Vol. II, No. 14

Vol. II, No. 14

July 08, 1998

Politics

Little Progress Made in Bonn

The Clinton Administration’s prospects of meeting the conditions set under the Byrd/Hagel resolution diminished significantly at the meeting of the subsidiary bodies of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Bonn, Germany on June 2-12. The Byrd/Hagel resolution, adopted by the Senate last year, states that the U.S. Senate will not ratify any climate change treaty that does not include emissions reductions targets and timetables for developing countries, or that will be harmful the U.S. economy.

The Bonn meeting was held to iron out the procedural and methodological details regarding implementation of the Kyoto Protocol and to prepare an agenda for the November meeting in Buenos Aires. Key items on the agenda included the application of the three cooperative mechanisms – the Clean Development Mechanism, emissions trading, and joint implementation – developing country commitments, forestry and land use issues, among others.

No agreement could be reached regarding the cooperative mechanisms. Of the three mechanisms, emissions trading proved to be the most controversial. The U.S., supported by several developed countries, presented a proposal that would allow unlimited emission trading, while the European Union proposed caps on emission trading. In the end the

delegates could only agree to a "compilation document" that included all of the proposals. The delegates agreed to clarify language regarding forestry and land use (Failsafe, July 1998).

The Group of 77 and China, a bloc of more than 100 developing countries, refused to accept an agenda item for Buenos Aires to discuss developing country commitments. A Saudi delegate said that the issue of developing country participation was settled in Kyoto and would not be revisited (BNA Daily Environment Report, June 8, 1998).

House Committee Keeps Tough Language

The House Appropriations Committee approved on June 26th a $7.4 billion spending plan for the Environmental Protection Agency. The bill also includes a provision stating that none of the money can be used "for the purpose of implementation, or in contemplation of implementation" of the protocol. The committee successfully fended off attempts to soften this language.

The Clinton Administration is complaining that the provision will prevent them from "setting energy-efficiency standards, pushing industry to adopt such measures, or looking for ways to ‘give credit’ to companies that lower their emissions before the treaty is implemented." The bill may face a veto, says the Administration, unless the anti-protocol language is removed (Greenwire, June 26, 1998).

Also, Congress cut $200 million from appropriations bills requested by the Administration for energy efficiency and development of renewable technologies, and essentially ignored President Clinton’s $6.3 billion, five-year climate initiative (AP Online, July 7, 1998).

NAFTA Countries Agree to Implement the Kyoto Protocol

Environmental ministers from the United States, Canada, and Mexico agreed on June 26th to work together to develop greenhouse gas emission offset projects under the Kyoto Protocol. The council for the Commission on Environmental Cooperation (CEC), formed under a side pact to the North American Free Trade Agreement, released a statement which reads in part, "Within the framework of the protocol, the CEC will work with the three nations and the private sector to develop North American opportunities for the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM)."

The CDM is a mechanism whereby developed countries can earn emission offsets by transferring "environmentally friendly energy technologies" to developing countries. Under the agreement Canada and the United States will transfer technology to Mexico. European Union officials, however, want to include Mexico among the industrialized nations under the Kyoto Protocol because it is a member of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (BNA Daily Environment Report, July 2, 1998).

Kyoto Protocol Reassessed

An article appearing in Foreign Affairs (July/August 1998) takes a look at the long-term prospects for the Kyoto Protocol. The goal of the climate treaty is to stabilize emissions at levels that are not dangerous to the economy or ecosystems. While it is not certain what this means, the authors use the European Union recommendation of stabilizing emissions at twice pre-industrial levels. To reach this goal without developing county participation would require the participating countries to become net carbon sinks. And even this, according to the authors, would only slow global warming. If the industrial countries are serious about stabilizing greenhouse gas emissions, they must pay the developing countries to reduce their emissions, say the authors.

The authors point out that "it will be nearly impossible to slow warming appreciably without condemning much of the world to poverty," unless large sums of money are spent on R&D to reduce reliance on CO2 emitting energy sources.

The Clinton Administration’s plan does spend money on R&D, but, say the authors, the plan is faulty. The first stage of the plan calls for spending money on tax incentives and R&D expenditures "to encourage energy efficiency and the use of cleaner energy sources." Then, according to the Administration’s plan, "after a decade of experience, a decade of data, a decade of technological innovation," whichever administration is in office in 2007 will cap emissions and implement a domestic trading system. However, at the end of the aforementioned decade U.S. emissions will be 20 to 25 percent higher than 1990 levels.

