Vol. II, No. 12

Vol. II, No. 12

June 10, 1998


Gore Spins El Niño

On behalf of the White House Vice President Al Gore announced at a June 8 press conference that each of the first five months of 1998 had experienced record high temperatures. The high temperatures, according to Gore and scientists who participated in the press conference, were the result of El Niño combined with the overall temperature trend. Gore went on to say that "We set temperature records in every month since January, and it appears that this general warming trend is making the effects of El Niño worse."

In the White House press release announcing the event, Gore claims that one of the effects of the warming is increased tornado activity. He warned that, "Tornadoes have killed 122 people this year, matching the annual record set in 1984." In fact, the tornadoes of April 3-4, 1974 killed 315 people, and the Tri-State Tornado of March 18, 1925 killed 695 people. More importantly, there has been no increase in the number or intensity of tornadoes in this country.

He also claimed that "This is a reminder once again that global warming is real and that unless we act we can expect more extreme weather in the years ahead." The Vice President’s claim does not jibe with the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: "…overall, there is no evidence that extreme weather events, or climate variability, has increased, in a global sense, through the 20th century…"

The warm ocean currents of the naturally occurring El Niño phenomenon have indeed raised temperatures of late. However, the New York Times (June 8, 1998) reports that "El Niño has faded, drastically so in the last three weeks, so it is questionable whether the records will hold up for the rest of 1998."

Al Gore’s timely press conference capitalized on the temporary temperature spike just before it was expected to end. The purpose: "[to] tell Congress that it is urgent to enact a $6.3 billion, five year program of financial incentives and technological research aimed at cutting emissions" of greenhouse gases (derided as "heat-trapping industrial-waste gases" in the New York Times). Last summer – the 37th coolest for the contiguous United States in the last 103 years – would not have been a good time to tout global warming legislation.

Third World Refuses to Consider Emission Curbs in Buenos Aires

The 150 countries that are parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change are currently meeting in Bonn, Germany. The purpose of the meeting is to prepare for the Fourth Session of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention (COP-4) being held in Buenos Aires from November 2-13, 1998 and to discuss how the Kyoto Protocol will look in practice. One of the issues being debated is developing country participation. The U.S. delegation said that it is important to consider "whether an insufficient number of countries have commitments to curb their emissions of greenhouse gases."

But the developing countries rejected all talk of their taking on emissions restrictions. A Saudi Arabia delegate said, "No way developing countries will accept an agenda item [for Buenos Aires meeting] on commitments." And a Chinese delegate said, "The position of the G-77 and China is clear – no new commitments in whatever guise or disguise." Commenting on the Clinton administration’s goal to get "meaningful participation by key developing countries," the Chinese delegate said, "In the UN system, there’s no category" of "key developing countries."

Mexico said that developing country participation should not be discussed until the Kyoto Protocol enters into force (BNA Daily Environment Report, June 6, 1998).

Senator Enzi Plays Hardball

Senator Mike Enzi (R-Wy.), a member of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, has threatened to hold up three presidential nominations if the Council of Economic Advisors (CEA) does not release the Clinton Administration’s economic analysis of the costs of complying with the Kyoto Protocol. The nominations are Rebecca M. Blank, for a permanent post on the three-member CEA, and Awilda R. Marquez and Michael J. Copps, for assistant secretaries at the Commerce Department.

Administration officials have testified before various congressional committees that the costs of complying with the Kyoto Protocol will be negligible, but they refuse to release an economic analysis to the public (BNA Daily Environment Report, June 10, 1998). Senate Republicans have also said that they will hold up funding for climate change programs in President Clinton’s fiscal 1999 budget unless they can get more details about how the Administration is planning to implement the Kyoto Protocol. (BNA Daily Environment Report, June 5, 1998).

U.S. Surrenders Sovereign Rights Under Climate Treaty

The Kyoto Protocol infringes on national sovereignty and transfers considerable decision-making power to international bodies. That’s the conclusion of lawyer James V. DeLong in a paper presented at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s recent conference, "American Sovereignty and Security at Risk."

The Kyoto treaty, if implemented, would facilitate a massive centralization and aggrandizement of power in countries such as the U.S. "The Protocol may convert decisions usually classified as ‘domestic’ for purposes of U.S. law and politics into ‘foreign,’ and thus move substantial power from the Congress, from state and local governments, and from private entities into the federal Executive Branch."

DeLong warns that the international bodies used to enforce and monitor numerous global environmental treaties are "heavily under the influence of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that are not politically accountable." This means that voters, taxpayers and consumers are gradually being denied the right to self government as these half public, half private groups gain effective control over important international institutions (The paper, "Treaties, National Sovereignty, and Executive Power: A Report on the Kyoto Protocol," can be downloaded from www.climatetreaty.com).

Foxes to Guard Hen House?

