`Global Climate Changes and the Process Industries,` published in Chemical Engineering, April 2001

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Courtesy of Trinity Consultants

Over the last decade there have been consistent reports in the media about climate change purportedly linked to human activity. Within the political cornmunity. debate continues to rage about:

  1. Whether or not the earth's climate is, in fact, changing;
  2. If it is, whether or not that change is resulting from human activity, specifically die emission of so-called greenhouse gases; and
  3. Whctiicr or not government action should be taken to regulate emissions and/or provide financial incentives for voluntary reductions in emission of greenhouse gases.

Interestingly, die scientific community is much more unified on this issue. The Intergovernmental Panel on Gimate Change (IPCC)1 has taken die position that global warming is real and that recent changes in the climate of die planet cannot be explained by natural phenomena alone. Other respected scientific organizations, such as the Union of Concerned Scientists and the National Academy of Sciences' National Research Council, have also adopted positions that human-enhanced global warming is a real and observed phenomenon. As excerpted from the IPCC's Second Assessment Report: 'the balance of evidence suggests that dicrc is a discernible human influence on global climate change.'

In light of the evidence of human contributions to global climate change, the international community - through the Kyoto Protocol - has taken a small but real and significant step toward reducing emissions of pollutants that contribute to global wanning. However, this is only a small first step. It is now generally believed that in order to stabilize atmospheric concentrations at levels 50% greater than those experienced today, emissions of greenhouse gases will need to be reduced over the next 50-100 years approximately 50% worldwide from 1990 emission levels. The Kyoto Protocol only requires a 5.2% reduction in emissions from developed countries and it excludes developing countries (including uie world's most populous countries, China and India) from this initial effort.

The European community, Japan, Canada, Australia, and die rest of the world seem to assume that the Kyoto Protocol will be ratified. However, domestically this is not the case. Ratification of the Protocol by the U.S. Senate seems unlikely in Uie current political environment. Nevertheless, even staunch opponents of the Kyoto Protocol in the government are discussing the merits of various programs providing for investments in cleaner teclinologies and financial incentives for voluntary actions. It is die opinion of this autiior mat widiin die next five years, die United States will pass legislation and develop implementing regulations that will either mandate reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases or provide significant financial incentives for emitters to reduce emissions voluntarily. Since most greenhouse gas emissions arc associated with the combustion of fossil fuels, climate change is an environmental issue that will ultimately require fundamental changes in national energy policies and, consequently, wdl have a significant impact on the world economy. In fact, some economists believe that climate change will be one of the most important factors affecting the world economy during the 21' Century.

Regardless of policy developments, as with all other challenges (environmental and otherwise), the best-practice, forward-looking companies see global climate change as an opportunity to improve their market position at the expense of companies that only react to legislated mandates. The intent of this paper is to present information that can help your company become a best-practice organization - improving the bottom-line while benefiting the environment. It can be done and is being done by the best companies every day. Is your company one of Ihcm?

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