TCS Daily

What Was New in Delhi

By Duane D. Freese - November 6, 2002 12:00 AM

The steam appears to be running out of grandiose global eco-summits. And even some environmentalists can be heard to sigh, "Good riddance."

Last week in New Delhi at the eighth United Nations climate conference, developing countries stood against the European Union's notion of climate control, essentially saying they prefer to put their economic development first.

India's Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, as reported in The New York Times, argued that poorer countries could not be expected to invest in expensive efforts to curb their production of greenhouse gasses.

With India, China and most of the other developing nations (in concert with the United States) opposing language demanding actions that would curtail future fossil fuel use - the cheapest and only feasible source of energy for most emerging economies - Europe backed down. It signed on to a compromise that recognized economic development as a priority. More importantly the conference set no deadlines or timetables for curbing emissions.

Thus, only a fig leaf remains of the global emissions control regime that the 1997 Kyoto Protocol would have imposed upon the United States and other developed nations.

Kyoto, negotiated by then Vice President Al Gore, called on the United States to reduce its greenhouse emissions, particularly carbon dioxide, by 7 percent from 1990 levels between 2008 and 2012. This was to be part of a 5.2 percent worldwide reduction. President Clinton, though, never submitted the protocol to Congress for ratification. Why? Because he knew it would be overwhelmingly rejected. His own Energy Department estimated that it would cost the U.S. economy $300 billion a year if implemented. Furthermore, developing nations, where most growth in future greenhouse gas emissions will originate, were left out of Kyoto's restrictions, making the effort all economic pain for developed countries with no likely real gain for the environment.

For those reasons, President George W. Bush ended the charade of U.S. participation by declaring the treaty "fatally flawed" in 2001. Instead, the United States embarked on a separate course of bilateral initiatives and public-private partnerships. The aim? To spread technological improvements and spur economic growth, which the administration believes are the keys to both improving the environment and helping people adapt to changes in weather.

That didn't stop European environmental alarmists from pushing ahead with Kyoto, though, mostly by running away from it.

The UN climate conclave in Marrakech last year agreed to implementation of the agreement, but only after Europe watered it down with emissions trading schemes and elimination of any enforcement mechanism to win support from Japan and other wavering nations. At the World Summit for Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa last August, hard targets for renewable energy use (not including hydro power) were rejected by developing nations, oil producing countries and the United States as technologically impossible and economically damaging. And this year's Delhi Declaration exempts the developing world for the foreseeable future.

So, what's left of Kyoto? It amounts to this statement: "the parties that have ratified the KP (Kyoto Protocol) strongly urged parties that have not already done so to ratify it in a timely manner."

All this has the protest and advocacy segment of the environmental community howling, particularly at the United States.

"As rising seas, increased droughts, floods and diseases like malaria keep costing millions of dollars and lives, people around the world will not forget that the USA has continuously obstructed international efforts to prevent dangerous climate change," Greenpeace climate policy director Steve Sawyer inveighed.

But U.S. Undersecretary of State Paula Dobriansky had the better of the argument. "KP is costly, ineffective and unfair. It is also impractical and unrealistic," she said. "Climate change is a global phenomenon but the developing countries are not participating."

A Better Way?

More thoughtful environmental voices likewise no longer see global summitry as the way to promote real environmental improvement and actual sustainable development. They are even engaging in the partnership and regional approach to resolving environmental, social and economic problems pursued by the administration.

Last week, a half a world from New Delhi, the National Council for Science and the Environment (NCSE) held a briefing in the Senate on the results of the Johannesburg summit. In contrast to the anti-scientific and technological views of extreme environmentalists, the panel saw science and technology as the means for the world's poorer nations to raise their living standards and achieve sustainable development.

Former ambassador Richard E. Benedick, president of the council, indicated that the huge summits might no longer be useful. He said the Montreal Protocol on protection of the ozone layer, which he helped negotiate in the l987, was successful because the size was manageable, the goal achievable. "Thirty to forty countries negotiated the Montreal Protocol," he said, "about the size of one delegation at the climate change summits."
And at Montreal, he noted, science played the leading role. That hasn't been the case in subsequent summits, including Johannesburg, where "science wasn't even mentioned once at the energy forum."

Benedick said the future progress would be found in regional approaches to problems - "getting like-minded countries together to create regional, ... incremental, partial solutions, and not try to solve everything for everyone at the same time."

"The United Nations," he said, " is an industry now of empty declarations."

Dr. Twig Johnson, another NCSE panel member who also leads the Sustainability Science and Technology Program in the Policy and Global Affairs Division of the National Academy of Sciences, said the one good thing about the global conferences was that they focused countries' attention on the issues.

The major success at Johannesburg, he said, was the development of so-called 280 "Type 2" initiatives. These public and private partnerships, rather than government to government deals, include one that the NCSE will be part of with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, NAS, the American Chemistry Council, and the Heinz Center for Science, Economics and the Environment, aimed at strengthening linkages between science and decision-making in developing countries.

Such agreements can help promote "science-based decisions for sustainability," Johnson said. And they also offer environmentalists intent on real improvements a way to accomplish that mission - but only if they involve local communities, scientists and businesses.

NCSE's emphasis on science and technology, local action and private involvement suggests there is much more common ground between environmentalists and the Bush Administration than the advocacy, protest-oriented environmental organizations will ever admit.

For the poor people in developing nations, that's a hopeful sign. Mindless curbs on energy use won't eliminate floods, droughts, tornadoes or hurricanes, any more than they can halt volcanic eruptions such as Mt. Etna's. And the poor suffer most from them not because they or developed countries aren't using enough renewable energy, but because poverty makes it impossible to fight or adapt to harsh conditions.

India's prime minister and the developing countries are correct to put economic growth first. The Bush Administration is wise to help them do so by encouraging the use of efficient, clean and affordable energy technologies. And environmentalists who really want to accomplish something meaningful will seek to participate in their efforts, not obstruct them. Real action beats hot talk every time.



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