New United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) director Klaus Töpfer, Germany’s ex-environment minister, has submitted a nine-page proposal to incorporate non-governmental organizations into the policy-making process and to assist in "developing relevant scientific advice."

Töpfer says, "I want to be as close as possible to organizations such as IUCN [International Union for Conservation of Nature] and WWF [World Wide Fund for Nature], as well as other NGOs.

The IUCN has an outstanding tradition. I intensely believe that they can be part of the process."

Environmental pressure groups are, of course, salivating over the prospect of being granted new process powers. Frank Vorhies, head of the IUCN economics unit in Geneva, said, "IUCN is well placed to play a role as UNEP’s technical agency."

Others are less enthusiastic. Developing countries are especially upset at the prospect of environmental groups having the ability to interfere with their domestic affairs. Rabi Bista, special secretary in the ministry of forests and soil conservation in Nepal, argues that "Conservation is a simple concept made difficult by high paid consultants. In my country, we know which areas need to be conserved. We have no difficulty at the professional level. Local people often know more than people like me in the cities. We don’t need more committees [of scientists], we need local action." Nature (May 14, 1998) notes that "panels set up with environment groups will be seen as partial to the environmentalist view. The role of IUCN may be particularly controversial, as many of its members appear to see conservation as more important that development."

Catalytic Converters Under the Gun

The catalytic converter is no longer an environmental savior, according to the New York Times (May 29, 1998). Though the device sharply reduced smog emissions from autos, it may be out of favor at the Environmental Protection Agency. A new EPA study says that the converters break down the compounds of nitrogen and oxygen that then combine with hydrocarbons to form nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

Wylie J. Barbour, an EPA official who worked on the study, called this a classic problem. "You’ve got people trying to solve one problem, and as is not uncommon, they’ve created another." The New York Times had mistakenly reported that nitrous oxide accounted for 7.2 percent of the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. However, in the Dow Jones Newswires (May 29, 1998) the EPA said that figure was incorrect. "The level is probably closer to 2 percent." The EPA also noted that "There are still major scientific uncertainties about the contributions that catalytic converters may make to greenhouse gases."


Show Me the Numbers

Janet Yellen, chair of the president’s Council of Economic Advisors testified before the House Committee on Small Business on June 4 about the Administration’s economic analysis of the compliance costs of the Kyoto Protocol. Yellen ran into a hornet’s nest as she was barraged with difficult questions she could not handle.

Committee Chairman Rep. James Talent (R-Mo.) grilled Yellen for an hour and a half regarding the assumptions underlying the Administration’s economic analysis. In an attempt to ascertain the costs of compliance in the absence of so-called "market mechanisms," such as the Clean Development Mechanism, emission trading and joint implementation, Talent asked Yellen: "If you had the protocol without the sweeteners, how much more would it cost Americans at the pump?"

Yellen attempted to dodge, replying that market mechanisms were the "essence of the administration’s policy and have been from the start." She finally was forced to admit that the Administration had "not attempted to derive a good solid estimate of the cost" of compliance without the so-called market mechanisms. Talent remarked that without a baseline figure, there was no possible way to determine the costs with market mechanisms, demonstrating that the Administration is essentially pulling numbers out of thin air (BNA Daily Environment Report, June 5, 1998).

U.S. Makes CO2 Trading Proposal

In the Bonn preparatory session, the United States proposed a series of rules to govern a carbon dioxide emission trading system. The document outlines a market system of tradable emission permits that would be exchangeable between industrialized countries, businesses, non-governmental organizations, industrial groups and "brokers." Russia, Australia, Iceland, Japan, New Zealand and Norway signed on to the proposal while the European Union, Switzerland and some central European countries rejected it.

Those opposed said that the proposal would not sufficiently address environmental problems. Any scheme would have to be transparent, strictly regulated and include effective sanctions for rule-breakers. Nick Mabey of the World Wide Fund for Nature criticized the plan as too vulnerable to fraud (Agence France Presse, June 8, 1998).

Emission Limits Threaten Power Supply

A new study by Resource Data International finds that the Kyoto Protocol could eliminate 36 percent of all coal-fired power generation in the U.S., leading to a 19 percent shortfall in the projected energy supply in 2010. The study also expresses doubts about the promise of emissions trading, based on the "lack of success" of the sulfur dioxide trading system in the United States (Greenwire, May 28, 1998).


Greener Planet Slows Warming

NASA climate modeler James Hansen sparked the global warming revolution in 1988 with his declaration to Congress that mankind was warming the planet. His latest paper, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (April 1998) is somewhat of a contradiction. He candidly admits that global warming predictions are overblown, while proposing ways to surmount the political obstacles to limiting climate change.

"Ultimately the public…must decide on policies that will influence future climate," says Hansen. The "practical detection issue," according to Hansen, "is this: when will global warming be large enough to be obvious to most people? Until then, it may be difficult to achieve consensus on actions to limit climate change."

