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Vol. VI, No. 5
Vol. VI, No. 5
March 05, 2002
European Union Agrees to Ratify Kyoto
The European Union’s environment ministers agreed on March 4 to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. In 1997 the EU agreed to reduce its emissions of greenhouse gases to eight percent below 1990 levels, but so far has not ratified the agreement.
Although the move is being hailed as a major step forward, “The impact of the announcement was marred when EU member governments failed to set their own emission levels to meet Kyoto targets,” according to the Guardian (March 5, 2002). “Individual targets will now be decided by the European Commission.”
The commission also took the opportunity to call for renewed U.S. participation in the Kyoto process. “By taking this decision, the EU has reaffirmed its commitment to pursuing multilateral solutions to issues of global concern,” the commission said. “The EU continues to call for the United States to participate in the global framework for addressing climate change.”
The move clears the way for the EU formally to approve Kyoto at its summit in Barcelona in a couple of weeks. As noted by Radio Free Europe (March 4, 2002), “Today’s decision also commits all 15 EU member states to deposit their individual ratification instruments with the United Nations together with the communal EU decision by June 1.” It remains to be seen whether the countries will follow through with the commitment made by their respective environment ministers.
The Netherlands is the only EU country to begin the ratification process, successfully piloting Kyoto through the lower house of parliament, but still needs to push it through the upper house for full ratification. The only Annex I countries to submit their ratification instruments to the United Nations are Romania and the Czech Republic.
Kyoto Too Expensive for Canada
It is unlikely that Canada will be able to achieve its Kyoto targets without significant harm to the economy, Nancy Hughes Anthony, President and CEO of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, said at a press conference on March 4.
Hughes accused the Canadian government of being less than honest with Canadians. “They are leaving the impression,” said Hughes, “that all it will take is for businesses to readily adopt new processes and for consumers to change their behavior overnight. Then Canada could meet its commitment of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 30 percent by the year 2012.”
Hughes noted that the government’s Climate Change Website claims that consumers can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by buying energy efficient appliances and conserving on home heating. But this is deceptive, says Hughes. “Consumers will be asked to do a lot more.”
The burden on industry will be enormous, according to Hughes. “As Canadian industries bring in new technologies and fuel sources, it just isn’t feasible to get them broadly in place by 2012.” Many of the technologies, such as fuel cells, that the government is relying on to meet its targets are still “mostly pilot projects,” said Hughes.
“It is unlikely that we will see fleet replacement with fuel cells in ten years when only prototypes are available now,” she said. “The technology is still being developed. Then we will need to allow companies time to retire existing fleets of trucks and cars. Then there is the infrastructure to support this new fuel source.”
Moreover, forcing companies to accelerate the retirement of plants and equipment will leave them with stranded investment costs that will be passed on to consumers and shareholders.
A major obstacle to Canada’s compliance with Kyoto is its trade relationship with the U.S. Hughes pointed out that the U.S. has reduced greenhouse gas emissions by importing natural gas and nuclear- and hydro-generated electricity from Canada. “Yet the generation and production of these increases Canada’s overall emissions.” Even though the federal government has lobbied to receive credit for clean energy exports, “It is not clear when or if this will be successfully achieved.”
She also pointed out how competitively devastating it would be for Canada to ratify the treaty, while the U.S., which buys 87 percent of Canada’s exports, stays out.
The Canadian Chamber of Commerce calculates that Canada’s cost of complying with Kyoto would be a loss of about $30 billion per year in GDP, or a reduction of 2.5 percent. That comes to about $1,000 for every man, woman and child in Canada.
All these factors led Hughes to conclude that, “Canada cannot achieve its Kyoto targets and therefore, it would be foolish for Canada to ratify Kyoto at this time.”
No Link Between Global Warming and Malaria
A new study in the February 21 issue of Nature tests the proposition that higher incidences of malaria in the East African highlands are caused by global warming. The study’s authors, led by Simon Hay at Oxford University, could not find a link between the two phenomena.
The study examines the long term trends in meteorological data from four East African sites that have recently experienced a significant resurgence in malaria cases. As noted in the study, “The suitability of each month for Plasmodium falciparum malaria transmission depends on a combination of temperature and rainfall conditions.” The researchers looked for changes in these climate variables that might explain changes in the incidence of malaria.
What they found was that “Temperature, rainfall, vapor pressure, and the number of months suitable for P. falciparum transmission have not changed significantly during the past century or during the period of reported malaria resurgence.” These findings are not “consistent with the simplistic notion that recent malaria resurgences in these areas are caused by rising temperatures.”
The study’s authors explain that there are several other factors that have contributed to the resurgence of malaria in East Africa, including antimalarial drug resistance, population migration, and breakdowns in public health and vector control operations. Thus, according to the authors, “Economic, social and political factors can therefore explain recent resurgences in malaria and other mosquito-borne diseases with no need to invoke climate change.”
