TCS Daily


Just a Climate Cowboy

By Duane D. Freese - August 29, 2002 12:00 AM

United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, responding to a question from Washington Post columnist William Raspberry, listed President Bush's breaking with the Kyoto Protocol and its reductions of greenhouse gas emissions as first among three specific ways where he says the United States has fallen short in its role as world leader. (The other two are failure to support the anti-torture convention and a new International Criminal Court.)

"Leadership comes with some obligations," Annan intoned.

Then, in the midst of Europe's flooding, The Washington Times' Paul Martin quoted Gallus Cadonau, managing director of the Swiss Greina Foundation, as urging punitive tariffs on U.S. imports to force cooperation on greenhouse gas emissions. As though floods hadn't occurred since the time of Noah, Cadonau claimed, "This definitely has to do with global warming. We must change something now. Those nations that really are careless with the environment should have to compensate."

Finally, some environmental groups on Aug. 27 filed a suit against the administration in an attempt to force it to conduct environmental studies before approving energy projects, claiming such projects might contribute to global warming. "This first-of-its-kind legal action is urgently called for because we need to compel the Bush administration to take some action against global warming," said Friends of the Earth president Brent Blackwelder.

Well, to paraphrase Ronald Reagan's retort to Jimmy Carter's attempts to portray him as a radical ideologue: "There they go again."

Just as liberal critics of Reagan here and abroad denounced him as an ignorant cowboy in foreign affairs for what proved to be his successful positions on arms control, so environmental alarmists today try to portray Bush as insensitive to world concerns on climate change.

Nothing, though, could be further from the truth. Bush is giving the issue of climate change plenty of deference, more than most conservatives would like. And he is hardly going it alone.

On the home front, the administration will spend $1.8 billion on climate science, another $1.3 billion on climate technologies and $4.6 billion over the next five years on tax incentives on alternative fuels. It is all part of an effort outlined in March by which the administration hopes to increase energy efficiency - decreasing the volume of carbon required for each dollar of economic growth - by 18 percent over the next decade.

On the foreign front, it has put up $500 million for the replenishment of the Global Environment Facility, which funds the transfer of clean energy technology, including fully funding the arrears left by the Clinton administration.

Even more important, the administration has negotiated eight bilateral agreements, including deals with the European Union and Italy as well as China and India, both of which have no obligations under Kyoto to reduce greenhouse gases even though each will exceed U.S. levels within two decades. And it has six other agreements in the works, including one with the Russian Federation, which is the 3rd largest emitter of greenhouse gases.

To free marketers, especially those of us skeptical of the whole global warming scare, the preferred prescription is to fund continued research into climate, as what is known today doesn't support the alarmists high-cost remedies.

But at least the approach the Bush administration is following has the virtue that it won't put the world in an economic straightjacket, as those suing the administration want to do. While giving the alarmists' views too much weight, the Bush approach at least recognizes that technology and economic growth - not regulation and litigation - are the keys both to improving the environment and adapting to weather's constant bad behavior.

That makes them far preferable to Kyoto, which Congress would never approve and Bush rejected for good reason. Every reputable economic study has demonstrated the short timetable to meet its strictures would impose heavy economic penalties for almost no environmental gain, especially as it excludes developing countries that now produce more than half the world's emissions and where they are growing the fastest.

Indeed, a study in the spring edition of the Journal of Economic Perspectives by Australian economist Warwick J. McKibbon and economist Peter J. Wilcoxen of the University of Texas, both of whom consider climate change a real problem, found Kyoto to be "a deeply flawed agreement that manages to be both economically inefficient and politically impractical."

They note that its effect would force U.S. firms "to spend $27 billion to $54 billion to buy pollution permits from abroad every year. That amount exceeds the $26 billion that manufacturing firms spent to operate all pollution abatement equipment in 1994 (the most recent year for which data is available)."

But that's the least of the problems. Those permit purchases likely would do neither the nations that bought them nor the nations that sold them much good. "The balance of trade for a developed country that imported permits would deteriorate substantially, possibly leading to increased volatility in exchange rates. Developing countries that exported permits ... would see their exchange rates appreciate, causing their other export industries to collapse."

In short, Kyoto is a lose-lose proposition.

What is win win?

Well, trying to make developing nations meet greenhouse gas targets, too, isn't the answer. As Paula Dobriansky, undersecretary of State for Global Affairs, told the preparatory session for the U.N. sustainability summit that began Aug. 26 in Johannesburg, South Africa: "It would be unfair - indeed, counterproductive - to condemn developing nations to slow growth or no growth by insisting that they take on impractical and unrealistic greenhouse gas targets."

Instead, fostering transfers of cleaner energy technologies to developing countries, which is what the Bush approach with its bilateral accords attempts to accomplish.

According to Assistant Secretary of State John H. Turner told a Senate committee in late July, the purpose of the bilaterals is "to enhance our multilateral cooperation."

"We are seeking to build relationships that will enable us and others to address the long-term challenge of climate change on a balanced and measured basis, consistent with the need to ensure continued economic prosperity for our citizens and our nation," Turner testified.

India and China, for example, need to and are going to use coal to fuel a large portion of their energy use. Clean coal technologies developed in this country have the virtue of producing fewer noxious emissions, such as the sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide that make up much of the "brown cloud" now hovering over much of Asia. Bilateral agreements with those countries can ease the transfer of cleaner coal technologies to them.

Similarly, Australia, also a major coal burner, has its own clean coal technologies to share. And it has an interest in developing technologies to take care of the one gas that clean coal technologies don't reduce - carbon dioxide. So agreements with it encourage exchange of information and joint ventures on both clean coal technology and carbon sequestration technology.

An agreement with the seven Central American countries encourages better forestry practices, as the region's rainforest provides a sink for collecting carbon. Aid improving disaster preparedness in a region subject to sharp swings in weather in any event will save lives immediately.

A ton of carbon is a ton of carbon, however it is reduced - by sequestration, creation of a sink, foregoing of an emission, or substitution of one energy source for a cleaner one.

And the great advantage of bilateral agreements, as opposed to the multilateral Kyoto protocol, is that these deals build on the strengths and needs of each country..

Developing nations are going to use the resources they have at hand. They cannot afford exotic technologies - such as wind and solar - that developed countries have yet to demonstrate they can afford to put into widespread use.

It's less of a leap to see these countries make use of hydroelectric, clean coal and, even, nuclear technologies, all of which can be done with lower carbon emissions than now projected as long as developed countries advance those technologies and make them safe and available.

As Dobriansky said, "The hope of growth and opportunity and prosperity is universal. It is the dream and right of every society on our globe."

By not acting as a lemming on Kyoto and leading the world over a climate change cliff, President Bush is meeting his obligations to the citizens of this country and the people of the developing world.

There goes another president again, defying the conventional logic of alarmists by following his aspirations and uncommon sense for a better world.

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