Competitive Enterprise Institute | 1899 L ST NW Floor 12, Washington, DC 20036 | Phone: 202-331-1010 | Fax: 202-331-0640
Countdown to COP-6
The Kyoto Protocol’s loose ends were supposed to be wrapped up at the sixth Conference of Parties to the U. N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, which will meet in the Hague, Netherlands, November 13-24. It isn’t looking that way now, and senior negotiators have started to play the lowering expectations game.
The Third Assessment Report (TAR) of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is not due to be released until early 2001. But two weeks prior to the US presidential election, a draft of the Summary for Policymakers was leaked to the press.
The nation’s major news outlets seized on the Summary’s dramatic findings. The New York Times (October 28, 2000) reported that the IPCC “has now concluded that mankind’s contribution to the problem is greater than originally believed,” and that, “Its worst-case scenario calls for a truly unnerving rise of 11 degrees F over 1990 levels.”
Vice President Al Gore immediately touted the leaked draft in his campaign speeches. “Unless we act, the average temperature is going to go up 10 or 11 degrees. The storms will get stronger. The weather patterns will change. But it does not have to happen, and it won’t happen if we put our minds to solving the problem, and that is one of the reasons I am running for president,” said Gore (CNN Morning News, October 27, 2000).
The lack of media attention to the blatantly political motives in leaking the report was revealing, but so too was the uncritical acceptance of the Summary as a straightforward scientific document. Apparently, in their eagerness to support Gore, the TV networks and major newspapers conveniently forgot that the Summary for Policymakers that accompanied the Second Assessment Report was widely discredited as a political document that didn’t reflect the scientific report itself.
It should not come as a surprise, therefore, that the TAR Summary is essentially a political document designed to scare waverers back into the true Kyoto faith. In a briefing paper, Kenneth Green, director of the Reason Public Policy Institute’s environment program and a TAR technical reviewer, writes that, “Predictions of future changes rest upon speculative changes that were not reviewed by technical reviewers of the main report.”
Green’s paper, Mopping up After the Leak, which is available on the RPPI’s web site (www.rppi.org ), continues: “The leaked Summary for Policymakers is not peer-reviewed, the author is anonymous, the document is created independently of the actual Assessment Report, and the Summary is so short that issues are overly simplified.”
Vincent Gray, a climate scientist in New Zealand, makes similar criticisms in e-mail comments. He also notes the following statement in the final draft version of the TAR: “The fact that the global mean temperature has increased since the late nineteenth century and that other trends have been observed does not mean that an anthropogenic effect on the climate system has been identified (chapter 1, page 15).” It is doubtful whether that statement will be reported by Dan Rather or appear in Al Gore’s campaign speeches.
The European Union’s parliamentary environment committee on October 16 adopted a resolution providing guidance to the EU Commission on the upcoming COP-6 negotiations in the Hague. In addition to calling on all parties to ratify the Kyoto Protocol and for an agreement to set a “legally binding global emissions ceiling” on greenhouse gases, the EU environment committee aimed harsh language at the US Congress.
The resolution states, “The committee appeals to members of the US Senate and House of Representatives to drop their resistance to the principles agreed in Kyoto and to do justice to their responsibility to combat the greenhouse effect.” No comments from members of Congress have been reported.
On October 25, Ray Evans of Melbourne, Australia spoke to a Cooler Heads Coalition meeting about the Australian political climate regarding the Kyoto Protocol. In 1997 at Kyoto, Australia agreed to a greenhouse gas target of 8 percent above 1990 levels. Business-as-usual scenarios estimate that by 2010 Australia’s emissions of greenhouse gases would be 45 percent above 1990 levels.
The federal government took the position that, “The Kyoto regime is inevitable, and that Australia should be amongst the very first countries to introduce a comprehensive carbon withdrawal regime, characterized by the sale of government permits at auction at regular intervals, and subsequent trading of those permits through the Sydney Futures Exchange,” according to Evans.
Although energy intensive industries grew concerned over the government’s position, there was little overall dissent and the government proceeded to devise a carbon withdrawal system. However, recent events have raised the real possibility that no Australian government is likely to recommend ratification of Kyoto and that no future parliament is likely to ratify it.
Industry Minister Nick Minchin convinced the Howard government over Environment Minister Robert Hill’s objections to grant exemptions from Australia’s greenhouse gas obligations to multi-billion-dollar investments to expand natural gas production on the Northwest Shelf. (See page 4 article in the Age, September 23, 2000).
According to Evans, “Thus for the first time the Government had to decide between carbon withdrawal on the one hand, and jobs and investment on the other. It decided for jobs. This precedent is of very great importance.”
Parliament is beginning to have grave doubts about the wisdom of ratifying the Kyoto Protocol. The Joint Standing Committee on Treaties (JSCOT) is conducting “a wide-ranging review of Kyoto, including the scientific basis for global warming and carbon withdrawal, and for the first time back-bench parliamentarians are beginning to appreciate the extent of the economic damage which will hit Australia if legislation is passed introducing a carbon tax regime of the kind envisaged by the Australian Greenhouse Office.”
Labor Party parliamentarians who represent workers in energy intensive industries are beginning to balk at the idea of carbon withdrawal. “Once a key group within the opposition Labor Party becomes deeply concerned at the consequences of Kyoto, the prospect of any Australian Government ratifying Kyoto simply vanishes,” said Evans. “Questions now dominating the minds of the ALP [Australian Labor Party] members of JSCOT are about the mechanisms and consequences of withdrawal, in particular the possibility of trade sanctions being imposed on Australian exports.”
