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Climate Change Experts Look to European Model for Curbing Emissions

An international panel of scientists issued a report last week on the potential impacts of global warming. In the first part of a series on climate change, an advocate for an emissions cap-and-trade system used in Europe explains how it could work in the United States.

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  • RAY SUAREZ:

    … one plan, for curbing emissions, is already used in Europe, and many say should be implemented in the U.S. It's known as a cap-and-trade system.

    To tell us how it works is Eileen Claussen, president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, a not-for-profit group which has been working on this issue with corporate and environmental leaders. She helped develop a similar system to deal with acid rain when she worked at the Environmental Protection Agency.

    And let's begin, I guess, in the most obvious place: What do you cap? And what do you trade?

    EILEEN CLAUSSEN, Pew Center on Global Climate Change: OK. You cap emissions, greenhouse gas emissions. And what do you trade? Well, everybody is given an allowance for how much they can emit of these greenhouse gases.

    And some people can meet that limit in a way that costs them a lot of money, and some can meet it by a very cheap set of options. So why do you trade? Well, the one who can reduce most might want to trade the rest of his allowance to the one who would find it very expensive. So that's how you get the trading.

    But, really, what's important here is that you actually have a cap.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    And where's the border on this cap? Stuff that you belch out into the air goes everywhere. Do Americans just trade the ability to pollute with Americans and Europeans with Europeans, and so on?

  • EILEEN CLAUSSEN:

    Well, actually, this is a global problem. So in an ideal world, if you're looking at a cap-and-trade, you would have a global cap, and everybody would be allocated a certain number of allowances.

    But I think, to be realistic, we are talking, first, about doing it in the U.S. We know what our greenhouse gas emissions are. We would cap those and then reduce them, meanwhile allocating fewer and fewer allowances to the facilities that emit.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Well, I can hear business people and people who emit CO-2 howling, "Well, that would put us at a competitive disadvantage to all those people that simply choose not to enter the marketplace and keep belching stuff into the air."

  • EILEEN CLAUSSEN:

    Well, and that's a legitimate point of view, I think. Right now, Europe already has a cap-and-trade system. If we do it, which I think is very, very possible, either in this Congress or the next one, we would probably join Europe.

    And I think that the big emitting countries that are not already a part of this ought to be able to join in, too, although it may take some of them longer than it either took Europe or will take us.