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Yawns in Bonn
The fifth Conference of the Parties (COP-5) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change concluded with little fanfare and with major decisions being put off until COP-6 in 2000. The conference had begun with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder calling on governments to ratify the Protocol so that it will be in force by 2002.
The dispute between the U.S. and the E.U. over whether there should be caps on the use of flexible mechanisms was tabled once again. But several technical issues were resolved, such as an agreement "on how to improve the rigor of national reports from industrialized countries and strengthen the guidelines for measuring their greenhouse gas emissions."
"Other decisions," according to a press release from the conference, "establish the process negotiators will follow over the coming 12 months. They will make it possible to finalize regimes for non-compliance, capacity building, emission trading, joint implementation, and a Clean Development Mechanism. They also point the way forward for determining how to address adverse effects on developing countries and how to account for net emissions from forests (which can act as carbon ‘sinks’)." The sixth Conference of the Parties will be held in The Hague on November 13-24, 2000.
Implementation Without Ratification?
The Clinton-Gore Administration has said repeatedly that it will do nothing to implement the Kyoto Protocol prior to ratification by the U.S. Senate. Several actions by the administration, however, demonstrate that they are perfectly willing to pursue reductions of CO2 in the absence of ratification. Although administration proposals such as the Clean Technology Initiative and its support for "credits for early action" may not directly implement Kyoto, they are clearly meant to grease the skids to ratification, and perhaps make such a vote a mere formality.
A recent action by the administration clearly shows they it has no respect for constitutional processes. The U.S. Senate rejected the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty by a 51-48 vote on October 13. Despite this rejection, the administration maintains that the treaty is the law of the land merely by virtue of the president’s signature.
According to an article in The Washington Times (November 2, 1999), Secretary of State Madeleine Albright wrote a letter to foreign governments stating that the U.S. is legally bound by the treaty despite the Senate’s rejection. "Despite this setback, I want to assure you that the United States will continue to act in accordance with its obligations as a signatory under international law, and will seek reconsideration of the treaty at a later date when conditions are better suited for ratification," said Secretary Albright.
State Department spokesman James Rubin said in an interview, "We believe that so long as the president…expresses his intention to seek advice and consent pending whatever timeframe he chooses, customary international law applies." In other words, as long as the administration has not given up on the treaty it is still legally bound to uphold it. The same logic could apply to Kyoto. Since President Clinton has not submitted it to the Senate for ratification, but plans to do so, the U.S. is bound to comply with its targets.
Further evidence of the administration’s disrespect for the law is its latest attack on coal-fired power plants. Thwarted by the D.C. Court of Appeals in its attempts to impose overly stringent air-quality standards on utilities in Midwestern states, the Environmental Protection Agency has brought suit against seven electric utility companies for emissions at coal-fired power plants.
According to Ken Maize, editor of Electricity Daily (November 8, 1999), "EPA has concocted a novel, backdoor approach (to lower NOx emissions): claiming that what the utilities clearly believed were routine maintenance activities were actually major modifications under the Clean Air Act. It’s a gigantic stretch."
"The EPA’s latest ploy is clearly extra-legal. The definition of routine maintenance has been long established, and none of the utilities charged in the EPA complaint were reckless enough or stupid enough to try to turn routine maintenance into a loophole," wrote Mr. Maize. "A retrospective reinterpretation in what constitutes a major modification gives the agency a hammer to pound home its policy views."
CEI Challenges Pew
The debate over global warming has deteriorated to thirty-second sound bites that consist of a litany of scare stories with no scientific basis whatsoever. In an attempt to raise the level of the debate, the Competitive Enterprise Institute has challenged the Pew Center on Climate Change, a major left-wing advocate of energy controls, to a series of scientific debates in Washington and other cities, "to review the evidence for and against Kyoto in a more thoughtful fashion."
The letter was sent by Jack Kemp, a distinguished fellow at CEI, to the Pew Center and appeared in a full-page ad in Roll Call on November 2, 1999. So far the Pew Center has not responded to the challenge.
U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions Slow
A new report by the Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) shows that U.S. emission of greenhouse gases rose in 1998, but at a slower rate than the average for the last ten years. Since 1990, U.S. emissions have increased by about 1.2 percent per year on average. In 1998, however, emissions rose by only 0.2 percent over 1997 levels. The EIA also noted that U.S. emission levels remained about 10 percent above 1990 levels.
Many advocates of Kyoto style energy controls have pointed to this report as evidence that the use of fossil fuels is no longer linked to economic growth, since this decline occurred while the U.S. economy posted strong gains. The EIA argues, however, that the decline was due to a warmer-than-usual winter, which lowered demand for heating (BNA Daily Environment Report, November 8, 1999).
U.K. Needs Nuclear Power
Green pressure groups have dubbed global warming the greatest threat to the planet, so great that we must make severe reductions in energy use at great cost to prevent it. They are also adamantly opposed to the use nuclear power to stop this world-ending threat.
According to the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Royal Society, however, there may be little choice. These groups argue in a joint report "that the UK’s stated intention of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and fighting global warming, will only be met by accepting the need for nuclear power as a significant part of the energy mix," according to the UK: Environment News (November 8, 1999). It looks like the Greens are going to have to decide which is the greater threat: global warming or nuclear power.
