The World Bank launched a new venture yesterday designed to help create a market for buying and selling reductions of emissions that have been blamed for global warming.
Bank officials said four governments and nine companies have committed $85 million so far to the fund, which will be capped at $150 million.
The fund, which plans to begin operating in April, essentially is a pilot program that assumes that the Kyoto Protocol on global warming eventually will be ratified. The Kyoto rules would allow companies in developed countries to meet obligations to reduce carbon emissions by buying offsetting reductions in less energy-efficient countries, where cuts can be achieved more cheaply.
The plan would be similar to a system that already exists in the United States that allows companies to trade credits for reducing emissions of pollutants that cause smog or to buy or create new wetlands to offset their destruction elsewhere.
World Bank President James D. Wolfensohn and Ken Newcombe, the manager of the fund, said the international organization's involvement in helping to create market incentives to reduce emissions is consistent with its goal of alleviating poverty because the world's poor often live in the places that are most vulnerable to damage from global warming--low-lying coastal regions and areas where agriculture is marginal and medical treatment is unaffordable.
Newcombe said the fund will finance a portfolio of 15 or 16 projects during a period of about three years, hoping that what it learns will make getting a market for emissions reductions underway easier after the rules are written. "We want people to steal our know-how. It's not stealing--it's a business objective," he said.
He said fund officials believe they can reduce carbon emissions for a cost of $20 a ton or less, compared with costs of more than $50 a ton in energy-efficient industrialized nations. One of the projects supported by the fund will reduce the amount of methane gas produced by 27 open dumps in Latvia by creating a regional waste-treatment facility, increasing recycling and capturing methane gas to produce electricity.
The nations that are investing in the fund are Finland, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden. Thr private-sector participants include six electric power companies in Japan, the trading companies Mitsubishi Corp. and Mitsui & Co., and the electric utility Electrabel SA of Belgium.
Not surprisingly, most of the interest has come from Japan and Western Europe, where energy costs are higher and the cheapest and easiest steps to reduce energy consumption and their accompanying emissions have already been taken, Newcombe said. Other companies, including Statoil of Norway and Gaz de France SA, have also discussed participating, he said. In the United States, where energy costs are relatively low, there is less interest, he said.
One U.S. firm, Environmental Banc & Exchange LLC, a privately held company headquartered in Baltimore, is also discussing investment in the firm, according to the World Bank. George W. Kelly, managing director of the company--which invests in, manages and trades environmental rights--said it is exploring whether it can put together enough investors at $500,000 or more to meet the World Bank fund's $5 million threshold for participation.