TCS Daily

Will Bonn's Climate Talks Bid Farewell To Kyoto?

By James K. Glassman - July 18, 2001 12:00 AM

BONN, Germany -- Delegations from 180 nations began gathering Monday in this defunct European capital to mull over what now appears to be a dead treaty - the Kyoto Protocol on climate change.

Officially, this two-week meeting is advertised as a continuation of the effort to implement that accord - an effort that foundered last fall at the United Nations Sixth Conference of the Parties on Climate Change (COP-6) at The Hague. But the real purpose is plain. It is to pressure the Bush administration to change its position on Kyoto and, if that fails, to make the U.S. the scapegoat for the treaty's collapse.

The big question here - and later this week at the G-8 meeting of heads of state in Genoa, Italy - is whether the U.S. will hold firm on its rejection of Kyoto or make overtures to appease angry Europeans. Paula Dobriansky, the State Department official responsible for global environmental issues, will be the top White House representative here, and earlier this week she left little doubt: ""We very much appreciate that others are reaching out to the United States and are thinking of ways of engaging us, but we do truly believe the protocol is fundamentally flawed. ... We will not be coming back to the protocol.""

But Dobriansky will be a lonely opponent. Congressional opponents of the treaty - including stalwarts who appeared at The Hague, including Sens. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., and Larry Craig, R-Idaho, and Rep. Joanne Emerson, R-Mo., are not scheduled to attend since Congress is in session and key appropriations votes are on tap. Nor will Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La., who heads the key Energy and Commerce Committee, be in Bonn, according to his office.

When President Bush said he was abandoning support of the treaty in March, Europe's politicians branded him the "Toxic Texan," an environmental outlaw. The indication by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi that Japan would not ratify the agreement if the U.S. rejected it, made opponents even more frantic. The protocol was negotiated in 1997 in Japan's ancient capital.

"We can see," European Union Environmental Minister Margot Wallstrom says, "that the Americans are clearly putting heavy pressure on their partners ... kill Kyoto." But the pressure seems to be running more powerfully in the other direction. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder warned, "Any attempt to prevent this internationally crucial agreement from getting underway in Bonn and making it ratifiable for everyone would be a serious political mistake."

Koizumi has not closed the door entirely. ""We will not be able to reach an agreement in Bonn, but there will be another meeting in Morocco in October," he said on television Sunday, referring to the planning COP 7 meeting in Marrakech. "Japan will do its utmost so that the protocol can be enacted in 2002. The United States, Europe, and Japan are still in discussions, seeking ways in which we can co-operate, and no conclusion has been reached yet. This will take until late October.""

Japan's ultimate decision is crucial. The Kyoto agreement cannot go into effect without the support of 55 nations and, among those nations, there must be ratifiers that account for at least 55 percent of carbon dioxide emissions, the leading greenhouse gas, emitted by developed nations in the base year, 1990. The U.S. was responsible for 34% of the developed-nation CO2 emissions in 1990; Japan, 8%.

Under the treaty, total greenhouse gases would have to be reduced 5.2 %t below 1990 levels, but different countries were assigned different targets - for the U.S., 7%t below 1990 (or 20% below current levels); for Japan, 6% below 1990 (or 16% below current levels).

Last November, the same group of representatives met at the Hague to address alternative methods of meeting the targets, including emissions trading (one country, in effect, paying another to reduce emissions), using carbon sinks (forests and farmland that suck carbon dioxide out of the air), and bringing developing nations, exempt from the strictures of Kyoto, under the treaty's limits. But those talks broke down, and a resumption of COP 6 was set for Bonn in May. The date was moved back to July, but in the meantime, the new president, George W. Bush, said he would reject the treaty.

The Kyoto Protocol was never popular in the United States. In August 1997, the Senate, by a vote of 95-0, put the Clinton administration on notice that it would not ratify any treaty that: a) excluded developing countries such as China and India, the world's number-two and number-two greenhouse-gas emitters, or b) did serious economic harm to the United States.

The Kyoto treaty did both - studies by the Clinton administration's own Energy Department showed that gross domestic product would decline 3% to 4% annually under a Kyoto regime, reducing U.S. output by at least $300 billion a year - but, in December 1997, Vice President Gore signed it anyway. The treaty, however, was never submitted to the Senate for ratification.