"It is simply laughable," say the authors, "to forecast that Washington would then impose a cap on emissions stringent enough to turn the energy economy around in three to five years."

Economics

Kyoto’s Regulatory Burden

There has been a lot of economic analysis done on the costs of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. So far these analyses have concentrated on the costs to households and businesses of higher fossil fuel prices. In a new study, Mark P. Mills of Mills-McCarthy Associates Inc., looks at the costs of regulatory compliance, including staff time, consulting support, and legal services. For many businesses, according to Mills, these costs will exceed the costs of higher fuel prices. Other costs include the bureaucratic and administrative costs that will be financed by taxpayers.

The reason these costs will be so high is that under the Clean Air Act, once a substance is classified as a pollutant, any business that emits over 100 tons per year of the pollutant becomes a stationary source and subject to EPA regulation. Thus, according to Mills, such a classification for CO2 would bring one million businesses under the authority of the EPA.

Nearly all manufacturing businesses would become regulated, according to the study. The only businesses to escape would be average to small sized print shops and textile shops. The rest, totaling some 300,000 firms would be regulated. About 400,000 mid-sized to large commercial buildings would fall under EPA regulation, including 28 percent of all educational buildings and 25 percent of all medical/health care facilities. Over 150,000 farming businesses and over 100,000 commercial trucking businesses would also be regulated.

Mills also discusses the potential for reducing CO2 emissions or substituting alternative energy sources for fossil fuels. He points out that "Unlike emissions of certain substances that can be harmful, carbon dioxide emissions are not an unwanted by-product, or pollutant, arising from contaminants present in the basic fuel sources. Carbon dioxide emissions are the intended outcome of oxidizing the carbon in the fuel to obtain energy. There is thus no avoiding, or cleaning up, carbon from the fuel source. Carbon is the fuel source." This sets the regulation of CO2 apart from the regulation of substances such as sulfur dioxide (SO2) which environmentalists claim is a good model for regulating CO2.

As to the use of alternative energy sources, Mills argues that such solutions "are not conceivable." Achieving the same amount of growth in energy supply in the next two decades as was supplied by nuclear power over the last 20 years would require that "the entire portfolio of renewable energy sources would have to be increased by 3,000 percent." Such a feat is impossible, according to Mills. In any case the growth in nuclear power over the last 20 years only accounted for 30 percent of the total increase in national energy supply, the rest was supplied by fossil fuels.

The study can be downloaded from www.greeningearthsociety.com.

Canada Will Be Hard Hit by Kyoto

A new study by Standard and Poor’s DRI, a Toronto-based think tank, says the compliance with the Kyoto Protocol could cost the Canadian economy between $5,000 and $7,000 per person in lost production. The study also says that it could take ten years for the Canadian economy to recover. It goes on to say that Alberta and Saskatchewan, which will be particularly hard hit, may never recover. Alberta’s Premier Ralph Klein says that "Certainly the position as it now stands to reduce by six percent 1990 levels by the year 2010 is unacceptable and we think would have dire economic consequences for the province of Alberta" (Calgary Herald, July 5, 1998).

Science

Warmer Temperatures Means Less Variability

One of the predictions made by climate modelers is that increases in mean global temperature will cause temperatures to become more variable and record-setting temperatures will become more frequent. An article in Climate Research (April 9, 1998) tests this hypothesis by presenting the "results from 3 different empirical analyses used to address the interrelated issues involving changes in temperature variability and trends in record-breaking extreme temperatures."

Using land surface air temperatures from the 5° latitude by 5° longitude grid cell, the researchers discovered that for the period 1947 to 1996, there was a "general decline of the within-year variance of the monthly temperature anomalies in most locations." The period 1897 to 1996 also showed an "overall decline in most areas" of temperature variance. "The result indicates," say the researchers, "that as the world warms, the intra-annual variance decreases at a statistically significant rate."

The researchers then "investigate the trends in the variation of the daily minimum and maximum temperatures within a winter and

summer month (January and July)," using historical temperature data from stations in the United States, the former Soviet Union and China. They find that "[o]verall, variance in daily maximum and minimum temperatures is generally trending downwards through the period of historical records." January’s decline, they found, is 10 times greater then July’s.

Finally, they explore the "temporal trends in the occurrence of record-breaking extreme temperatures." They found "no evidence for an increasing frequency in the number of days in which record high temperatures occur, and a statistically insignificant downward trend in the frequency of days in which record low temperatures are set."

