Experts debate future of Kyoto Protocol

Published April 1, 2001

Against a backdrop of rolling blackouts in California, the Rt. Hon. John Gummer, MP continued to press for completion of the Kyoto Protocol in a heated debate at the National Press Club on February 8, 2001, in the year’s first event sponsored by the Freedom 21 Campaign.

Standing in for Ambassador Alan Keyes (who was called away to attend pressing family business), Dr. Marlo Lewis challenged the presumption of human-induced global warming and the practicality of the proposed Kyoto solution.

Gummer is widely recognized around the world as an outspoken advocate for the Kyoto Protocol. As the former Environmental Minister of England, a Member of Parliament, and a delegate to the climate change negotiations representing the European Union, Gummer has been at the center of the global environmental agenda. England’s NGO (nongovernment organization) community says “he is the best Environment Secretary we have ever had.”

Lewis is director of external relations at the Reason Foundation in Los Angeles. He is uniquely qualified to stand in for Alan Keyes. In a friendship that goes back to graduate school at Harvard, the two have worked together at the State Department, and both serve as directors of the Declaration Foundation, a nonprofit educational organization. Before taking the Reason Foundation position, Lewis worked for the U.S. House Committee that oversees operations of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Fireworks erupted early and often during the debate, as Gummer and Lewis jousted over the current status of the science of climate change.

“Climate change is a matter that needs to be taken very seriously, evident especially by the temperature increase and the rate at which sea levels have risen,” Gummer opined. “The cost of the Kyoto Protocol does not exceed the cost of what it will take to repair damage done by man to the Earth.”

Gummer also said Great Britain has a volume of records and maps that illustrate how waters have risen over the past 400 years, and that most of the rise has occurred during the past 20 years.

“Britain has 350 years of weather reports showing that seven of the 10 hottest years in history have occurred in the past 15,” Gummer added. “The best evidence comes from 400,000 years of ice bores, which show that in no other time has temperature changed so much and so rapidly.”

Lewis fired back, citing uncertainty among the scientific community due to the complex nature of our climate system and conflicting satellite temperature readings that show virtually no warming.

He also added that the Kyoto Protocol as a policy solution to addressing climate change is dying, and deservedly so. Lewis referred to the collapse of talks at a recent negotiating session in The Hague, a failure that has threatened to end the controversial international march, launched in Japan in 1997, toward a binding treaty. But Lewis also warned that strong international and domestic influences have not given up hope of restarting the doomed negotiations.

Lewis skewered Gummer by using one of Gummer’s own papers, in which he writes the Kyoto targets are over-reaching. Lewis also backed up his parry with comments from former Clinton negotiator Eileen Claussen, who last summer and during The Hague negotiations called Kyoto’s targets “unrealistic.”

Gummer challenged the suggestion that a heavy economic burden will fall on developed countries if Kyoto was enacted, saying “acting to address emissions need not be painful.”

“The United States is changing everyone’s climate, using 125 percent more energy than any developing nation. The rich countries must plant this seed and lead by example. This is a common sense, moral imperative.”

“The U.S. can meet your commitments without any different measures at all,” Gummer said. “England has become much more efficient. The United States uses twice as much energy, but does not get twice as much out of it.”

“If we are to be stewards of our environment, if we can stop people from littering on the street, why do we not take the same care with the environment,” he asked.

Lewis countered Gummer’s claims of a painless Kyoto as “foolishness,” adding that Kyoto and the global marketplace are on a collision course.

“There is no way to implement Kyoto without a ‘wrenching transformation,'” Lewis said, using the term Al Gore penned in his 1992 environmental manifesto, Earth in the Balance. “There is no painless way to do it. Consumption is growing dramatically. If we want to maintain our comfort and our necessities, we cannot damage the energy infrastructure of civilization.”

More than 75 people from conservative groups, think tanks, environmental organizations, and congressional and government offices crowded into the 90-minute forum. The two speakers took a number of questions from the crowd on issues varying from technical aspects of the treaty, such as emissions trading and the role of developing countries, to scientific advances and recent reports of melting ice sheets at both poles.

The Freedom 21 Campaign, which sponsored the debate, seeks to “advance the principles of freedom at home, in Washington, and throughout the world.” Campaign sponsors include Sovereignty International; the Environmental Conservation Organization; Eagle Forum; the American Policy Center; and the Chair of Free Enterprise at the University of Texas at Austin. Joining the sponsors for this event were the Declaration Foundation and The Heartland Institute.

Henry Lamb is chairman of Sovereignty International, whose Web site can be found at