Global warming has become perhaps the most convoluted, yet most pressing issue facing world leaders. On the one hand, warnings from the scientific community are becoming louder, as an increasing body of science points to rising dangers from the ongoing buildup of human-related greenhouse gases — produced mainly by the burning of fossil fuels and forests. On the other—as many of these excellent, good books on the matter point out—the technological, economic and political issues that have to be resolved before a concerted worldwide effort to reduce emissions can begin have gotten no simpler, particularly in the face of a global economic slowdown.
Global talks on climate change opened in Cancún, Mexico, in late 2010 with the toughest issues unresolved, and the conference produced modest agreements. But while the policies adopted in Cancún are likely to have negligible near-term impact on the warming up of the planet, the international process for dealing with the issue got a significant vote of confidence.
The agreement fell well short of the broad changes scientists say are needed to avoid dangerous climate change in coming decades; this is a good book that touches on this very point. But it laid the basis for stronger measures in the future, if nations are able to overcome the emotional arguments that have crippled climate change negotiations in recent years. The set of agreements, known as the Cancún Agreements, gives the more than 190 nations participating in the convention another year to decide whether to extend the frayed Kyoto Protocol, the 1997 agreement that requires most wealthy nations to trim their emissions while providing assistance to developing countries to pursue a cleaner energy future.
Front and center to this international debate is a significant tussle between affluent and poor nations over who steps up first and who profits the most from reformed energy menus. In the U.S., on January 2, 2011, the EPA imposed its first regulations related to greenhouse gas emissions. The direct effect on refiners and major manufacturers will be negligible, with the new rules applying only to those planning to build large new facilities or make major modifications to existing plants. Over the next decade, however, the agency plans to regulate virtually all sources of greenhouse gases, imposing efficiency and emissions requirements on nearly every industry and every region.