C O V E R S T O R Y
BY SOLOMON IOANNOU
Scientists around the world point to these and many other weather maladies as the natural symptoms of global warming. As part of an international attempt to control the problem, representatives from about 150 countries are meeting in Kyoto, Japan, to agree on ways to slow the production of "greenhouse gases," the major cause of global warming.
The conference, taking place Dec. 1-10, is the third meeting of the parties of the Climate Change Convention, which has been open for signature since the Rio Summit in 1992. This time, the countries are expected to set specific targets for reducing the amount of greenhouse gases produced each year and to take concrete steps to reverse the atmospheric changes. However, the talks must overcome serious differences over how much should be done and how quickly.
Whatever the delegates decide, environmental trainers will have their work cut out for them. A host of new regulations will bring a need for capacity-building programs that can assist governments in implementing and enforcing the Climate Change Convention. Also, trainers will need to help industry learn ways to adapt to the new rules and stay competitive while cutting their negative impact on the environment.
By trapping this excess heat, the gases cause a gradual warming that leads to changes in the planet's climatic conditions. For example, the excess heat causes more water to evaporate from the Earth's surface, bringing drier conditions to some regions and more rainfall to others. Overall, the concentration of greenhouse gases causes sporadic changes in standard weather patterns, and it could eventually make parts of the planet virtually uninhabitable.
Meanwhile, countries in the process of industrialization like China and India - whose output of greenhouse gases has risen nearly 75 percent since 1990 - have taken a more relaxed approach, saying the problem has been caused mainly by the developed world and is therefore their responsibility to combat.
A European Commission proposal to use cogeneration to produce 18 percent of the EU's electricity by 2010 could reduce annual carbon dioxide emissions by 150 million tonnes. The switch would account for the largest single reduction in the EU's carbon dioxide emissions. Industry experts go even further, saying that given the proper governmental policies, cogeneration could generate as much as 30 percent of the EU's electricity, a move that alone would achieve nearly a third of the greenhouse gas reduction target the EU has set for itself.
Instead of cleaner fuels or nuclear power, most environmentalists would argue the best solution to global warming is either to rely on renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power, or to simply use less energy.
Under this plan, proposed by the government of Brazil, a development fund would pay to assist developing countries meet their targets in reducing greenhouse emissions. This proposal is an outcome of the current multilateral funding policies on energy projects, but it would require serious changes in the way projects are funded. For example, the World Bank, with its $2 billion annual energy budget, still spends six times more on fossil fuel projects than it does on projects supporting renewable energy and energy efficiency.
Other lobbying groups are also attacking the pending emissions targets. The London-based World Energy Council, which represents both fossil fuel and renewable energy producers, has said the proposed targets are unrealistic because of recent rapid increases in emissions. The group says countries such as the United States, Canada, Australia and Japan are clearly unable to meet the EU's proposed 15 percent reduction by 2010.
Nevertheless, oil companies have still made proposals to help reduce greenhouse gases. Shell Oil Co., for example, has proposed an end to subsidies for coal production, which would reduce the artificial pricing structures that encourage the use of carbon fuel. Of course, such a reduction would likely increase the demand for oil products, but it could also encourage the development of other, less damaging energy sources.
At the same time, the Global Electricity Generators Association has said increased use of electricity, for example in cars and other machinery, may help to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. So would a program of mixing fuels that contain different levels of carbon dioxide, the association said.
The nuclear industry, too, has jumped in and is marketing itself as part of the solution to both global warming and air pollution. Industry representatives argue that nuclear energy is cleaner than fossil fuels, even though it produces dangerous radioactive waste that must be stored for years.
Environmentalists aren't buying any of it. Most still would argue that the best solution to global warming is either to rely on renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power, or to simply use less energy. A good example is a project to generate electricity from underwater currents that is now under way. If serious commitments are made to fighting global warming, new funding may spark other, similarly creative renewable energy projects.
Several CEE countries have already begun investigating ways to limit the problem. Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Poland, Romania and Slovakia have already submitted their first "national communications" describing their current efforts and future policy plans. Poland, for example, has formally agreed to reduce its greenhouse gases. The country currently claims a reduction of sulfur dioxide by 27 percent and nitrous oxide by 16 percent since 1990, mainly from the shutdown of energy inefficient industries. Still, Poland remains one of the largest polluters among OECD countries. Investment in the environment has risen, however, and the country is expected to spend $10 billion on environmental programs by the year 2000, a gesture that will surely help improve conditions in the region.
