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U.N. Report Suggests Ways to Cut Carbon Emissions

A truck emitting thick black carbon smoke beyond the safety level is tested in suburban Manila as part of a government drive to implement the Philippines' Clean Air Act.
A truck emitting thick black carbon smoke beyond the safety level is tested in suburban Manila as part of a government drive to implement the Philippines' Clean Air Act.

A new U.N. study examining ways to combat global warming and strategies for reducing carbon emissions said the average person can do a lot to slow global warming, chiefly by making simple lifestyle changes.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a list of measures that could slow or halt global warming by reducing the production of so-called greenhouse gases.

Greenhouse gases naturally blanket the Earth and keep it warmer than it would be without these gases in the atmosphere.


One key to reducing greenhouse gases is consuming less energy, according to the scientists, policymakers, and other experts attending a conference on climate change in Bangkok, Thailand. That can be accomplished with steps as simple as switching to fluorescent light bulbs or driving less, they said.

Renee Montagne, in London for the first stop on a yearlong journey that NPR and National Geographic are making around the globe to explore climate concerns, spoke with Jon Hamilton, who was in Bangkok for the release of the report on Friday.

Give us a brief overview of what the report says ...

It said first of all that stabilizing greenhouse gases, the gases that are responsible for global warming, is possible; and that what we do in the next few decades will be critical to how good a job we do slowing down the process.

It also laid out several scenarios for how much it might cost to do that. And the high-end one talked about 3 percent of a nation's gross domestic product, which is a lot of money. And the final thing it made a real emphasis on is that this quest to reduce greenhouse gases should not prohibit sustainable development in countries where that's very important.


There've been other reports of course before. Was there a conflict agreeing on this one?

There always is at these meetings. What was surprising was that they came to the agreement as easily as they did. And one other thing that several people said after the meeting was that, in fact, some of the countries like the U.S. and China that they had expected to cause more problems than they did were actually pretty cooperative.

And does it give recommendations for how countries are suppose to develop but also slow down the increase in greenhouse gases?

Carbon dioxide got the most attention because it's the most plentiful of the greenhouse gases. For instance, they said power plants need to start using something called carbon-capture technology, which costs money. It said countries need to stop cutting down forests.

And one thing they talked a lot about this time around was nuclear power. In the past, this is something the panel hasn't paid a lot of attention to. But this time it talked about the potential for a growing role there. The advantage of nuclear power of course is that it doesn't produce any greenhouse gases — although it does produce other things that can be a problem in the environment.

Beyond carbon dioxide, they also talked about things like lifestyle changes. These are all the things we already know about: drive your car less, use less air-conditioning, those kinds of things.

Did the report talk about incentives for getting people and governments and companies to actually do these things?

Yeah. Of course they have different kinds of incentives. One of them is economic incentives. Now there's been a lot of talk already about something called carbon trading, which, in essence, you pay more money if you emit more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. And depending on where you set the price of carbon you can make different things happen because it in essence gives a financial incentive.

And the final thing with incentives is that this report gave a lot of attention to recognizing the cost of doing nothing. Instead of comparing the cost of putting in, say, a carbon-capture system to zero, they say if you don't put in carbon capture, these things are going to happen economically to yields from farming and that sort of thing. That's going to cost you and you need to account for those costs.

So what happens to this report now that it's out?

That of course is the big question. Previous reports haven't necessarily changed the world. What people here look forward to is a big United Nations-sponsored meeting in Bali in December, where the nations will get together and talk about what happens next. They're hoping that the information in this report will form the basis for those discussions.

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