Monday, June 29, 2009

No Cap and Trade for Africa?

The U.S. House of Representatives late last week approved a global warming measure by a narrow margin of 219-212 that President Barack Obama has called “a bold and necessary step” to bring the United States into the forefront of diminishing the heat trapping gasses believe to accelerate climate change. Now the U.S. Senate must follow after the current Congressional recess. However, there are doubts about whether the legislation will survive in its current form or whether further compromises will make it unrecognizable.

At the heart of the bill is a cap-and-trade system that provides for limits on the amount of emissions of heat-trapping gasses such as carbon dioxide and the trading of pollution permits among utilities, manufacturers and other emitters. Unlike the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, however, this legislation does not allow for a system that would cause American emitters to offset their pollution by supporting foreign carbon reduction projects. More than 20 African countries have such projects – from Kenya to Liberia to South Africa to Niger. Unfortunately, the United States is not a part of Kyoto’s Clean Development Mechanism projects because America is not a signatory to Kyoto.

Although then-Vice President Al Gore signed the Kyoto Protocol in 1998, it was largely symbolic because the Senate never ratified the treaty due to concerns about its impact on the U.S. economy. Neither President Clinton nor President Bush submitted the treaty for ratification.

Now the Senate is considering legislation of more than 1000 pages with 300 pages added in the last week. While it is not completely clear what all the provisions are, without signing onto the Kyoto treaty, the Green Belt Movement’s carbon sequestration project for small farmers in Kenya and the new landfill gas recovery project in Liberia won’t be part of this global warming project.

Although there are remaining American concerns about a Kyoto Protocol that allows growing carbon emitters such as China and India to escape stringent restrictions that would be imposed on the United States, the U.S. government could bilaterally allow American emitters to trade credits with African projects that could help mitigate the impact of global warming on Africa. As the world’s leading emitter of carbon gasses, we should at least try to help the continent making the least contribution to global warming, but which faces the gravest danger from its impact.

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