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A Report from Our Team in Buenos Aires
In an effort to salvage COP-4, Conference President Maria Julia Alsaguray, Argentina’s minister for the environment, is facilitating side negotiations between a handful of
developing countries and the U.S. The talks are rumored to include Argentina, Mexico, Chile, and South Korea. These countries are discussing "voluntary commitments" in exchange for generous technology transfers and other aid from the U.S. – but only outside the formal treaty framework of the Kyoto Protocol. The big players, China and India, are still firmly opposed to including any Third World energy use restrictions in the global warming treaty.
Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), Chairman of the House Science Committee and head of the U.S. Congressional delegation to COP-4, made two key points. First, he contradicted Undersecretary of State Stuart Eizenstat’s assertion that President Clinton’s signing of the Kyoto Protocol would have only "symbolic" significance. President Clinton’s signature would carry a great deal of expectation of future U.S. involvement in energy suppression efforts.
Secondly, Chairman Sensenbrenner explained that the Clinton-Gore administration has negotiated itself into a corner with no exit. The U.S. Senate’s 1997 Byrd-Hagel resolution, passed by a 95-0 margin, preemptively nixes any protocol that does not include emission restrictions for developing countries "within the same compliance period." The Protocol conspicuously lacks this feature. Without amending the treaty, the Senate will not ratify, but without ratification of the treaty, the UN parties cannot amend it. Thus, the treaty is a dead letter as far as Congress is concerned.
Republican Reps. Joe Barton (TX), Joe Ann Emerson (MO), Joe Knollenberg (MI), and Democratic Representative Ron Klink of Pennsylvania also took part in the briefing. However, Rep. John Dingell (D-MI) boycotted the Buenos Aires conference "in protest" against President Clinton’s apparent decision to sign the Kyoto treaty.
Senator Byrd Urges the President not to Sign the Kyoto Protocol
Senator Robert Byrd, a cosponsor of the Byrd/Hagel resolution, is also upset about President Clinton’s decision. Byrd warned the President that "signing the Kyoto protocol now would be contrary to the plain language of Senate resolution 98 . . . passed by a unanimous vote of 95-0 . . . . The consensus of the Senate… remains that the United States should not be a signatory to the Kyoto protocol until and unless that agreement also mandates new specific scheduled commitments to limit or reduce greenhouse gas emissions by developing country parties within the same compliance period . . . . The Senate's position has not changed since the resolution was passed." That condition has not yet been met, said Byrd.
Byrd also argued that signing the protocol would not improve the U.S.’s negotiating position to secure developing country participation. Rather, it would be an "empty gesture." Finally, Byrd noted that signing the protocol would "lend credence" to those Members who have concerns about the administrations attempts to implement the protocl through a "regulatory backdoor." Byrd fears that signing the protocol would "jeapordize continued funding for even those existing [global warming] programs."
Poll Finds Opposition to Kyoto Protocol
A new poll conducted by Wirthlin Worldwide for the Global Climate Coalition shows strong oppostion to the Kyoto Protocol. "More than six in ten Americans believe the UN global climate change treaty negotiated in Kyoto will be expensive for American households and should not be implemented." Sixty-eight percent of American voters agreed that more research is needed before the United States commits itself to binding emissions reductions, but seventy-one percent said that they believe the U.S. should speed up voluntary programs to reduce emissions. Fifty-four percent said that President Clinton should immediately sign the Kyoto Protocol and submit it to the U.S. Senate for debate next year.
The survey summary stated that "American voters are not willing to pay higher energy costs resulting from the approval of the Kyoto Treaty." It also pointed out that "Given the generally positive mood of the country and confidence in the economy, it is not surprising that American voters are wary of ratifying a treaty that threatens their current standard of living" (PR Newswire, November 9, 1998).
A Second Opinion: EPA Cannot Regulate CO2
Last issue, we reported on the new legal analysis by the National Mining Association which showed that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) does not have the authority to regulate carbon dioxide as a pollutant. In another analysis from the Legal Opinion Letter (October 30, 1998), Gerald Yamada, Chief Counsel in the Washington, D.C. office of the law firm Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker, confirms that view. He argues that if the U.S. were to sign and ratify the Kyoto Protocol legislation would be needed to implement it. The current Clean Air Act (CAA) does not authorize the EPA to regulate carbon dioxide as a pollutant for four reasons.
