Is Kyoto dead?

Published June 1, 2001

Well before President George W. Bush’s decision to forego controls on carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of fossil fuels, many supporters of the Global Climate Treaty had expressed doubts about the targets and timetables of the Kyoto Protocol.

Critics included Resources for the Future, the Pew Center for Global Climate Change, and other mainstream environmental organizations. While European politicians were lambasting the United States after Bush’s “Kyoto is dead” announcement, David Victor of the Council of Foreign Relations termed the Protocol “hopelessly unrealistic.”

We agree; cutting energy consumption by 30 to 40 percent within a decade is practically unachievable. But beyond this, Kyoto is also ineffective. Enforcing its targets would reduce global temperature in 2050 by only 0.05 degrees C, a virtually undetectable amount.

Finally, Kyoto is politically unacceptable. President Bush, in opposing Kyoto as unfair to the United States and economically destructive–especially to low-income groups–is merely echoing the bipartisan Byrd-Hagel resolution that passed the Senate in 1997 by a vote of 95-0.

Kyoto’s critics, however, still seem to believe there is a “scientific consensus” on global warming. But a National Academy of Sciences report last year reaffirmed that, contrary to theory, weather satellite data show little if any current warming of the global atmosphere.

Further, the unspoken assumption–that a (hypothetical) global warming would be damaging–is not supported by competent economists. Their published studies conclude GNP would increase, with agriculture and forestry benefitting the most. The real threat comes from a possible global cooling.

In any case, it does not require a major government program to wean us away from fossil fuels. As these become depleted and scarce, their price is bound to rise, making other forms of energy more competitive. Market forces eventually will phase out fossil fuels, and at a much lower cost to society than Kyoto would impose.

S. Fred Singer is professor emeritus of environmental sciences at the University of Virginia, a former director of the U.S. Weather Satellite Service, and president of the Science & Environmental Policy Project. He can be contacted by email at [email protected], or visit the group’s Web site at