NEW YORK – Of all major world regions, Europe has worked the hardest to implement policies aimed at countering human-caused climate change. Yet the cornerstone of Europe’s approach – a continent-wide emissions trading system for the greenhouse gases that cause climate change – is in trouble. That experience suggests a better strategy for both Europe and the rest of the world.
The basic story of human-caused climate change is becoming clearer to the global public. Several gases, including carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide, warm the planet as their concentrations in the atmosphere increase. As the world economy grows, so do emissions of these gases, accelerating the pace of human-caused climate change.
The main greenhouse gas is carbon dioxide. Most CO2 emissions result from the burning of fossil fuels – coal, oil, and natural gas – for energy, global consumption of which is rising as the world economy grows. As a result, we are on a path to very dangerous levels of CO2 in the atmosphere.
Twenty years ago, the world agreed to reduce sharply emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases, but little progress has been made. Instead, the rapid growth of the emerging economies, especially coal-burning China, has caused global CO2 emissions to soar.