on creating incentives to encourage industry to be more proactive on this front. In addition, the United States is hesitant to sign off on any plan until large developing industrial nations, namely China and India,
commit to an emissions program. (China and India are not covered by
the Kyoto Protocol.)

Problem is, some experts on climate change argue that immediate action to limit emissions is needed. James Hansen, director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, has been particularly vocal about his concerns regarding greenhouse-gas emissions and climate change. Meanwhile, the European Union and Japan are working hard to engage the United States on the emissions issue. And even some political heavyweights (i.e., John McCain, R-Arz., and Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn.) are encouraging the United States to do more to control emissions.

Clearly, the pressure is on. But, for now, the United States continues to push for a program that is voluntary, not mandatory.

For industry, a voluntary program is definitely preferred, as it would provide more flexibility to phase in programs on an independent basis, according to financial wherewithal. However, skeptics argue that a voluntary program would lack the teeth required to push industry toward action. Given that recent statistics show greenhouse emissions in the United States continue to rise, it’s hard to disagree with this point-of-view. Still, I believe an opportunity exists for industry to prove itself capable of responding to a voluntary program.

So far, most of the opposition to setting limits on emissions has revolved refuting the connection between greenhouse gasses and global warming and downplaing the impact of global warming on the overall environment. And while there is much debate on this topic, there is broad sentiment that temperatures around the world are on the rise due to emissions and that rising temperatures are potentially dangerous. How dangerous? … Nobody knows. But do we really want to take a wait-and-see approach?

By pushing for a voluntary program, the United States is putting the responsibility on industry to enact programs to limit emissions. Should industry fail to respond in a significant way, it appears the geopolitical momentum behind this issue will ultimately lead to mandatory requirements. As such, I would hope that all industrial organizations are strongly considering emissions control programs in this new year. For, if they are not, the choice may not be theirs much longer.

— Matt Migliore, Editor
[email protected]

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