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Wednesday, November 25, 1998 Published at 13:12 GMT


Soaraway US greenhouse forecast

Reductions promised - but a massive increase predicted

By Environment Correspondent Alex Kirby

Days after the end of the Buenos Aires conference on climate change, there is a sombre warning from the world's biggest polluter.

The US Energy Information Administration (EIA), part of the American government's Department of Energy, has published a draft version of its 1999 annual energy outlook.

The outlook predicts that US emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) from energy use will rise by 33% by 2010, compared with their 1990 level.

And by 2020, the outlook predicts, CO2 emissions will have almost doubled, to 47% up on 1990.

CO2 is the main gas caused by human activity which climatologists say is responsible for global warming, known also as the greenhouse effect.

Under the Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement drawn up last year, the industrialised world agreed to cut its emissions of all greenhouse gases to 5.2% below their 1990 levels by about 2010.

Mission impossible?

The US announced in Buenos Aires that it was signing the Protocol - the last major industrial country to do so.

That means it is legally bound to cut all its greenhouse gases by 7% - which will almost certainly be impossible if the EIA prediction is accurate.

A former US climate negotiator, Robert Reinstein, said earlier this month that his country could not live up to its Kyoto commitments.

[ image: No bright future for renewable energy]
No bright future for renewable energy
Mr Reinstein, who was the chief American negotiator at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, said the US had signed up to something impossible.

The EIA says emissions are likely to rise so fast because energy demand will itself rise.

The agency also expects nuclear power to decline, and thinks there will be only a slow growth in the use of renewable energy, such as wind and solar power.

In making its predictions, it has taken into account the plans already made by Washington for stabilising greenhouse gas emissions at their 1990 levels by the year 2000.

Gains soon wiped out

But it does not take account of new policies that may be introduced now the US has signed the Kyoto Protocol.

The EIA accepts that improved technology will mean more fuel-efficient cars and aircraft.

But it says the gains will be offset by the increase in road and air travel.

[ image: Coal will get cheaper as labour costs drop]
Coal will get cheaper as labour costs drop
It expects the price of natural gas to increase only modestly, while the price of coal is predicted actually to drop.

The EIA expects the price of a ton of coal to fall from $18.14 in 1997 to $12.74 in 2020, partly as a result of "competitive pressures on labor costs".

The relative cheapness of natural gas and oil are expected to make it hard for renewable energy to penetrate the market.

And while the US was importing just under half the oil it used last year, that figure is expected to rise over the next two decades to almost two-thirds.

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