Breaking the Link between Fossil Fuels and Carbon Dioxide


The Kyoto Protocol, adopted under the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, commits the developed countries to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases by at least 5 percent by the year 2012. Since agreeing to these targets in 1997, the signatories have met every few months at Conferences of the Parties (COP) to iron out the implementation of the agreement. The recent COP5 meeting ended in disarray with the U.S. balking on carbon management costs and strategies; the next COP is scheduled to take place in the early summer of 2001.

The U.S. alone puts 1.5 billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere every year, and it has agreed to the Kyoto Protocols, as have 186 other countries. While it is becoming clear that the U.S. will not meet its emission targets for 2012, it seems reasonable for us not to undertake such a big job without knowing how much it will cost.

The energy we will use in the future will come from a combination of sources: renewables such as solar and wind and hydropower, fossil fuels, and nuclear reactors. However, all energy sources have costs as well as benefits, and we are finding that even renewables have undesirable environmental effects.

We spoke with David Keith of Carnegie Mellon University about some of the economic and environmental costs of carbon management, one of the main sources of contention at the Conferences of the Parties.

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