The researchers briefly discuss the new modeling studies that predict about 1.5° C warming over the next century. "The results of these new models, along with our results and other recent findings, suggest that the climate of the next century will be characterized by a modest warming, primarily in the high latitudes in winter, with decreased season-to-season and day-to-day temperature fluctuations," they conclude.

New Light Shed on Sunspots

Professor Terry Robinson and Dr. Neil Arnold at Leicester University have constructed a computer model that may provide an explanation of how sunspots effect the climate. The model takes into account higher elevations of the atmosphere than previous models as well as the electromagnetic radiation associated with sunspots. Earlier theories argue that electromagnetic radiation heats up the outer atmosphere but is mostly dissipated by the time it reaches the Earth’s surface.

The Leicester model shows how pressure waves, the size of the whole planet, build up and vary with solar activity. These pressure waves interact with the jet stream leading to large climate changes. The computer model’s predictions correspond well with observations, but it will be some time before they can be fully tested to see if predictions of the future are born out (The Independent (London), June 27, 1998).

Weird, Wild Weather is the Norm

An article by Seth Bornstein, of Knight Ridder Newspapers, argues that the perception that the weather "has gone stark raving mad" may be more a function of "overheated media beaming each catastrophe into living rooms, and a real estate boom that has placed growing numbers of people in disaster-prone areas," than of global warming. While this year has seen more than its fair share of extremes, we should be slow to draw any conclusions.

Supporting this point is Nicholas Graham, director of experimental forecasts at the International Research Institute for Climate Prediction in La Jolla, California, who states, "We’re kind of hypersensitive because the weather during the winter was really strange. But says Graham, "The weather’s always strange. How often do you see an article saying the weather around the country has sure been normal?"

William Gray, a hurricane prognosticator at Colorado State University says that, "I don’t think the case can be made that there’s more extremes of weather now than in the past. We’ve always had unusual weather – floods, droughts, and everything."

Gary Kerney, assistant vice president of Property Claim Services, which tracks catastrophes for the insurance industry, definitely feels the media has played a major part in the erroneous perception of more extreme weather. He says that when he entered the business in 1981, "There could be tremendous damage, death and injuries caused by severe weather events in Kansas, for example, and you never heard about them in the media reports" (The Arizona Republic, July 5, 1998).

Are the World’s Coral Reefs in Danger?

Recently there has been a lot of concern expressed about the health of the world’s coral reefs. And of course global warming has been fingered as a possible culprit. Estimates of coral damage say that 10 percent of the world’s coral reefs have been damaged beyond repair and

another 60 percent will decline dramatically over the next 40 years.

But, according to Robert Ginsburg, a marine geology professor with the University of Miami, there is no way to know whether these estimates are accurate. "There are vast reef areas remote from civilization that have never been studied," Ginsburg said. "How can anyone make a global evaluation?" Ginsburg, the founder of the International Year of the Reef, hopes to find out the truth about the condition of the planet’s reefs. But as of yet we do not know enough to warrant predictions of their decline (The Miami Herald, June 8, 1998).

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  • Like night follows day, the Clinton Administration has once again blamed a natural disaster on manmade global warming. While surveying the wildfires in Florida Vice President Al Gore once again took the opportunity to push his global warming agenda. He said, for example, "there’s only a one in one-thousandth [sic] chance that this is normal without the effects of global warming factored in" (Reuters, June 30, 1998).

     

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Gore also argued that "These fires offer a glimpse of what global warming may mean to families across America. And that is why it is so critical that we get on with the job of cutting greenhouse gas emissions. Working together, we can spare other communities like those we have seen here today" (The White House Bulletin, June 29, 1998). Gore took the opportunity to unveil a new website called Florida Wildfires and Climate Extremes maintained by the NOAA at http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/o1/climate/research/1998/fla/florida.html#change.

     

  • In the June issue of the Atlantic Monthly Ross Gelbspan writes, "While the climate crisis contains staggering destructive potential, it also contains a extraordinary opportunity to expand the wealth and stability of the global economy." He goes on to say that to keep the earth’s atmosphere in the "hospitable state we have enjoyed for the past 10,000 years," the nations of the world will need to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 50 to 70 percent. This would require virtually eliminating gasoline powered cars and coal fired power plants. "[T]he economic activity this would stimulate," according to Gelbspan, "could provide significant employment for oil and coal workers, who could be retrained to manufacture . . . windmills, solar-energy systems and fuel cells" (Greenwire, June 25, 1998).

     

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Announcements

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