Hansen’s remedy for this apparent lack of awareness is to construct a climate index that will "provide an objective assessment of practical climate change." He couches the index in terms of helping people avoid "perceiv[ing] the latest climate fluctuation as long-term climate change." But given his frustration that most people aren’t noticing the global warming he believes is "already at hand," it seems more likely that the climate index is intended to incite the public. There is little doubt that the Al Gores of the world would exploit every spike in the climate index to foment public support for energy controls.

The climate index is a composite of the temperature index and the moisture index. Hansen claims that changes large enough to be obvious to most people occur at around one standard deviation above or below the mean. Deviations of this magnitude, says Hansen, occur even in the absence of a long-term trend in the climate index. If, however, deviations occur more than would be expected statistically under normal conditions (about one-sixth of the time) over a sustained period of time, then we can conclude that a climate trend exists.

Hansen applies his climate index to the region 30N-90N latitude and finds that the only areas approaching and maintaining a full standard deviation from the mean is Siberia and northwest North America, the two coldest air-masses on the planet. Other research has found that the only warming detected in Siberia is in the wintertime.

Another important revelation is that the rate of growth of greenhouse gas climate forcing has been decreasing since the late 1970s where it peaked at about 0.04 W/m2 (watts per meter squared) per year. "The decline," says Hansen, "is dramatic when compared with ‘business-as-usual’ scenarios, which assume continued growth of the annual increment of greenhouse gases." Carbon dioxide’s growth rate, for example, has remained flat for 20 years even though there has been an increase in fossil fuel use. According to Hansen, "Apparently the rate of uptake by CO2 sinks, either the ocean, or, more likely, forests and soils, has increased." Methane (another important greenhouse gas) growth rates have plummeted over the last several years, though we don’t know why.

Hansen concludes that "Climate forcing by greenhouse gases in the real world has been falling far short of the ‘1% CO2’ transient scenario," that was assumed by transient climate change studies. In fact, actual greenhouse forcing is about half that much. As a result there has been about 0.1 degrees C warming per decade rather than the 0.3 degrees predicted by the models.

Hansen’s two main conclusions – that warming occurs mostly in Siberia and northwest North America, and that warming is much smaller than expected because the earth is getting greener – are strikingly similar to arguments that the so- called skeptics have been making all along.

Glacial Retreat

Research presented at the Boston meeting of the American Geophysical Union suggests that glaciers are retreating rapidly. In 50 to 70 years, says Mark Meier of Colorado University’s Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, the glaciers in Montana’s Glacier National Park could disappear entirely. Other glaciers throughout the world have also been retreating. Meier blames manmade causes: "I’m convinced there is a detectable human influence in the pattern of climate change that we are seeing." (Anchorage Daily News, May 29, 1998)

The article does not address how the rate of glacier retreat has varied over the last century. Fred Singer, president of the Science and Environmental Policy Project, points out that "If recession was initially rapid and then slowed, then it is very likely the result of the rapid rise in temperature between 1860 and 1940 as the Earth recovered from the Little Ice Age – and not from any global warming due to higher concentrations of CO2."

Indeed, data shows that glaciers have been receding more slowly in recent years. The World Glacier Monitoring Service in Zurich, Switzerland, in a 1989 Science article, noted that more than 70 percent of the 625 mountain glaciers in the [mid-latitude] United States, Soviet Union, Iceland, Switzerland, Austria, and Italy were in retreat between 1926 and 1960. After 1980, 55 percent of these same glaciers were advancing (for further information, see www.sepp.org/controv/glaciers.html).

Methane Buildup Slowing

Methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, is accumulating more slowly in the atmosphere than previously thought, according to researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). If the trend continues, methane concentrations in the atmosphere will soon stabilize "miraculously stemming some 20% of the burgeoning greenhouse gas problem." The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had projected that methane would continue to buildup in the atmosphere, doubling by the year 2100. This new research will require a rethinking of global warming projections (Greenwire, May 28, 1998).


The Fourth Session of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention (COP-4) is being held in Buenos Aires from November 2-13, 1998. Organizations interested in applying for accreditation to the conference as an NGO should write a letter stating their interest to:

Horacio Peluffo

External Relations Officer

Conference and Information Support

United Nations - Climate Change Secretariat

Haus Carstanjen, Martin-Luther-King-Strasse, 8

D-53175 Bonn, Germany

Tel: (49-228) 815-1506

E-mail: hpeluffo@unfccc.de

FCCC Tel.: (49-228) 815-1000

Fax: (49-228) 815-1999

E-mail: secretariat@unfccc.de

Web address: http://www.unfccc.de

The Competitive Enterprise Institute has produced a book and a highlights video based on The Costs of Kyoto conference held in July 1997. Both the book and the video are available for $15 or buy both for $25. To order call CEI at (202) 331-1010, or e-mail to info@cei.org.