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Vol. V, No. 8

Cooler Heads Digest

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Vol. V, No. 8

Global Warming’s Budget Blues

President George W. Bush’s proposed federal budget for FY2002 begins to reverse some of the spending on climate change programs favored by the Clinton-Gore Administration. The Department of Energy’s budget, for instance, cuts renewable energy technology programs by $135.7 million, a 36.4 percent decrease for 2002. Biomass technology programs would be cut by 6.7 percent.

Funding for hydropower technology is cut in half and hydrogen research by 48 percent. Solar research is cut by 37 percent. These cuts make a lot of sense given the billions of dollars wasted on renewable energy programs over the last 25 years, which have yielded few demonstrable economic or environmental benefits, according to several government studies and reviews.

Unfortunately, some other energy research subsidies see an increase in proposed funding. Bush’s energy budget requests $150 million in grants to states for the clean coal research and development program. It would also increase carbon sequestration studies by ten percent, from $18.7 million to $20.7 million.

To offset reductions in renewable energy research, the budget will add $1.4 billion for the Weatherization Assistance grant program over the next 10 years and increase biomass research by $30 million.

Bush’s budget also makes a modest cut in the US Global Change Research Programs budget of $200,000, as well as a cut of $528,000 in the Environmental Protection Agency’s climate programs (Greenwire, April 11, 2001).

Pronk Threatens US with Trade Sanctions

Mr. Jan Pronk, Holland’s environment minister and president of the Sixth Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, attacked the Bush Administration’s decision to walk away from the Kyoto Protocol in a February 17 speech in Washington, D. C. He went on to threaten trade sanctions against the US if it did not return to the “Kyoto family.”

Describing himself as “guardian of a multilateral process,” Pronk told an international conference that policy reviews were to be expected when countries changed governments, but this review must be within the international framework. No one country has the right to make a unilateral decision to abandon Kyoto.

Pronk also said that he was willing to make large concessions to the US position on contentious issues in order to keep “the family” together. In his personal view, everything is on the table except for the Protocol itself—that is, the targets and timetables. To start all over at this stage would waste the immense work already done. But he cautioned that it would be up to all the parties to decide what could be negotiated. Pronk has published his own compromise proposals on the convention’s web site (www.unfcc.de). These proposals actually allow greater reliance on carbon sinks and emissions trading than those the Clinton Administration made at last November’s COP-6 meeting in the Hague. Thus it appears that Pronk is willing to do almost anything to save the Kyoto negotiations.

Pronk’s speech was given at the “Equity and Global Climate Change” conference sponsored by the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. He made similar remarks at a press conference at the National Press Club the next day, May 18.

Other speakers included: Senator Sam Brownback (R—Kansas); Klaus Topfer, head of the UN Environment Programme; Raul Estrada-Oyeula, Argentina’s special representative for the environment who chaired the Kyoto negotiations in 1997; Australian environment minister Robert Hill; and Kazuo Asakai, Japan’s ambassador for international environmental and economic affairs. The Pew Center is one of the principal industry-front groups supporting the Kyoto Protocol. It is funded primarily by the Pew Charitable Trusts, which were created out of the Sun Oil fortune.

Japan Not Likely to Sign Kyoto

The European Union has vowed to push for ratification of the Kyoto Protocol without the United States. For the Kyoto Protocol to enter into force, it is necessary for Annex I countries (those which have emission reduction targets) representing 55 percent of Annex I greenhouse gas emissions ratify the treaty.

Australia’s Environment Minister, Senator Robert Hill, has said that his country will not ratify the treaty ahead of the United States (Associated Press, April 15, 2001). More importantly, according to the Washington Times (April 11, 2001), Japan will not ratify the Kyoto Protocol either. “At this moment, Japan is not thinking of ratifying the protocol without the United States,” said Hakariko Ono, spokesman for a delegation of Japanese environmental ministers that met with Bush officials last week. Without Japan and the United States, it is no longer possible to reach the 55 percent threshold required to activate Kyoto.

The EU’s rhetoric suggests a bit of deviousness on their part, however. “We had quite a positive statement and quite a positive message from Iran which represents a group of 77 developing nations, and also from Russia and China, about going on even without the United States,” said Swedish Environment Minister Kjell Larsson. “I think we have very strong support for the treaty from all countries but the United States.”

It seems that the EU is attempting a sleight-of-hand reinterpretation of the Kyoto provision on ratification by saying that countries representing 55 percent of global greenhouse emissions is needed for Kyoto to come into force, which could be easily achieved without the US. In reality a total of 55 countries must ratify Kyoto with a sufficient number of Annex I countries representing 55 percent of Annex I emissions. Ratification by the group of 77 or by China or India does not count toward the 55 percent emissions threshold.

Kyoto Targets Beyond Reach?

Much bluster is coming from the European Union about going ahead with the Kyoto Protocol without the United States. There may be one little problem, however. According to the American Council for Capital Formation, none of the Annex I countries is in a position to meet its Kyoto targets, which must be met in the 2008-2012 period.

Analyses by the European Commission, the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change, the Australian Bureau of Agriculture and Resource Economics, the US Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration, and the private consulting firm, WEFA, “conclude that since EU members do not have in place legislation to sharply curb energy use, achieving compliance with the protocol is unlikely.”

“Neither the United States nor the EU can afford the costly and politically destabilizing sacrifices in economic growth required to meet the Kyoto targets,” said ACCF’s Chief Economist and Senior Vice President, Margo Thorning (Washington Post, April 6, 2001).

Climate Models: “Unchanging with Time”

Recent media accounts of the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change give the distinct impression that climate models, the primary source of global warming concerns, are getting more accurate all the time. A news article in Science (April 13, 2001), however, sets the record straight.

According to the author, Richard A. Kerr, “But while new knowledge gathered since the IPCC’s last report in 1995 has increased many researchers’ confidence in the models, in some vital areas, uncertainties have actually grown.” Gerald North of Texas A&M University in College Station said that, “It’s extremely hard to tell whether the models have improved” since the last IPCC report. “The uncertainties are large.”

Peter Stone, an MIT climate modeler, said, “The major [climate prediction] uncertainties have not been reduced at all.” And cloud physicist Robert Charlson, professor emeritus at the University of Washington, Seattle, said, “To make it sound like we understand climate is not right.”

The three main areas of uncertainty are detection of global warming, attribution of warming to greenhouse gases, and projecting future warming, Kerr writes. Detection is probably the closest to being resolved of the three. The IPCC puts warming at 0.6 degrees ±0.2 degrees centigrade with a 95 percent confidence level.

Attribution of global warming to anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases is much more difficult, however. The IPCC claims, “…most of the observed warming over the last 50 years is likely [66 percent to 90 percent chance] to have been due to the increase of greenhouse gas concentrations.”

Some modelers, such as Jerry Mahlman with NOAA and John Mitchell at the UK’s Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research, think the models are getting better. The models are “getting quite a remarkable agreement,” with reality, said Mitchell.

“That’s stretching it a bit,” said John Christy of the University of Alabama at Huntsville. Stone argues that human attribution “may be right,” but, “I just know of no objective scientific basis for that.” Tim Barnett of Scripps Institution of Oceanography and Jeffrey Kiehl of the National Center for Atmospheric Research concur.