U.S. Companies Watching Latest Talks on Climate

The U.S. government sits on the sidelines while experts from more than 150 countries met in Marrakech to discuss a global warming treaty.

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The U.S. government sat on the sidelines as technical and legal experts from more than 150 countries met recently in Marrakech, Morocco to hammer out the details of a global treaty requiring cuts in gases linked to global warming.

But because of overseas operations and the growing sentiment that Congress will soon enact a bill controlling greenhouse gas emissions (GHS), some companies are following the negotiations with keen interest.

There are at least three key climate change issues that many companies are watching as negotiators in Marrakech completed 12 days of talks in early November:

  • Given U.S. rejection of the treaty and Japanese wavering, will the 1997 treaty reached in Kyoto treaty be ratified by enough countries to take effect;
  • International agreement on how to measure GHG reductions, and what penalties will be assessed for non-compliance;
  • Whether companies with U.S. headquarters will be allowed to enter GHG emissions trading markets many believe will soon develop overseas.

In addition, some companies with U.S. operations are beginning to complain about the inefficiencies caused by the lack of a national policy combined with increasing local GHG regulation.

"We''re developing power plants in the U.S. and are running up against state and local requirements for GHG control," said Paul Vickers. Vickers, who spoke at a recent press briefing on the Moroccan conference, is managing director of the carbon marketing initiative at TransAlta Corp., one of Canada''s largest utility companies.

"That just translates into extra costs and delays, and this is real, so even as the international stuff grinds on, we would hope for harmonization at the national level."

Help may be on the way. There are a number of bills in front of Congress now, and Vickers said he believes "it''s very likely" that over the next two to three years one of these bills will become law.

To help solve the problem of how to measure GHG, the World Resources Institute (WRI) and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development recently released an international standard designed to enable businesses to report uniformly their GHG emissions.

"We think that this GHG protocol is very useful," said Jeff Keeler, director of environmental strategies for Enron, a global energy company based in Houston. "We need certainty to do GHG inventories."

Noting the packed crowd at the briefing held on the release of the standard, Michael Marvin, president of the Business Council for Sustainable Energy, said interest in the protocol has been intense.

"If you look over the last several years and see the increased interest in these very intricate details of how we go about counting, measuring&endash&endashthat''s a really good indication that regardless of where national governments may be on the Kyoto protocol, things are happening in the marketplace."

For information on the WRI standard go to www.wri.org.

by James Nash

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