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U.S. firms prove green credentials

Air pollution hangs over Los Angeles traffic. Many U.S. companies are taking measures to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
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(CNN) -- Many U.S. businesses are already introducing greenhouse gas reduction programs despite their government's failure to ratify the Kyoto Protocol on climate change.

Kyoto is set to come into effect in February 2005 after Russia ratified the agreement on Thursday, pushing it through a ratification threshold necessary to bring it into force.

Once in effect, Kyoto's 128 signatories will be legally bound to meeting targets for reduced carbon dioxide emissions, with rich nations committed to cutting overall emissions by 5.2 percent of 1990 levels by 2012.

Scientists say carbon dioxide released by burning fossil fuels is the main source of global warming.

Among major industrialized nations, only the U.S. -- the world's biggest polluter -- and Australia have refused to sign the agreement.

The U.S. withdrew from negotiations in 2001, saying the cost of meeting its targets would be too high for the U.S. economy which is largely dependent on fossil fuels.

However, the new study, conducted by the Sustainable Energy Institute and environmental consulting specialists Numark Associates and published by, suggests many American companies are already taking steps to cut carbon emissions, even in the absence of federal government requirements.

"U.S. companies and state regulators are clearly getting out in front of the federal government in addressing climate change," said Sustainable Energy Institute chairman Neil J. Numark.

An increased corporate awareness of sustainability issues and recognition of the potential public image benefits of being seen to be environmentally responsible were some of the reasons used to explain why companies were keen to cut emissions.

Shareholder and insurance pressure to address climate change and disclose greenhouse gas emissions reduction activities were also seen as significant. Many companies had also been influenced by state-level regulations and state lawsuits against high carbon-emitting power companies.

However, the report also said many companies would welcome the introduction of environmental regulations at a national level.

"U.S. industry increasingly recognizes that we are moving towards carbon constraints in this country. Many prefer this be done in a uniform way at the national level, not through the patchwork of state regulations that's now emerging," said Numark.

"Otherwise they'll face continuing regulatory uncertainty, which inhibits the ability to commit to large capital investments."

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