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Global Warming’s Budget Blues
President George W. Bush’s proposed federal budget for FY2002 begins to reverse some of the spending on climate change programs favored by the Clinton-Gore Administration. The Department of Energy’s budget, for instance, cuts renewable energy technology programs by $135.7 million, a 36.4 percent decrease for 2002. Biomass technology programs would be cut by 6.7 percent.
Funding for hydropower technology is cut in half and hydrogen research by 48 percent. Solar research is cut by 37 percent. These cuts make a lot of sense given the billions of dollars wasted on renewable energy programs over the last 25 years, which have yielded few demonstrable economic or environmental benefits, according to several government studies and reviews.
Unfortunately, some other energy research subsidies see an increase in proposed funding. Bush’s energy budget requests $150 million in grants to states for the clean coal research and development program. It would also increase carbon sequestration studies by ten percent, from $18.7 million to $20.7 million.
To offset reductions in renewable energy research, the budget will add $1.4 billion for the Weatherization Assistance grant program over the next 10 years and increase biomass research by $30 million.
Bush’s budget also makes a modest cut in the US Global Change Research Programs budget of $200,000, as well as a cut of $528,000 in the Environmental Protection Agency’s climate programs (Greenwire, April 11, 2001).
Pronk Threatens US with Trade Sanctions
Mr. Jan Pronk, Holland’s environment minister and president of the Sixth Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, attacked the Bush Administration’s decision to walk away from the Kyoto Protocol in a February 17 speech in Washington, D. C. He went on to threaten trade sanctions against the US if it did not return to the “Kyoto family.”
Describing himself as “guardian of a multilateral process,” Pronk told an international conference that policy reviews were to be expected when countries changed governments, but this review must be within the international framework. No one country has the right to make a unilateral decision to abandon Kyoto.
Pronk also said that he was willing to make large concessions to the US position on contentious issues in order to keep “the family” together. In his personal view, everything is on the table except for the Protocol itself—that is, the targets and timetables. To start all over at this stage would waste the immense work already done. But he cautioned that it would be up to all the parties to decide what could be negotiated. Pronk has published his own compromise proposals on the convention’s web site (www.unfcc.de ). These proposals actually allow greater reliance on carbon sinks and emissions trading than those the Clinton Administration made at last November’s COP-6 meeting in the Hague. Thus it appears that Pronk is willing to do almost anything to save the Kyoto negotiations.
Pronk’s speech was given at the “Equity and Global Climate Change” conference sponsored by the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. He made similar remarks at a press conference at the National Press Club the next day, May 18.
Other speakers included: Senator Sam Brownback (R—Kansas); Klaus Topfer, head of the UN Environment Programme; Raul Estrada-Oyeula, Argentina’s special representative for the environment who chaired the Kyoto negotiations in 1997; Australian environment minister Robert Hill; and Kazuo Asakai, Japan’s ambassador for international environmental and economic affairs. The Pew Center is one of the principal industry-front groups supporting the Kyoto Protocol. It is funded primarily by the Pew Charitable Trusts, which were created out of the Sun Oil fortune.
The European Union has vowed to push for ratification of the Kyoto Protocol without the United States. For the Kyoto Protocol to enter into force, it is necessary for Annex I countries (those which have emission reduction targets) representing 55 percent of Annex I greenhouse gas emissions ratify the treaty.
Australia’s Environment Minister, Senator Robert Hill, has said that his country will not ratify the treaty ahead of the United States (Associated Press, April 15, 2001). More importantly, according to the Washington Times (April 11, 2001), Japan will not ratify the Kyoto Protocol either. “At this moment, Japan is not thinking of ratifying the protocol without the United States,” said Hakariko Ono, spokesman for a delegation of Japanese environmental ministers that met with Bush officials last week. Without Japan and the United States, it is no longer possible to reach the 55 percent threshold required to activate Kyoto.
The EU’s rhetoric suggests a bit of deviousness on their part, however. “We had quite a positive statement and quite a positive message from Iran which represents a group of 77 developing nations, and also from Russia and China, about going on even without the United States,” said Swedish Environment Minister Kjell Larsson. “I think we have very strong support for the treaty from all countries but the United States.”
It seems that the EU is attempting a sleight-of-hand reinterpretation of the Kyoto provision on ratification by saying that countries representing 55 percent of global greenhouse emissions is needed for Kyoto to come into force, which could be easily achieved without the US. In reality a total of 55 countries must ratify Kyoto with a sufficient number of Annex I countries representing 55 percent of Annex I emissions. Ratification by the group of 77 or by China or India does not count toward the 55 percent emissions threshold.
Much bluster is coming from the European Union about going ahead with the Kyoto Protocol without the United States. There may be one little problem, however. According to the American Council for Capital Formation, none of the Annex I countries is in a position to meet its Kyoto targets, which must be met in the 2008-2012 period.
Analyses by the European Commission, the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change, the Australian Bureau of Agriculture and Resource Economics, the US Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration, and the private consulting firm, WEFA, “conclude that since EU members do not have in place legislation to sharply curb energy use, achieving compliance with the protocol is unlikely.”
“Neither the United States nor the EU can afford the costly and politically destabilizing sacrifices in economic growth required to meet the Kyoto targets,” said ACCF’s Chief Economist and Senior Vice President, Margo Thorning (Washington Post, April 6, 2001).
