TCS Daily

The Toothless Kyoto Dragon

By Duane D. Freese - November 14, 2001 12:00 AM

When the final "i"s were dotted and the last "t"s were crossed this week at the United Nation's Seventh Conference of the Parties (COP-7) on climate change in Marrakech, Morocco, Oliver DeLeuze heaved a great sigh of relief. "The Kyoto Protocol is saved," whooped the head of the delegation from the European Union.

If you wonder what saving that accord means, the answer is, well, not much. Not much for the 165 countries that signed the agreement designed to "save" the protocol. Not much for the United States that didn't. And not much for the climate that the protocol is ostensibly designed to keep from warming.

What the deal in Marrakech did save, however, is politics as usual; and Green politics in the United States and Europe in particular. Kyoto is the "big issue" to environmental groups, a key to their fundraising and their influence. And it has become a North-South political issue as well, with developing nations viewing the negotiations as a means of extracting from developed countries aid and other resources.

Why doesn't it mean more? Because those meeting in Marrakech -- as with the preceding meetings in Bonn, Brussels and elsewhere going back nearly a decade now -- didn't deal with the underlying science of climate change.

Since the United Nations' bureaucratic leviathan took control of the issue in 1992, the science of global warming has been declared settled. According to the settled orthodoxy, mankind -- through the burning of fossil fuels and the subsequent release of greenhouse gases, particularly carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere -- is causing global temperatures to rise. And continued increases in CO2 from human activity will lead to more dramatic increases in temperatures over the next century, with potentially catastrophic effects for the planet.

The problem with this settled science approach to global warming is that no one -- other than extreme environmentalists -- fully buys it. Scientists themselves disagree about the extent to which human emissions of CO2 have an effect on climate change, with some even arguing that any effect is beneficial. The climate models on which most of the claims that increasing levels of CO2 over the next century will produce dramatic warming - between 3 degrees to 11 degrees Fahrenheit (F), on average worldwide - have yet to be validated.

Indeed, the rise in average global temperatures by 1 degree F over the last century cited as proof by some scientists of mankind's influence has led other scientists to different conclusions. After all, why did most of the temperature increase occur in the first part of the century, when emissions were lowest? Why was there cooling for 30 years until the mid 1970s, when emissions were greatest? Why don't the temperature measurements for the troposphere - where warming is first forecast to occur - show a warming over the last 23 years while those at the surface do?

The dismissal of these and other pertinent scientific questions has led to an accord that was big on process but short on real action - and one which the Bush administration has wisely dismissed as "fatally flawed."

The administration certainly isn't ready to put in place Kyoto-style regulations that would cripple the U.S. economy without doing the climate much, if any, good. Clinton-era Energy Department studies determined that implementing Kyoto as negotiated by Vice President Al Gore would cost the economy $300 billion to $400 billion annually - or about $3,000 for the average family. The climate models predicted that at best the reductions would lower worldwide average temperatures by no more than 0.5 degrees F.

Kyoto's proponents are beginning to understand that the treaty is costly and won't accomplish much. That's why Marrakech resulted in several steps away from what the European Union was pushing just last fall - otherwise it would fall completely apart.

Back then, the EU wanted strict limits on emissions without recourse to trading permits between nations or counting the contributions of so-called carbon sinks - trees and other plant life that suck up CO2 from the atmosphere.

But at Marrakech, in order to get Russia on board, the EU agreed to count Russia's huge forests as sinks. The effect is that Russia can sell its carbon sink credits to other industrial nations that don't want to reduce their emissions. Those with excessive emissions - including European countries - will now be able to buy the permits without reducing their emissions at all.

Further evidence of Kyoto's toothlessness can be found in its treatment of developing nations such as India and China, which will become the biggest producers of greenhouse emissions over the next 20 years. They are under no obligation to reduce their emissions. And Japan and Australia were brought aboard at Marrakech with deals that literally allow them not to have to comply with the agreement - no punishment will be inflicted if they can't verify emission reductions.

But the politics of climate change churns on. Despite this gutting of Kyoto, several European countries are hoping to use the treaty to blackmail the United States. Jan Pronk, the Dutch Environmental minister who headed the UN's COP-6 session last year in Brussels, went so far as to suggest that cooperation among nations over terrorism might depend ultimately upon U.S. cooperation on climate change.

"After the events of September 11th, if there is any reason for the United States to call for international, global approaches [to terrorism, it should also] join a global approach to the existing global problem of climate change," Pronk told the Washington Post.

And Pronk is hardly alone. Renowned environmental calamatist Lester Brown said just one day after the terrorist attacks on 9/11 that "There is a potential for disaster [from global warming] that could make what happened in New York yesterday look small... Civilization is being trapped between expanding deserts and rising sea levels -- two forces of our own creation."

Brown's comparison of uncertain, undemonstrated and unproven threats of climate change with the deliberate murder of thousands of American civilians by terrorists is tasteless. But it reveals the myopia of some in the environmental movement about climate change that undermines genuine efforts to find real answers to whatever problems climate change might pose.

The current administration seems to understand this. As Paula Dobriansky, Under Secretary of State for global affairs who represented the administration at Marrakech noted at the session's closing, "Climate change is a serious issue that requires real action."

But until the rest of the world starts taking the science of climate change as seriously as it does the politics of climate change, future climate conferences and agreements will continue to be much ado about little, or nothing at all.

1 Comment

Scientists HAVE AGREED on the extent to which human emissions of CO2 have an effect on climate chang
In Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth he states that "Science magazine analyzed 928 peer-reviewed scientific papers on global warming published between 1993 and 2003. Not a single one challenged the scientific consensus the earth's temperature is rising due to human activity." It also states that out of 636 articles presented in the media, 63% of them disagreed. This proves that scientists have come to a decision and that the media is creating the illusion that global warming may not be harmful or may actually be beneficial to support the politicians who are setting aside the issue because it isn't important to their constituents. Global warming isn't a political issue, it's not even an environmental issue, it is, above all, a moral issue.
*The United Stated is responsible for 30% of the CO2 contributions creating the global warming problem.

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