Bonn delegation passes ‘Kyoto Lite’

Published September 1, 2001

Enacting many of the changes previously insisted upon by U.S. President George W. Bush, delegates to the Bonn global warming talks agreed on July 23 to a revised Kyoto agreement for the curtailment of greenhouse gases.

Bush, however, maintained his opposition to the revised Kyoto agreement, which still left many American concerns unaddressed. Depending on the source, the Bonn agreement was described as both a defeat and a victory for Bush.

Significant changes demanded

The U.S. Senate in 1997 voted 95-0 to direct the President not to sign a binding treaty on greenhouse emissions reductions without significant changes to the Kyoto Protocol. Kyoto required the world’s industrialized nations by the year 2012 to cumulatively reduce greenhouse emissions to 5.2 percent below 1990 levels, with each nation having its own negotiated requirement. The U.S. Senate had objected to many of Kyoto’s provisions, including:

  • Its failure to give nations credit for emissions-capturing forests and other carbon “sinks;”
  • Its refusal to allow nations to trade or purchase emissions credits;
  • Its designation of 1990 as the base year for emissions calculations;
  • Its failure to apply to China, India, and other “less-developed” nations; and
  • Its strict and legally binding enforcement provisions.

In March 2001, Bush notified Kyoto delegates the U.S. was withdrawing from the Kyoto Protocol based on the above concerns, as well as concerns regarding the uncertain scientific case for global warming and the protocol’s potentially devastating effects on the American economy. Bush pledged America would undertake further research into global warming issues and work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions under a more flexible and economically rational framework.

Following Bush’s announcement, nations such as Japan, Russia, Canada, and Australia expressed a similar reluctance to ratify Kyoto. The Bonn agreement brought those nations back into the fold by conceding to some, but not all, of the objections those nations shared with the United States.

Under the revised agreement, the carbon-absorbing effects of forests will, to a certain degree, be permitted to offset the emissions produced by participating countries. (An important catch, however, is only forests planted after 1990 will count against greenhouse emissions calculations.) The revised agreement also allows nations to trade emissions credits and drops legally binding penalties for noncompliance.

Despite the revisions, many of Bush’s concerns remain. Crediting only those forests planted after 1990 does little to reflect each nation’s cumulative carbon dioxide absorption. Although the United States produces more greenhouse gases than other nations, its vast forests, plains, and croplands recapture a significant amount of those gases. Western Europe, with comparatively few such carbon sinks, has successfully excluded sinks from net emissions calculations even under the revised agreement.

Even some Third World nations exempt from Kyoto’s emissions limits expressed skepticism over the fairness and scientific justification for the prohibitions. Costa Rican President Miguel Angel Rodriguez, for example, told reporters the carbon-sequestering effects of forests should be included in any calculation of a nation’s emissions and that nations should be able to trade credits for carbon sinks.

“We understand the problems the United States has with Kyoto,” Rodriguez said. “There is very little cost to Europe, but a very large cost to the United States.”

The Bush administration is similarly concerned with the revised agreement’s failure to place restrictions on many “less-developed nations.” China, for example, is the world’s second largest greenhouse gas emitter but faces no limitations under Kyoto. India similarly emits large amounts of greenhouse gases and faces no Kyoto restrictions.

Bush officials also object to the retroactive designation of 1990 as the greenhouse emissions base year. Emissions goals should be calculated in relation to the date of agreement rather than to the politically motivated 1990 designation, reason Bush officials. Explained James Glassman of the American Enterprise Institute, “Europe gets credit for the large reductions in carbon dioxide that occurred in the 1990s in Britain (which switched from coal to gas for economic reasons, largely because of North Sea finds) and in Germany (which benefits from the post-reunification shutdown of inefficient, mainly coal-fired factories in the former East Germany). As a result, Europe reduced its overall emissions between 1990 and 1999 by 4 percent, toward a target of 8 percent below 1990 levels. The U.S., with a target for reductions of 7 percent, has increased its emissions 30 percent.”

Defeat or victory?

Kyoto advocates heralded the revised agreement as a defeat for Bush. “The world has defied George W. Bush on climate change,” boasted Jennifer Morgan, climate change director for the World Wildlife Fund.

“It shows that George Bush is totally isolated in the climate debate,” added Greenpeace climate analyst Bill Hare.

To the contrary, others pointed out that while the revised agreement is still unacceptable to the Bush administration, the President’s steadfastness produced tangible results. A July 24 New York Times house editorial noted Bush’s influence on smoothing at least some of Kyoto’s rough edges. “The huge irony is that this agreement was tailored in many respects to American specifications,” stated the Times.

Added Chris Horner, adjunct analyst for the Competitive Enterprise Institute, “the EU did indeed abandon rigidity on certain issues that until this week they maintained were essential for the treaty to possess ‘environmental integrity.'”