Yamada concludes, "To regulate greenhouse gases, the Administration would have to propose a comprehensive program to implement the Kyoto Protocol as part of an Administration bill to reauthorize the CAA. Until a comprehensive program is enacted by Congress, EPA has no congressional authorization to control CO2 emissions."
Global Warming Would be Good for U.S. Timber
Global warming activists have been claiming for some time that a warming planet would have dire economic consequences. In particular, those industries that rely upon renewable natural resources will be hard hit once global warming reduces the availability of those resources.
In a new study published in the American Economic Review (September 1998) Brent Sohngen with the Department of Agriculture, Environmental, and Development Economics, Ohio State University, and Robert Mendelsohn with the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, Yale University find that the U.S. timber supplies will expand due to global warming, benefiting U.S. timber markets.
Previous studies had used static models to ascertain the effects of global warming on the timber industry. Sohngen and Mendelsohn, however, argue "the adjustment pathways for both ecosystems and economic systems are critical for measuring the welfare impacts of ecosystem change." They use a dynamic model that takes account of how ecosystems and markets adjust to large-scale ecological change.
For example, the two regions most vulnerable to dieback are the North and the Rocky Mountain regions. As warming increases dieback "the low-productivity northern forests are replaced more quickly by loblolly pines" which are more suited to a warmer climate. Replacing the low-valued species with the high-valued species would be a net benefit to the timber industry.
The study attempts to measure the impacts of an effective doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide on the timber industry. They ran 36 different combinations of ecological-climate models, all of which found positive results: "across the different model combinations, they exhibited a wide range, from $1 billion to $33 billion of benefits." They also submitted their results to a sensitivity test to see how the results may change under different assumptions. They found that under varying assumptions there are still positive net benefits to global warming.
More on the Effects of CO2 on Plant Life
It has been argued that the benefits to plant life of carbon dioxide may only be short term, that they are self-limiting. One of the hypotheses along these lines argues that dead plant tissue (litter) from plants grown in a carbon dioxide rich environment will decompose more slowly because there is less nitrogen in the plant tissue. Since the litter will have lower nitrogen content and decompose more slowly, "then decomposing organisms would have food of lower quality, and the transfer of organically bound nitrogen to the pools of mineral nitrogen available for plant growth could slow." This leads to a "negative feedback on net plant productivity in the future."
At a forum on Litter Quality and Decomposition under Elevated Atmospheric CO2 at a meeting held in Capri, Italy, plant physiologists, ecologists and soil scientists concluded that this hypothesis is not valid. "Most experiments, carried out in various ecosystems such as forests, agro-ecosystems, grasslands and a salt marsh, have reported little change in litter chemistry and no significant difference in decomposition rates under different CO2 concentrations."
A possible positive feedback on plant productivity was also reported at the meeting. A slower initial decomposition may actually promote more complete long-term decomposition. High nitrogen content causes rapid initial decomposition and retards long-term decomposition. This can lead to "a more fertile habitat resulting from increased root litter in CO2 enriched grasslands," for instance (Nature, November 5, 1998).
Mammoth Icebergs Are Not Unusual
In October the press reported that an iceberg the size of Delaware had broken free of Antarctica. The event, it was argued is another "possible indicator of global warming" (The Washington Post, October 16, 1998). As is usually the case with most stories touting global warming, this was an entirely natural occurrence. Very large icebergs break away from Antarctical all the time. The following was reported on the Junk Science webpage (www.junkscience.com ).
"For a little perspective, we go to page 748 of the 1996 edition of The American Navigator, the prestigious Naval text updated continuously since 1799 (sometimes referred to as "The Bowditch.")
"The text reads ‘In 1854 and 1855, several ships in the South Atlantic reported a crescent-shaped iceberg with one horn 40 miles long, the other 60 miles long, and with an embayment 40 miles wide between the tips. In 1927 a berg 100 miles long, 100 miles wide, and 130 feet high above the water was reported. The largest iceberg ever reported was sighted in 1956 by the USS Glacier, a U. S. Navy icebreaker, about 150 miles west of Scott Island. This berg was 60 miles wide and 208 miles long, more than twice the size of Connecticut. Icebergs ten miles or more in length have been seen on many occasions in the Antarctic.’
"Notice that this last iceberg was more than 4 times bigger than that little ‘ice cube’ noted in the Washington Post story. And by some miracle, the world did not come to an end after the discovery of this giant. So last week's iceberg was not so extraordinary -- except that it was perhaps the first linked to the dreaded global warming."
THE COOLER HEADS COALITION
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