Global Climate Change Talk Heats Up


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Global Climate Change Talk Heats Up

New SEMI Working Group Forming

In 1997, the Kyoto Protocol meeting set binding targets for 37 industrialized countries and the European community for reducing Green House Gas (GHG) emissions. As the December 2009 Copenhagen follow-up meeting approaches, the issue of global climate change heats up. Tough questions about the role of GHGs in global climate change resurface, especially related to how the issue will affect our industry.

GHGs are substances that trap energy in the atmosphere. In theory, increasing atmospheric GHG concentration could lead to a gradual build-up of energy and a subsequent temperature rise in the atmosphere. The overall effect of increased GHG concentrations in the atmospheric and concomitant atmospheric and surface temperature changes is called global climate change. The most profound implication of climate warming is widespread melting of snow and ice, leading to rising sea levels. Other effects include changes to agriculture, food supply, ecosystems, biodiversity, water resources, and human health.

Based on substantial evidence, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), an international consortium of scientists researching the role of GHGs in climate change, recently concluded that the Earth is getting warmer and that GHGs are the culprit. The IPCC concluded that, “Taken as a whole, the range of published evidence indicates that the net damage costs of climate change are likely to be significant and to increase over time.” (http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar4/wg2/ar4-wg2-spm.pdf)

The Role of Human Activities in Green House Gases

Some GHGs are naturally occurring and are emitted to the atmosphere through natural processes and human activities. Other greenhouse gases are created and emitted only through human activities. The IPCC recently concluded that, “Most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic [man-made] greenhouse gas concentrations” (http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar4/wg1/ar4-wg1-spm.pdf).

In other words, human activities are the likely cause of climate change. The principal GHGs that enter the atmosphere due to human activities are:

  • Carbon Dioxide (CO2)
  • Methane (CH4)
  • Nitrous Oxide (N2O)
  • Fluorinated Gases

To mitigate any substantial damages caused by climate change, future emissions of GHGs should be limited.

Global, National, and Regional Climate Change Regulations

On December 11, 1997, under the auspices of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), a number of countries agreed to reduce their emissions of GHGs. The agreement, called the Kyoto Protocol, sets binding targets for reducing GHG emissions. Shortly after signing the Kyoto Protocol, many countries enacted domestic laws necessary for meeting the GHG emissions targets.

As the Kyoto Protocol is set to expire in 2012, countries from around the world are scheduled to meet in Copenhagen, Denmark in December 2009 to discuss future international climate change regulations. Members of the UNFCCC will likely agree to new targets for reducing GHG emissions, as well as new mechanisms for achieving these targets. UNFCCC members would likely enact domestic legislation that is consistent with these new GHG emission reduction targets. Otherwise, these countries would have to revise existing regulatory mechanisms.

Some countries are not waiting for results from the Copenhagen meeting to address climate change. The United States, for example, has been pushing for new regulations and revising existing regulations to address climate change. This push comes from the Obama administration and the U.S. Congress. This past summer, the U.S. House of Representatives approved HR 2454, drafted by Henry Waxman and Edward Markey. The bill, titled “American Clean Energy and Security Act,” includes a cap-and-trade plan designed to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions 17% by the year 2020. Last month, Senators Barbara Boxer and John Kerry drafted a similar U.S. Senate version of the Waxman/Markey bill. However, the Boxer/Kerry bill, titled “Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act,” sets a more aggressive goal of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions by 20% for the year 2020 and an 80% reduction by the year 2050. Last month, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator, Lisa Jackson, announced a significant new proposal to regulate GHG emissions under the existing Clean Air Act (CAA). The proposal would allow the EPA to control or limit GHG emissions from certain facilities.

Other countries have also expressed interest in promoting climate change regulations, independent of global targets from the UNFCCC.

Impacts of these Regulations to Industry

In the next two years, the world should see a profound number of regulatory mechanisms designed to mitigate climate change at the global, national, and regional level. This regulatory push could significantly impact companies in the microelectronic, photovoltaic (solar), display, and related high technology industries. It is unclear whether these impacts will be negative or positive to these industries.

Most regulations designed to mitigate climate change focus on one or more of the following:

  • GHG Emission: Includes reducing emissions of GHGs, which include CO2, CH4, N2O, HFCs, SF6, and PFCs (fluorinated compounds)
  • Energy Efficiency: Includes increasing efficiencies in new and existing energy-consuming systems (transportation, buildings, agriculture, manufacturing, etc.)
  • Fossil Fuel Substitution: Includes reducing use of fossil fuels through use of lower or zero carbon energy sources (including use of photovoltaics)

The negative impacts to high technology industries that utilize fluorinated compounds could be significant.

On the other hand, the push for energy efficiency could represent powerful market opportunities for high technologies industries, especially those in microelectronics. The same can be said for the photovoltaic industry, as this renewable energy could reduce global reliance on the fossil fuels that constitute the majority of CO2 emissions.

It's likely these climate change regulations will directly impact all aspects of the supply chain and manufacturing of semiconductor, microelectronic, photovoltaic (solar), display, solid state lighting, and related high technology industries. The impact will extend to the following:

  • Chemicals Suppliers, Manufacturers, Distributors, Importers and Exporters
  • Equipment Suppliers (and Components Suppliers)
  • Product Manufacturers (and Distributors)

Announcing the SEMI Climate Change Regulation Working Group

Some SEMI members and industry partners have expressed deep concern about the positive and negative impacts of climate change regulations on our industry. To address these concerns, SEMI is launching a new Working Group, entitled the "SEMI Climate Change Regulation Working Group." The Working Group (WG) will address SEMI member concerns about possible climate change regulations— including impacts to the semiconductor, microelectronic, photovoltaic (solar), display, solid state lighting, and related high technology industries.

For now, the WG will limit itself to regulatory compliance issues. To date, two different task forces have been formed:

  • The Regulatory and Legislative Task Force will monitor specific legislative and regulatory mechanisms, provide feedback and industry responses to regulations, and cooperate with other industry groups.
  • The Technological Solution Task Force will produce technical knowledge about climate change solutions for greening industry and greening of society by industry, and suggest best practices for emissions reductions, energy efficiency, and low carbon operations.

At a later date, the SEMI Climate Change Regulation Working Group may choose to focus on broader climate protection topics.

To get involved in the group, please access the WG Membership Form and input your contact information.

For More Information

For more information, please contact Sanjay Baliga (SEMI EHS Senior Manager in San Jose).

November 2, 2009