Climate Models: “Unchanging with Time”
Recent media accounts of the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change give the distinct impression that climate models, the primary source of global warming concerns, are getting more accurate all the time. A news article in Science (April 13, 2001), however, sets the record straight.
According to the author, Richard A. Kerr, “But while new knowledge gathered since the IPCC’s last report in 1995 has increased many researchers’ confidence in the models, in some vital areas, uncertainties have actually grown.” Gerald North of Texas A&M University in College Station said that, “It’s extremely hard to tell whether the models have improved” since the last IPCC report. “The uncertainties are large.”
Peter Stone, an MIT climate modeler, said, “The major [climate prediction] uncertainties have not been reduced at all.” And cloud physicist Robert Charlson, professor emeritus at the University of Washington, Seattle, said, “To make it sound like we understand climate is not right.”
The three main areas of uncertainty are detection of global warming, attribution of warming to greenhouse gases, and projecting future warming, Kerr writes. Detection is probably the closest to being resolved of the three. The IPCC puts warming at 0.6 degrees ±0.2 degrees centigrade with a 95 percent confidence level.
Attribution of global warming to anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases is much more difficult, however. The IPCC claims, “…most of the observed warming over the last 50 years is likely [66 percent to 90 percent chance] to have been due to the increase of greenhouse gas concentrations.”
Some modelers, such as Jerry Mahlman with NOAA and John Mitchell at the UK’s Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research, think the models are getting better. The models are “getting quite a remarkable agreement,” with reality, said Mitchell.
“That’s stretching it a bit,” said John Christy of the University of Alabama at Huntsville. Stone argues that human attribution “may be right,” but, “I just know of no objective scientific basis for that.” Tim Barnett of Scripps Institution of Oceanography and Jeffrey Kiehl of the National Center for Atmospheric Research concur.
One of the primary means by which modelers have tweaked the models for better results is the inclusion of aerosols. But according to Kiehl, “The more we learn [about aerosols], the less we know.” Indeed, according to the IPCC report, “The uncertainties are so large that a best estimate with error bars of the indirect cloud effect of aerosols is still impossible.” Possible aerosol cloud effects now range from no effect to a near total masking of the alleged manmade greenhouse effect.
North argues that the “huge range of climate uncertainty among the models” is a serious problem. “There are so many adjustables in the models and there is a limited amount of observational data, so we can always bring the models into agreement with the data.”
According to Science, North explained that, “Models with sensitivities to CO2 inputs at either extreme of the range can still simulate the warming of the 20th century.”
Many of these scientists still think something should be done to slow down the emission of greenhouse gases. This, however, seems to be a reaction to change as much as a concern over whether there will be any ensuing harm. “The evidence for chemical change of the atmosphere is so overwhelming, we should do something about it,” said Charlson.
Although most scientists are willing to admit that there are still large uncertainties in the predictions about rising global temperatures, there has been little effort to quantify those uncertainties. Uncertainties are important, however.
According to a new study by researchers at the Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change at MIT, “Communicating uncertainty in climate projections provides essential information to decision makers, allowing them to evaluate how policies might reduce the risk of climate impacts.”
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change does not provide these numbers, however. “The Third Assessment Report of the [IPCC] reports a range for global mean surface temperature rise by 2100 of 1.4 to 5.8 degrees centigrade but does not provide likelihood estimates for this key finding although it does for others,” says the study.
The researchers perform this calculation and conclude, “that there is far less than a 1 in 100 chance of a global mean surface temperature increase by 2100 as large as 5.8 degrees centigrade.” They also conclude, “there is a 17 percent chance that the temperature change of 2100 would be less than the IPCC lower estimate” (web.mit.edu/globalchange/www/).
Even though it is much more likely that the amount of warming over the next 100 years will be less than 1.4 degrees centigrade than 5.8 degrees centigrade or more, it is the higher number that is emphasized in news coverage of the issue. This is highly misleading if the MIT calculations are correct.
The anticipated effects of global warming are supposed to be horrific, according to environmental activists and the science politicos who populated the Clinton Administration. A short news item appearing in Nature (April 5, 2001) begins in the usual way, as a prelude to a horror story. “The first survey for a decade of animals and plants on Australia’s Heard Island, 4,000 kilometres southwest of Perth, has unearthed dramatic evidence of global warming’s ecological impact,” said Nature.
What are these impacts? The usual stuff, such as glaciers that “have retreated by 12 percent since the first measurements were taken in 1947,” and “a rise in sea surface temperature of up to 1 degree C…” The story then takes an odd turn. Global warming has also led to “rapid increases in flora and fauna” on the island.
Previously low vegetation areas are now “lush with large expanses of plant,” said Dana Bergstrom, an ecologist at the University of Queensland in Brisbane. “The number of king penguins has exploded from only three breeding pairs in 1947 to 25,000, while Heard Island cormorant, listed previously as ‘vulnerable’, has increased to 1,200 pairs. From near extinction, fur seals now number 28,000 adults and 1,000 pups,” noted Nature.
The changes on Heard Island, especially the retreating glaciers, are not likely due to global warming, according to John Daly, who maintains the Australian-based website, Still Waiting for Greenhouse (www.john-daly.com ). The island, says Daly, has two volcanoes and the larger of the two has been very active in the past 120 years, including numerous eruptions and lava flows.
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