Introduction to Climate Change

5. Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies

A wide range of policy options are available for curbing the impacts of greenhouse gases, although many of them require significant restructuring of our economies, particularly the energy and transportation sectors. The international negotiations have focused on imposing clear national targets and timetables for overall reduction of greenhouse gases, but ultimately left the policy mix of how to achieve the targets and timetables largely to the national governments.

Generally, policymakers have focused on the "no regrets" approach to climate change policy, undertaking measures such as improvements in energy efficiency, forest management, and air pollution control, that provide economic and environmental benefits additional to any climate benefits that may be achieved.

A. Increasing Energy Efficiency

One major policy goal is to increase energy efficiency, so that we get the same amount of "work" from burning less fossil fuels. Energy efficiency technologies provide a growing opportunity for protecting the environment and saving energy costs.

B. Fuel Switching

Another major strategy is fuel switching, moving the economy away from fossil fuels and towards cleaner technologies. Best among these alternatives are solar and wind power, and hydrogen fuel cells, which have limited environmental impacts-but hydroelectric, geothermal and nuclear sources of energy also result in lower GHG emissions than traditional fossil fuel sources.

C. Restructuring Transportation

Transportation accounts for a significant percentage of greenhouse gas emissions. New technologies such as fuel cell, electric or super efficient cars will likely soon be mass produced, offering a major opportunity for reduced greenhouse gas emissions from automobile travel.

D. Expanding Sinks and Reservoirs

CO2 emissions may be offset if the carbon sequestration impacts of forests and other carbon sinks are enhanced. Reforestation and improved control of forest fires are important strategies for responding to climate change.

E. Carbon Taxes

Many analysts have recommended the use of carbon taxes as a way to establish appropriate market incentives for increasing the conservation of energy and encouraging switches away from more polluting fuels. The carbon tax has proven to be very controversial in the United States, where energy prices are the lowest in the world, but the European Union has endorsed such a tax subject to U.S. adoption.