Nor have the complaining European countries approved it. The only developed country that has ratified the treaty is Romania, which, because its economy has collapsed, faces no reductions at all.

Here in Bonn, which was the post-World II capital of West Germany and has been replaced by Berlin since the reunification of the country, a big question is whether Europe has anything to offer to lure either the U.S. or Japan back to the fold -- other than massive protest and harsh language. Wallstrom said that the E.U. would have to consider any proposals that might bring the U.S. back into the process, but she does not want to "open up a Pandora's box by saying all the targets and timetables are open."

Another question is whether Europe's leaders really want to salvage Kyoto.

It didn't seem so when I was at The Hague. There, the Europeans were dealing with an administration that had a political stake in Kyoto, but when Frank Loy, President Clinton's negotiator, tried to soften the economic blow by pursuing alternative methods for reaching targets, Europe rejected his proposals. The fact they closed those options in late November 2000, knowing at the time that a Bush administration would be less friendly to sharp emissions, cuts raises the suspicion that many in Europe don't want to implement Kyoto either. Politicians instead are pandering to the important Green minorities in their governments.

At the heart of the debate over global warming is the state of the science, and a report issued by the highly regarded National Academy of Sciences last month showed clearly that uncertainty dominates the climate-change field. While the surface temperature of the Earth has increased by one degree Fahrenheit over the past century, it remains unclear whether that rise will continue, whether it is caused by human intervention and whether humans can do anything to mitigate higher temperatures.

Catastrophic global warming is implied by computer models of the climate, but those models are badly flawed. As the NAS report stated: "Climate models are imperfect. Their simulation skill is limited by uncertainties in their formulation, the limited size of their calculations, and the difficulty in interpreting their answers that exhibit almost as much complexity as nature."

Bush's position is that substantially more research is required before the U.S. commits itself to an onerous regime of high taxes and regulatory mandates. But, of course, European countries and others could go it alone. So far, they have not. In fact, research by Princeton scientists shows that forests and farmland in the U.S. have served pull more carbon dioxide out of the air that the U.S. pumps into it. The same cannot be said for Europe, which is a net emitter of CO2.

Europe's hypocrisy on the global warming issue is hard to understate. The European Union, while opposing emissions trading for the U.S., has essentially its own trading regime. Britain's full conversion from coal to natural gas, as much for economic reasons as for environmental, and the cleanup of old East German utilities and factories following German reunification, count against a continental European cap rather than simply against Britain's and Germany's cap.

Still, Europe is unlikely to meet its goals. So, behind the scenes in some capitals -- Rome and Madrid in particular, because of their pollution problems -- Bush's Kyoto rejection had to be greeted with a sigh of relief. It provides a "two-fer" by both killing Kyoto and providing a fall guy for Europe's extreme environmentalists, who are out in force here in Bonn.

Even those scientists who are convinced of the accuracy of models that show temperatures increasing 2.8 to 10.4 degrees F over the next century admit that meeting Kyoto's targets won't do much. At best, Kyoto would cut temperature increases by less than 0.3 degrees F by the end of the century. Weigh that against the high economic price tag, and, as Peter Wilcoxen, a University of Texas economist, told USA Today, "A prudent, reasonable Senate could never agree to something like that, committing the country to do something that we don't know can be done, and agreeing to it at any cost." Yet, even if Bush's rejection of Kyoto merely provided a benediction for a deal that would do almost no good, U.N. and European bureaucrats can be expected to press for its resuscitation.

"The importance of Kyoto, at least in my mind, is the psychological aspect, not the quantitative one." Narasimhan Sundararaman, secretary of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that has done so much to stir worry about the issue, explained to Reuters.

In short, Kyoto is something like a pacifier, giving no real nourishment, but providing advocates of global warming something to chew on.

Editorial from CO2 Science: ""Scientific Magazine Likens CO2-Induced Warming to Swallowing Camels""

Australian Press Reports: ""U.S. Rebuffs Genoa-Hatched Plan to Force Renewable Fuel Subsidies Abroad""

From the UN: Click here for the Official Website of the Bonn Climate Talks


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