INSIDE TALK - ARTHUR GOTTSCHALK ON GLOBAL WARMING, WISEST ACTION MAY BE TO WAIT AND SEE

INSIDE TALK - ARTHUR GOTTSCHALK ON GLOBAL WARMING, WISEST ACTION MAY BE TO WAIT AND SEE

With temperatures in the United States and elsewhere climbing well into the 90s and beyond, it's easy to recall fears over global warming, and the proposed solutions to the supposed threat.

At the United Nations, plans are moving forward to keep climate change at the top of the international agenda, leading toward a mandate to cut emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from the burning of fossil fuels - as soon as possible.But before the United States or others jump to fix what may or may not be broken, the problem should be subjected to a cost-benefit analysis, the Global Climate Coalition says.

"Is this a just-say-no campaign about global warming? No, it is not," said Donald Rheem, GCC spokesman. "It's a concern that any policy initiative regarding climate change be in sync with the scientific and economic realities related to the issues."

The 50-member group includes several industry trade groups as well as corporate members ranging from Amoco to Burlington Northern Railroad, Eastman Kodak, LTV Steel and Union Carbide.

THE CASE FOR DELAY

New studies, said Mr. Rheem, suggest that the nations of the world would save about half of the multibillion-dollar costs of reducing those emissions if they don't act immediately - and if they wait for scientific confirmation that those changes are necessary.

"This kind of analysis is just starting to come out," he said. ''Scientists say it will take 10 to 20 years to have more certainty on the effects of greenhouse gases on the environment, and that there is very little danger in waiting until that information is available."

Older studies, he said, documented the costs to the economy and specific industrial sectors of simply setting an emissions-reduction target and achieving it, and some also looked at the macroeconomic effects of those actions on gross domestic product.

"But they didn't take a more comprehensive approach to the consequences of different mitigation scenarios," said Mr. Rheem. "It turns out that the way you get there is just as important.

"Now economists are saying that there are tremendous savings by not taking precipitous actions, with no downside consequences to the ultimate goal of stabilizing concentrations of greenhouse gases."

TIME IS MAJOR FACTOR IN COST

One such study, by Richard Richels of the Electric Power Research Institute and Jae Edmonds of the Battelle Pacific Northwest Laboratories, notes that the U.N. convention on climate change states that action on climate change should be "cost-effective," to ensure global benefits.

"It turns out that the emissions time-path is as important as the concentrations level itself in determining the ultimate price tag," they said.

Because technology that would yield the desired results is usually embodied in durable goods such as autos and power plants, the time scale of those changes are usually measured in decades. A faster shift would entail added costs, the report found.

"Rather than choosing arbitrary emission trajectories, more attention needs to be devoted to identifying those paths that minimize the costs of achieving a particular target," the economists said.

Another report, by Stanford University professor emeritus Alan Manne, argues that since global temperatures are not likely to rise significantly over the next 20 years or more, immediate, aggressive attempts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions are unwarranted.

"Such policies, if implemented, could cost many hundreds of billions of

dollars," wrote Mr. Manne. "Even after 2020, there would still be enough time to adapt the global economy to a sharp decline in carbon emissions if we learn that such action is warranted."

WHO WOULD BE HIT HARDEST?

A third study, commissioned by the American Petroleum Institute, analyzes the energy-intensity of the world's developed economies, to determine which ones would be hurt the most by proposed greenhouse-gas reduction mandates.

According that report, the United States would take the biggest hit because of its high population growth, low population density, high rate of economic growth, high defense-related expenditures, production of energy-intensive commodities, and high reliance on fossil fuels.