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Is the Kyoto Protocol dead? Thats what some Washington insiders believe or profess to believe.
Heres their argument. The Senate will not ratify Kyoto until it is amended (as per the Byrd-Hagel resolution) to obligate participation by developing countries; Kyoto cant be amended until it enters into force; but it cant enter into force until the Senate ratifies it. Since Kyoto cant be amended, it wont be ratified. And since the United States is the pivotal actor (neither Japan nor the European Union will ratify if the U.S. refuses to do so), Kyoto is dead. QED!
This tidy assessment underestimates the mutability of the political battlefield. Granted, the Senate would not ratify Kyoto today. But what if an extreme weather event kills thousands of Americans and the media blame global warming? What if more developing countries, like Argentina, pledge to limit their emissions? What if more corporations like Enron jump on the global warming bandwagon? If corporate America waffles, can the U.S. Senate be far behind?
Senators Connie Mack (R-FL), John Chafee (R-RI), and Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) seem to desire just such a shift in business attitudes, as they have introduced legislation that would turn U.S. corporations into pro-Kyoto lobbyists.
Under the "Credit for Voluntary Early Action Act," companies that reduce their energy emissions before 2008 will earn credits usable in any future mandatory emission control regime (read: the Kyoto Protocol). Since the credits cant be cashed in unless Kyoto is ratified, the bill creates incentives for participating companies to lobby for the Protocol.
That greenhouse apostles like Chafee and Lieberman want to reward compliance with a non-ratified treaty is unsurprising. But why is Connie Mack giving them cover?
Sen. Mack says the proposed program would be "voluntary" and "not require actions." Yet the bill authorizes the President or "any Federal agency" chosen by him to negotiate "early action agreements" with companies. If EPA officials broach the topic of early action with a company over which they have permitting, inspection, or enforcement authority, how could the discussion not imply a threat of coercion?
Sen. Mack also pleads a version of the Precautionary Principle. Global warming might prove to be a real problem, and future Congresses might mandate emission controls. The early action program will reduce both the likelihood of global warming and the costs of any future regulatory intervention.
This rationale flops. Even a fully implemented Kyoto Protocol would not limit greenhouse gases enough to discernibly cool the planet. "Voluntary" early action would be even less consequential. Sen. Macks Kyoto-Lite bill offers no protection from hypothetical global warming.
As to the claim that early action agreements will protect companies from the regulatory zeal of future Congresses, Sen. Mack should ponder these questions: What is the risk Kyoto-Lite will grease the skids for a bad treaty? What is the risk that a ratified Protocol will become the first of many energy-suppression agreements? Finally, what is the risk that an energy-starved world will be a world of starving people?