Even so, Bush remained opposed to the agreement after many other American concerns went unaddressed. “I don’t believe that it is a surprise to anyone that the United States believes that this particular protocol is not in its interests, nor do we believe that it really addresses the problem of global climate change,” stated National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice.

“This does not change our view the Kyoto Protocol is not sound policy,” added Paula Dobriansky, America’s Bonn delegation chief.

New studies cast doubt on Kyoto

As the world’s nations debated the fate of Kyoto, several new studies cast doubt on the science and economic reasonableness of Kyoto.

A study in the May 17 issue of Nature demonstrated that atmospheric carbon dioxide emissions were far greater in the past than they are today, yet the much-hyped runaway greenhouse effect did not occur.

The Nature study noted that atmospheric CO2 concentration is currently 370 parts per million. The study’s authors constructed a record of CO2 concentrations during the past 300 million years and discovered that CO2 levels typically ranged from 1,000 to 2,000 ppm during the period. The two periods of CO2 concentrations below 1,000 ppm corresponded with ice ages. Viewed against the Earth’s recent natural history, the industrial era’s increase in CO2 concentrations from 280 ppm to 370 ppm is hardly alarming.

Additionally, the Greening Earth Society reported on June 26 that CO2 concentrations increase on a linear rather than exponential basis with the addition of new greenhouse gas emissions. According to the study, “The implications of this are enormous. Instead of the steady increase in temperatures that climate models produce in assuming an exponential increase in CO2 concentration, we are left with a situation where the temperature increase slowly damps off once the climate models are forced with a linear (rather than exponential) increase in CO2. This is a consequence of the percentage increase in CO2 concentration slowly decreasing over time. Therefore its total impact becomes less.”

As a result of the linear CO2 equation, the Greening Earth Society expects a warming of no more than a degree or two over the entire next century, if any warming occurs at all.

Still further, Dr. Bjorn Lomborg, an associate professor of statistics at the University of Aarhus in Denmark and a former member of Greenpeace, published The Skeptical Environmentalist, a book in which he concludes global warming theory greatly exaggerated the effect of CO2 emissions. “The cost of limiting carbon dioxide emissions far outweighs the damage that global warming will eventually do to the world and merely postpones the problem for six years,” Lomborg noted.

According to Lomborg, mankind would reap far greater benefits by investing emissions reduction money into other programs. By focusing efforts on an exaggerated global warming problem rather than other efforts to benefit humanity, “trillions of pounds that might otherwise be spent on fighting poverty and malnutrition and improving infrastructure in developing countries will be wasted.”

If Kyoto is implemented, added Lomborg, “millions of lives will be lost that could otherwise be saved and the eventual impact of climate change on the Third World will be much worse as countries will be less equipped to adapt.”

Kyoto costs underestimated

Adding to Lomborg’s warnings about the economic and human costs of Kyoto, economists from the former Clinton White House have admitted they drastically underestimated the costs of implementing Kyoto.

In 1997, while Kyoto was being negotiated, the Clinton White House estimated implementation would cause most Americans to pay an extra $100 per year in energy bills, an extra six cents a gallon for gasoline, and about $10 billion per year for the nation as a whole.

However, Clinton’s environmental economists based their predictions on a number of factors that have not come to pass. For example, they assumed China and India would accept mandatory emissions caps. Neither country has done so. They also assumed nations could engage in an emissions trading system. European opposition has to-date killed emissions trading as well.

“We always thought the (emissions) targets were very ambitious,” stated Joseph Aldy, who helped formulate estimates for the Clinton administration. “But the thing that made us really uneasy about our analysis . . . was that if our assumptions didn’t come true, you could come out with costs that were much, much higher.”

How much higher? According to the Department of Energy, gasoline prices alone would rise 66 cents per gallon as a result of Kyoto. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates an even higher spike in gasoline prices, at roughly 53 percent (or roughly 75 cents per gallon). The EIA further estimates electricity prices would nearly double as a result of Kyoto. Additionally, the Wharton Economic Forecasting Associates estimate that the price of home heating oil will rise 95 percent.

Bush proposes more science funding

Reluctant to commit America to such severe economic blows in light of the unsettled science, Bush instead announced a series of initiatives designed to increase scientific understanding of greenhouse gas emissions and more economically feasible solutions.

On July 13, the President announced an additional $120 million in funding for NASA to study the problem over the next three years. Nearly half the funds, $50 million, will be used to study how oceans and plant life absorb atmospheric carbon and therefore serve as emissions “sinks.” Next on the list, $25 million will go to new computer modeling technology. Another $22 million is earmarked for studying how atmospheric aerosols affect the atmosphere. Finally, NASA will receive $20 million to analyze the role that clouds play in regulating potential warming.

“We spend over $1.8 billion annually, which is 50 percent of the climate-change research dollars worldwide, three times as much as the next largest contributor, and more than the EU and Japan combined,” stated a Bush administration official.