Communities find methods to cut emissions 202 cities take action without waiting for treaty

December 05, 1997|By BOSTON GLOBE

KYOTO, Japan -- While world leaders meet this week to posture, horse-trade and bicker over how to combat global warming, a quiet revolution is under way in communities around the world that are not waiting for an international treaty before they act.

The movement involves 100 million people in 202 cities that account for 5 percent of the world's carbon dioxide emissions, the major byproduct of energy use blamed for destabilizing the climate.

Such important greenhouse gas-emitters as Pittsburgh, Los Angeles and Chicago have joined the campaign and have cut their emissions by installing new streetlights and reducing traffic.

Mayors who have joined the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives say the key to fighting devastating climate change is to follow the old saw: Think globally, act locally.

In Burlington, Vt., a program that uses the waste steam from a wood-burning facility to produce heat for the University of Vermont and the area's largest teaching hospital is expected to cut carbon dioxide emissions 7 percent, or 30,000 tons, annually.

"There is all this negativity here about how countries can't get an agreement, but I believe reductions are going to happen anyway -- because it saves money and it's good for quality of life," says Martha Abbott, a city councilor from Burlington.

Proponents of local measures say that does not mean national governments should not act. But it does mean that communities, many of which have set or met goals far beyond those proposed by United Nations members, can do significant things on their own.

Global warming is a direct threat to local economies, whether or not national leaders accept required reductions.

In Vermont, says Abbott, "If temperatures rise just 1 degree, it threatens the color of our leaves for fall foliage tourism, the production of sap for our maple syrup industry and snow for our ski areas."

Forty-nine cities have joined the council since the U.S. campaign began in 1995, six years after the world campaign began. They represent 25 million Americans and 7 percent of the country's greenhouse gas emissions.

Two dozen member cities calculated that they spent $3.2 billion, or $22 per capita, on energy efficiency programs between 1990 and 1996 and have received a 10 percent to 20 percent annual return on their investments, largely from increased energy efficiency.

"All you hear is that if binding targets are adopted in Kyoto, jobs will be lost and economies will suffer," said Nancy Skinner, director of the U.S. office of the council in Berkeley. "What we are trying to communicate is that is not the experience of 49 cities in the U.S. and 202 worldwide."

The council also has begun to measure and audit greenhouse gas reductions, and on the few measurements conducted, 62 cities have produced a 41.3 million-ton cut in carbon dioxide emissions.

Pub Date: 12/05/97

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