Capacity-building programs must assist the industry in the Climate Change Convention process. These initial programs could provide the framework by which future compliance projects may be identified, formulated and implemented. Capacity building is not just about transfer of technological know-how or funds; it is also about strengthening institutional structures and relationships.
Capacity building activities could include the development of curricula, the delivery of training, and consultation. These would involve all participatory stakeholders in industry, including managers, technical experts, administrators, area supervisors, directors, board members and even shareholders. In addition, the participation of public sector policy implementators in such training could assist the strengthening of institutional relationships.
As a first step, the development of training curricula needs to include Environmental Management Systems (EMS) that would provide a comprehensive understanding of a systematic framework companies could adopt for implementing programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Furthermore, training curricula may address issues like cogeneration, biomass-fired power generation and, more appropriate to the region, municipal solid waste mass burn.
For example, studies show that by placing heat-only boiler systems in industry, cogeneration reduces carbon dioxide emissions; and gas turbines can produce electricity more efficiently by 55 percent. In addition, biomass is increasingly becoming an important energy source, partly due to its high content of photosynthetic productivity. Technological know-how on conversion of biomass into electric energy, including combustion, gasification and pyrolysis methods, must be incorporated into the training curricula.
Another important element of training for the energy industry is municipal solid waste mass burn. For example, the energy trapped in municipal solid waste is a vital energy source not yet fully exploited in CEE. While it is not 100 percent free of greenhouse gases, combustion of municipal solid waste reduces the amount of residues while ensuring sanitary treatment. This process could be integrated into waste management schemes.
Training can be designed to cover three main areas: technical, socioeconomic and political. While much of the technical training required will be targeted toward technical experts, area supervisors and unit managers, political and socioeconomic training considerations may be of high value to directors, shareholders and board members. Such training can be followed with audio-visual aids in the local languages, which would greatly assist in awareness raising among all those involved.
If any reduction of greenhouse emissions is to be met effectively, industry must acquire the capacity to comply with the new policies. Capacity building programs must assist industry in the Climate Change Convention process.
The tradable quotas system allows each energy producer to emit a certain volume of a greenhouse gas, for example, carbon dioxide. A company can either release its full allocated amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, or it can produce less and sell part of its allocation to another energy producer, thus allowing other producers to exceed their limits. The emissions are monitored electronically and recorded in a central computerized data bank. Each company has an "account" from which their emissions volumes are "debited."
This credit-debit system sets an overall total for the emissions of gases and forces the energy industry to work within its limit or face stiff fees for exceeding it. Because they would have to pay for their initial emissions allowance as well, energy producers would be more motivated to seek renewable energy sources, such as solar or wind, that do not carry the greenhouse emission premium.
The use of information technology for the transfer and purchases of emissions quotas makes the system cost-effective and possible to implement. The quota system also would finally force energy producers to pay the true cost of non-renewable energy sources and of damaging the environment, all the while assisting in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.
Internet access will also enhance the dissemination of information to the industry. One notable achievement is the Greenhouse gas Technology Information Exchange (GREENTIE), which disseminates information over the Internet. Established by International Energy Agency and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, GREENTIE is one way in which information on cleaner practices and equipment is passed along to industries that need it, for example factories in developing countries. Another source of information is increasingly specialized library collections and other documentation regarding climate change.
Finally, awareness is needed if the capacity of industry is to be strengthened. Several international capacity building programs have already been proposed, and the Global Environmental Facility has funded activities geared toward the implementation of the Climate Change Convention. Such programs will bring together policy decisionmakers at the national level with industry and other stakeholders. This will assist in a more holistic approach to the implementation of the Climate Change Convention, something which must be considered by all governments involved.
However, industrial consumers increasingly want more quality, reliability and cost reduction than just the supply of energy. The energy industry must recognize the changing trends in energy consumerism and adjust accordingly. While CEE countries may succeed in reducing greenhouse gases to 1990 levels - mainly through the shutdown of energy inefficient industries and the introduction of efficient technologies - the current economic growth in the region will only increase emissions in the future. The level of their commitment to tackling the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions will be evident by the steps governments and industry take over the next few years.
Because the market system does not sufficiently calculate environmental costs into the price of energy, fossil fuel energy producers face the greatest challenge in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. While the industry may not be fully prepared to tackle the issue, the technological know-how is clearly there to assist in this process. As environmental trainers working in the region, our role is to assist the industry by preparing to meet its training needs and to work together with industry and government to achieve the goals set forth in Japan.