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Engineers give Obama first appraisal

Climate change pledges by the new US White House are a significant and real policy change according to an expert assessment, although new plans may take longer to implement than rhetoric suggests.

According to a joint study by the London and New York offices of WSP Environment & Energy, commitments by President Barack Obama are “staggering”.

Obama’s proposals include: making the US a leader in climate change technology; cutting greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 - equivalent to a 17% reduction; and cutting emissions back 80% by 2050. Specific new technology is promised including five carbon capture coal power plants, one million hybrid cars on the road by 2015 and a 4% annual improvement in vehicle efficiency.

“It is all very impressive,” David Symons, a WSP London director and joint author of the report, told NCE. “But in practical terms how achievable will it be?”

Something will happen, he added, because it was a major plank in the election campaign. And ironically an early, but deceptive cut could follow economic downturn, automatically reducing CO2 output.

Financial stimulus will help too he said, especially creation of a “super-grid” which could link and balance alternative sources from solar power in California to Texas wind farms and north-eastern wave and tidal power.

But a policy by policy assessment is less optimistic. WSP’s report gives Obama seven points out of ten for leadership pledges believing political effort will be made.

But for energy targets it awards 1/10 saying a “cap and trade” scheme will be almost certainly be riddled with loopholes as in Europe.

The coal pledge gets 8/10 as the mineral is critical to the US economy, and hybrid vehicles 9/10, though overall fuel efficiency only 7/10.

Electricity demand reduction gets only 5/10. WSP says that major behavioural change is required.

WSP’s report is published in the February issue of Environment Analyst.

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