The coal industry appears split over whom to support as the next president of the United States. Coal mining companies favor George W. Bush, while the coal miners’ union favors Al Gore. Ben Greene, chief lobbyist for the West Virginia Mining and Reclamation Association, doesn’t believe there is anything Gore could say to convince the industry to support him. “He may come in and say, ‘I’m with Senator Byrd on money for clean coal technology, and we’ve got to protect our miners,” Greene said. “But if you look at Kyoto and you look at the book [Earth in the Balance] and you look at the Environmental Protection Agency in the last eight years, I don’t take much comfort in any of that.”
The union has a different take, however. “Someone has suggested that George Bush is for coal miners,” said United Mine Workers of America President Cecil Roberts. “There is a distinction to be made here. I do believe George Bush may be for coal companies, but he isn’t for coal miners,” said Roberts. “Most important though to UMWA members, Mr. Gore has said that if he is elected president … he will keep the promise to our retirees of health care benefits for life” (Charleston Gazette, October 27, 2000). Sounds like the real distinction is between working and retired coal miners.
Two recent polls, one by Ohio State University and the other by Rasmussen Research, now have Bush ahead of Gore in West Virginia (www.atinews.com ). This suggests that Mr. Roberts’s view doesn’t reflect that of many of his union’s members.
Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) has introduced a bill to create an “International Climate Change Science Commission.” The bill would authorize the president of the United States “to negotiate an international agreement to establish an international commission comprised of scientists whose qualifications and experience qualifies them to conduct scientific, unbiased, politically and economically neutral assessments of global climate change, the factors involved in such change, the consequences of such change, and the potential effect of measures undertaken for the purpose of affecting global climate change.”
What McCain hopes to accomplish by this is unclear. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the US Global Change Research Program were both created to accomplish this very goal. The problem is that both have been so thoroughly politicized that they have become harmful to the public’s understanding of the scientific debate.
Britain is still trying to deal with the general discontent among its citizens over high fuel taxes. It has been reported that Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown may propose gasoline tax cuts in his next budget. Conservative Party leader William Hague has already proposed a 3 pence per liter cut in gasoline taxes.
Environmental activists have complained about the proposed reductions. Jonathon Porritt, chairman of the government’s new Sustainable Development Commission, accused Prime Minister Tony Blair of failing to convince the British populace of the merits of high gas taxes to fight global warming.
A column in the Daily Express (October 30, 2000), however, argues that fuel taxes do little to change fuel use. “Quite a few pence here or there will make hardly any difference to the amount of petrol consumed, particularly when our railways have never been in a worse position to offer a feasible alternative,” said editorialist Richard North. “Influencing the behavior of British motorists now will probably have much less impact on the world’s climate than even a skeptical public supposes.”
North points out that in 1994 the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution claimed that a doubling of gasoline prices would reduce the number of cars on the road. But, said North, “Petrol prices have more than doubled since 1990,” without reducing the number of automobiles. Indeed, “We’ve seen continuing year-on-year increases in traffic,” says Britain’s Automobile Association.
“The message seems to be that very big price rises have a small effect,” said North. “But most of us are too well off to respond seriously to small changes. Meanwhile, poor drivers, who can’t afford the new fuel-efficient cars, but still have to use their vehicles, are hit the hardest when the price goes up.”
James Hansen, of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, recently published a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences which argued, among other things, that CO2 may not have contributed as much to global warming as previously thought, but that the warming could be explained by other emissions, such as black carbon aerosols, methane, and ozone.
Hansen’s paper made a big splash in the media and received criticism from environmentalists who believed that it gave too much ammo to global warming skeptics who argue that there’s no need to reduce CO2 emissions. Hansen has recently written an open letter (which appears to be nearly as long as the paper itself) to clarify what his paper said.
Hansen argues that his paper is merely an “alternative scenario” of how to reduce anthropogenic forcing to 1 Watt per meter squared (Wm-2) over the next 50 years. He derives the alternative scenario by noting that the CO2 produced by burning fossil fuels induces a positive 1.4 Wm-2 climate forcing. This also produces a sulfate aerosol climate forcing of negative 1.4 Wm-2, which completely cancels out the CO2 forcing. Hansen then claims that what is left is a 1.4 Wm-2 climate forcing from other greenhouse gases.
Hansen’s scenario is to reduce forcing to 1 Wm-2 over the next fifty years, which requires, he is eager to point out, some reduction in CO2. But this begs the question, If CO2 forcing is completely cancelled by sulfate aerosol forcing, what then causes global warming? Hansen’s protestations aside, his paper clearly relegates CO2 to a non-factor in climate change. Only his arbitrary choice of a forcing target of 1 Wm-2 makes its reduction necessary.
· The Greening Earth Society has just released a new book, The Greening of the American West, which features before and after photos of different locations in the American West showing changes in vegetation over the last 125 years. The book, authored by Craig and Keith Idso of the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change, shows that vegetation has increased in several areas of the Western United States, which is attributed partly to the fertilizing effects of rising concentrations of CO2. Details on how to obtain the book can be found at http://www.greeningearthsociety.org/ .
· To receive the Cooler Heads Newsletter by e-mail, please contact the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org .
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
Citizens for the Integrity of Science
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
Small Business Survival Committee