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Countries setting own carbon emissions rules

Dec 07, 2011 - McClatchy - pro.energycentral.com

As the world debates the set of international rules that govern carbon emissions targets for countries worldwide, individual governments are already setting rules of their own.

A study launched on Monday on the sidelines of the United Nations climate change conference in Durban, South Africa found that 10 of 17 major economies like China, Mexico and South Korea had passed or were set to enact climate legislation or policy.

For example, China's 12th Five Year Plan set a target of lowering the amount of energy used per unit of gross domestic product by 40 per cent to 45 per cent by 2020, down from 2005 levels.

And South Korea looks set to pass a law requiring major carbon dioxide emitters to be subject to emissions trading rules.

The 17 countries studied, including Australia, the United States, Indonesia, India and those in the European Union, account for some 70 per cent of global emissions.

The study was conducted by Globe International, an organisation comprising Members of Parliament from 16 major economies.

Singapore, which is not a member and not included in the study, accounts for 0.2 per cent of global emissions and has existing green-building and vehicle fuel-economy standards.

It is also planning an Energy Conservation Act, which from 2013 will require major energy users to have energy managers and management plans and targets.

UN conference chairman Christiana Figueres said: "What this study is showing is that at the national level, these kinds of national legislation are growing."

Globe president and former British environment minister John Gummer, now Lord Deben, explained that such legislation stems from countries acting in their national self-interest.

For instance, the stable policy environment provides certainty for businesses to invest in a country, and opens the door to clean energy investment and development opportunities.

The flip side is that states without such legislation, such as the US and Canada, are missing out on those opportunities.

The study included any legislation or policy that refers specifically to climate change, or relates to cutting energy demand and carbon emissions, promoting sustainable land use, transport and adaptation to climate impacts.

But Lord Deben said that countries acting on their own are not enough.

Last year, carbon emissions from the burning of fossil fuels registered a record rise of 5.9 per cent, or half a billion tonnes of carbon dioxide entering the air.

"There is no substitute for an agreement. We need to have a continuance of the Kyoto process," Lord Deben said, referring to the Kyoto Protocol that sets carbon emissions targets for certain developed countries.

"And we need to have all countries involved in it, and we need to be able to carry forward the decisions and agreements that were made (at last year's UN talks) in Cancun. This is a necessary part of preserving our future."

Speaking to The Straits Times at the study's release, he noted that Globe plans to track in future studies whether countries have done what they said they would.

But it is difficult to track the extent to which such legislation cuts emissions, as calculations vary, he added.

Separately, smaller, less-developed nations like the Maldives, Colombia and Samoa and selected European nations like Sweden and Denmark discussed on Monday night their plans to become carbon-neutral: to cut and offset their carbon emissions so they have a footprint of zero.

The Maldives and Samoa, both small island nations, have previously announced their bids to be carbon-neutral by 2020.