In The Field

Carbon conference: MIT, Pew on climate regulations

The conference kicked off this morning with a keynote address from New York Times Columnist and green-energy guru Tom Friedman, and then moved on to a plenary panel on the United Nations effort to reach an international climate agreement in Copenhagen in 2010. In short, inspiration followed by a sharp dose of reality. Although nobody is giving up, there’s a growing feeling here in the United States that it could be quite difficult to sign off on anything significant next year.

The morning sessions are over, and I’m now in a press conference where the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Pew Center on Global Climate Change are releasing a series of reports covering the nitty-gritty details of cap-and-trade systems. All sponsored by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, the reports are intended to update the technical foundation on global warming policy for the incoming administration and Congress.

Most of this material is long and detailed, but I’ll quickly highlight one of MIT’s most basic findings: Despite constant criticism by many policymakers in the US, the European trading scheme is working. “It does reduce emissions,” says Denny Ellerman, a professor with MIT’s Sloan School of Management. “That is becoming clear.”

And if it’s not reducing emissions enough, Ellerman adds, that is because the goals are too tame, as opposed to some fundamental problem with the framework itself. Not entirely new, but it comes from a respected source on the matter and bears repeating.

Now it’s time to drop in on a couple of sessions on the afternoon sessions covering carbon offsets (which allow companies to meet their emissions caps by reducing emissions somewhere else) and international trade issues.


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