Abrupt Climate Change and the Thermohaline Circulation
Two recent studies cast doubts on the claim that global warming could lead to increased climate variability and to the cessation of the climatically important thermohaline circulation (THC). The THC is a conveyer-like circulation in the Atlantic Ocean where “Near-surface currents bring warm, saline waters from the subtropics to high northern latitudes where they are cooled by the atmosphere, sink to depths between 2,000 and 3,000 meters, and flow back south as a deep western boundary current,” according to the study in Science (February 22, 2002).
This circulation is important because, “The ocean affects climate through its high heat capacity relative to the surrounding land, thereby moderating daily, seasonal and interannual temperature fluctuations, and through its ability to transport heat from one location to another,” as noted in the study appearing in Nature (February 21, 2002). If the THC were to cease, it would lead to dramatic cooling in Europe.
The Nature study states that, “Most, but not all, coupled GCM [global circulation model] projections of the twenty-first century climate show a reduction in the strength of the Atlantic overturning circulation with increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases - if the warming is strong enough and sustained long enough, a complete collapse cannot be excluded.”
But due to model deficiencies and uncertainties about how the climate system responds to greenhouse forcings, it is difficult to determine the likelihood of future changes in the THC. To remedy this problem, the authors believe that scientists should examine the palaeoclimate record, which “provides the fundamental basis for evaluating the ability of models to correctly simulate behavior of the THC.”
What the palaeoclimate record shows us is that abrupt climate changes due to changes in the THC are not characteristic of the current warm interglacial period known as the Holocene. But such changes “were characteristic of the last glaciation.” The authors conclude that, “The palaeoclimate data and the model results … indicate that the stability of the thermohaline circulation depends on the mean climate state.” Since abrupt changes are confined to glacial periods and not characteristic of interglacial periods it is unlikely that global warming will have any effect on the THC.
The study appearing in Science attempts to find an explanation for abrupt climate changes that have been discovered in the palaeoclimate data. The study notes that, “In contrast to the relatively stable climate of the past 10,000 years, during glacial times the North Atlantic region experienced large-amplitude transitions between cold (stadial) and warm (interstadial) states.”
Using climate models, the authors determine that “reduced calving of icebergs into the North Atlantic after a widespread ice sheet surge constitutes a trigger for the rapid glacial warming events,” which follow a few hundred years later.
In other words, ice sheet surges during glacial periods are characterized by rapid calving of icebergs that inject fresh water into the North Atlantic, reducing salinity. The resulting fall in sea water density prevents sinking, which then stops the THC.
The rapid calving that follows the ice sheet surge causes the ice streams to retreat from the coastline, and calving eventually ceases. Over time, the absence of freshwater input leads to greater salinity and the THC starts up again leading to an abrupt warming.
Both of these studies demonstrate that, contrary to climate model predictions, a warmer climate is more stable and that colder glacial climates are subject to significant climate variability and more extreme weather events.
A Warmer Climate Means Less El Niño Activity
Another issue related to global warming and climate variability is the claim that a warmer climate will lead to greater El Niño activity. A study in the February 22 issue of Science shows that a warmer climate will likely lead to lesser rather than greater El Niño activity.
The authors examine the oxygen isotope profiles of excavated otoliths - “aragonite structures in fish used for acoustic perception and balance” - from Peruvian sea catfish. Because the oxygen that is incorporated into the otoliths is in isotopic equilibrium with the seawater, scientists can use them to derive past sea surface temperatures.
What they found was that during the mid-Holocene, from around 6,000 years ago, sea surface temperatures were three to four degrees C higher than they were over the decade of the 1990s. The authors cite several studies that show that El Niño conditions did not exist prior to 5,000 years ago, which mean that warm sea surface temperature are likely to reduce El Niño activity rather than heighten it.
· Canada’s environment minister, David Anderson, recently requested that his colleagues in the cabinet begin driving small, more fuel efficient cars. According to the Guardian of London (March 4, 2002), “His fellow cabinet members ignored him, or muttered about the symbolic importance of being chauffeured around in big (meaning prestigious) cars.”
“The Liberal government talks the talk, but will not drive the drive,” said acting Canadian Alliance leader John Reynolds in the House of Commons. “How can the prime minister or the minister of the environment expect Canadians to sacrifice so much for the sake of Kyoto when his own ministers will not even trade their taxpayer-funded cars for environmentally-friendly vehicles?”
THE COOLER HEADS COALITION
Alexis de Tocqueville Institution
Americans for Tax Reform
American Legislative Exchange Council
American Policy Center
Association of Concerned Taxpayers
Center for Security Policy
Citizens for a Sound Economy
Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow
Competitive Enterprise Institute
Defenders of Property Rights
Frontiers of Freedom
George C. Marshall Institute
National Center for Policy Analysis
National Center for Public Policy Research
Pacific Research Institute
60 Plus Association
Small Business Survival Committee