Seeking Profit in Kyoto Protocol Compliance

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The parties that signed the Kyoto treaty on global warming in 1997 are meeting in Montreal, Canada. Signatories are tackling the issue of how to meet the agreed cap on emissions. In the meantime, bidders on European permits allowing certain levels of carbon emissions are driving up prices on those permits.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

The business news starts with a profit in fighting climate change.

Montreal is the scene for a sort of Woodstock of global warming. About 10,000 people from around the world are starting a second week of meetings to talk about how to curb climate warming. Many are environmentalists, but a lot are from business looking to make money in a new world where carbon is becoming a commodity. NPR's Christopher Joyce reports.

CHRISTOPHER JOYCE reporting:

It's the first full meeting of the parties that signed the Kyoto treaty on global warming in 1997. The US didn't join that treaty. The Bush administration says Kyoto's mandatory limits on greenhouse gas emissions, notably carbon dioxide, would cripple the economy. The rest of the industrialized world, except Australia, has signed on. They set a ceiling on emissions and have five years between 2008 and 2012 to meet it. At Montreal, they're figuring out how to do that and, also, what to do after 2012. Eileen Claussen with the Pew Center on Global Climate Change says Kyoto countries are also getting a sense of just what they've let themselves in for.

Ms. EILEEN CLAUSSEN (Pew Center on Global Climate Change): Many countries believed that the only thing to do was to set a target and reduce emissions, and I think the view now is different. Not that targets or time tables are not important, but that is not enough and that you have to do something to change technology. That's one thing that's changed.

JOYCE: Many of the Kyoto signatories admit they'll have trouble keeping their carbon-cutting promises and they're looking for new technology to bail them out. Many American companies expect they'll need that technology, too; things like coal gasification plants that emit less carbon, cheaper wind turbines or fuel made from crop waste. The American Chemistry Council is telling chemical companies to find ways to save energy, to save money now and carbon when the day comes that US companies may have to.

In the meantime, there's money to be made. For the past year, European companies have been getting permits to emit carbon. If they save energy and don't use all their permits, they can sell them and lots of buyers are bidding up the price of those permits. Ray Kopp, an economist at Resources for the Future in Washington, DC, says American companies, potential buyers and sellers in the carbon market, are watching with their hands on their checkbooks.

Mr. RAY KOPP (Economist, Resources for the Future): Within the US, every year a new round of climate science comes out. It becomes a little more clear as to what the magnitude of the effects might be, and I think a lot of business firms are now taking all that into account and recognizing that this is probably a long-term problem that is going to be dealt with in a regulatory fashion, and it's prudent to prepare themselves for that regulatory structure.

JOYCE: The Montreal meeting runs to end of the week. The treaty isn't likely to see official changes, but a new economic era, the `carbonaceous,' may emerge. Christopher Joyce, NPR News.

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