Why We Shouldn’t Sweat Global Warming
In a briefing for congressional staff and media on November 5, sponsored by the Cooler Heads Coalition, Dr. Patrick Michaels debunked many of the global warming myths that have made their way into public debate over the last decade. Climate models have consistently overestimated climatic warming, and new research has proved that mild warming will likely be beneficial to human beings and the planet, according to Dr. Michaels, Professor of Environmental Science at the University of Virginia
"The warming we are seeing is largely confined to the areas of Siberia and northwestern North America, and the vast majority of that occurs during the winter months," Dr. Michaels explained. Accordingly, the most likely result of a predicted 1.5-degree increase in temperatures over the next 100 years will be slightly milder winters in Siberia and Northern Canada, hardly doomsday effects.
The current, rather mild, warming projections come from many of the same researchers that made the apocalyptic warming predictions of a decade ago. Climatologists around the world have been progressively revising their predictions downward as their models improve. "It appears that the people who were the so-called ‘small band of skeptics’ must have had a point," Dr. Michaels commented.
Dr. Michaels critiqued media coverage linking "severe" weather to global warming. He noted that neither droughts, hurricanes, nor floods have increased significantly in the last 50 years. Regarding the infamous Dust Bowl drought of 1934, Dr. Michaels stressed how such events were part of the earth’s natural cycle: "Severe droughts have happened before, and they’re going to happen again. Except that the next time, it’ll be ‘global warming’ that’s responsible. No one will want to hear about all the times these kinds of event have happened in the past."
The talk concluded with some very simple answers to the climate change debate. Temperature increases, concentrated in the coldest parts of the world, and mostly during winter, will, if anything, be beneficial. "Cold related deaths outnumber heat related deaths four to one," Dr. Michaels pointed out.
Two members of Ozone Action passed out a one page "exposé" of Dr. Michaels that misrepresented his views on global warming. During Q&A, Dr. Michaels confronted them but they had no response. Hopefully, Ozone Action’s misperceptions regarding Dr. Michaels views have been cleared up.
The Costs of El Niño, La Niña
El Niño has taken a lot of heat for its alleged role in several adverse weather events. In our September 15 issue we highlighted a study that argued that El Niño’s influence on weather patterns is a net benefit to the U.S. economy. A new study in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society (October 1999), by Roger Pielke with the National Center for Atmospheric Research and Christopher Landsea of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, gives further evidence that El Niño is a beneficial phenomenon.
The study looked at how hurricane activity was affected by the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) from 1925 to 1997. The authors found that most of the recent hurricane damage occurred during periods of transition between El Niño and La Niña. El Niño periods, however, experienced fewer damaging hurricanes than both the transition periods and periods of La Niña. "The average damage per storm of El Niño years is $800 million versus $1,600 million in La Niña years," said the authors.
Green activists argued during the most recent El Niño that global warming would lead to more frequent and more intense El Niños that would have all sorts of adverse climatic consequences. Even if the Greens are correct about the link between global warming and El Niño (there’s no evidence of a link in the scientific literature), they are wrong that it will be harmful. The evidence shows that El Niño is a good thing.
Sinking Carbon: Literally
The use of carbon sinks has been hotly debated, with Green activists, who don’t want anything to interfere with the elimination of fossil fuels, being opposed to their use, and industry in favor of their use. The evidence is clear, however, that there is great potential in the use of carbon sinks, if removing CO2 from the atmosphere is the sort of thing one would like to do.
According to researchers at Kansas State University, one of the greatest potential carbon sinks is the prairie soils of America’s breadbasket. They argue that "Changes in farming techniques – such as not plowing the soil and adjusting crop rotations so that land is left fallow for shorter periods – can keep the carbon locked up in the soil for hundreds, if not thousands of years" (The Sunday Gazette Mail (Charleston, W.Va.), November 7, 1999).
Climate Science Position Statement from Germany
The German Meteorological Society has issued a position statement on the current state of climate science. The statement notes many of the shortcomings of current climate models, arguing that "It is therefore scientifically proven without a doubt that radiation fluxes in the system Earth/Atmosphere are changed through the increase of climate-relevant trace gases. Without consideration of feedback effects in the complicated climate system, this would certainly lead to a warming of the surface and troposphere. The real, scientifically challenging debate deals with the question to what extent the different feedback processes strengthen or diminish the warming from radiative forcing" (translation courtesy of Fred Singer). For further details see The Week that Was, November 6, 1999 at www.sepp.org .
A news story on ABCNews.com (November 9, 1999) claims that many scientists believe that global warming will cause stronger droughts and floods, storms and hurricanes, more harmful insects such as killer bees, fire ants, Formosan termites, yellow jackets, disease carrying mosquitoes, mass extinctions, a localized ice-age in Europe, and so on.
What is the solution? According to Steven Schneider, professor of biological sciences at Stanford University, we should replace coal with cleaner fuels and fuel cells should replace internal combustion engines. That’s funny, but wasn’t that his solution to global cooling?
THE COOLER HEADS COALITION
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