Benefits of Cutting Emissions
- Benefits of Cutting Emissions
The Washington Post, 28 February 2005 - Even as the Kyoto climate
protocol becomes a binding international treaty, an astonishing
number of otherwise savvy policymakers continue to think that
incentives and programs to cut greenhouse gas emissions will cost too
much, hamper competition and stifle economic growth. While such
reasoning has kept the United States from mounting any serious
response to global warming, others have not waited for political
leadership to point the way. In fact, businesses and several
governments have moved ahead, often aggressively, to constrain carbon
dioxide releases, mostly by using energy more efficiently. In doing
so, they are reaping enhanced profitability and robust growth.
For example, six companies -- IBM, DuPont, BT (British Telecom),
Alcan, NorskeCanada and Bayer -- have each reduced emissions by at
least 60 percent since the early 1990s, collectively saving more than
$4 billion in the process. Numerous other smart companies, such as
Alcoa, 3M, Kodak, United Technologies, Lafarge, Shell and BP, have
also far exceeded the smaller reductions envisaged under Kyoto and
have saved large sums by using energy more efficiently.
National economies are enjoying the benefits of reduced carbon
emissions as well. British Prime Minister Tony Blair recently told
the Economist that between 1990 and 2002 Britain trimmed emissions 15
percent, while boosting its economy 36 percent.
International corporations were among the earliest leaders in
reduction efforts. DuPont, for example, began an ambitious carbon
dioxide and energy reduction program 10 years ago that today has
brought greenhouse gas emissions down 70 percent; in the same period,
production increased almost 30 percent.
These carbon-reduction and energy-efficiency measures have produced
significant financial benefits for DuPont. In addition to cumulative
energy savings of more than $2 billion, renewable energy saves $10
million annually over fossil fuels. DuPont also hopes to realize $40
million in coming years from trading carbon emissions credits. To
underscore its commitment to this new commodities market, the company
became a charter member of the Chicago Climate Exchange, a pilot
program for greenhouse gas emission reduction and trading.
France-based Lafarge, the world's largest cement manufacturer,
typically produced over 80 million tons of CO2 a year before setting
a reduction target of 20 percent by 2010. (By comparison, all of
Switzerland produced 45 million metric tons of carbon equivalent in
1995.) Through manufacturing modifications, however, Lafarge has
lowered emissions of greenhouse gases nearly 11 percent from 1990
levels. At the same time, Lafarge is realizing significant cost
savings and strengthening its future competitiveness. This company's
example has led to a working group of the world's leading cement
manufacturers intent on curbing emissions from one of the biggest
sources of CO2.
Among national examples of carbon dioxide reduction, Britain is one
of the best. In addition to cutting its greenhouse gas emissions from
1990 levels, it aims to produce 10 percent of its energy needs from
renewable sources, primarily wind, by 2010. And it hopes to raise
this to 20 percent by 2020. The cost of this transition has been
Britain's lowered emissions and improved economic growth can be
attributed in part to an impressive decrease of 42 percent in CO2
emissions intensity -- the amount of fossil fuel energy required per
unit of gross domestic product. By 2050 Britain projects a 60 percent
reduction in CO2 emissions at an annual cost of only 0.01 percent of
GDP growth. During the same period, officials expect national wealth
Cities are also finding ways to lower emissions and save money.
Toronto has decreased greenhouse gas releases from municipal
facilities by 40 percent and is saving $2.7 million annually through
energy efficiency improvements. In addition, the city earns $1.5
million annually by selling electricity generated from methane gas
captured at three municipal landfills.
These businesses and governments are only a handful of the entities
that have realized impressive benefits from initiatives to curb
carbon dioxide emissions. Hundreds of companies and national and
local governments have to various degrees begun to see similar
results from their efforts.
Such impressive results, though, are not enough. Only serious, across-
the-board federal and international policies and programs will solve
the problem of global warming. Unfortunately, concerted action is
unlikely to occur as long as administration officials and some
members of Congress continue to use worn-out arguments against
limiting carbon dioxide releases, even as hundreds of multinational
corporations and smaller businesses are proving them wrong.
Meanwhile, these individual initiatives offer valuable insights and
lessons for the path ahead.
The writer directs the global sustainable development grant-making
program at the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.
Copyright 2005 The Washington Post