Vol. V, No. 1
Umbrella Group to Hold Secret Meeting in Sunny New Zealand
The Japan Times (December 29, 2000) has reported that the so-called Umbrella Group, which includes Japan, the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan, will hold “secret” talks in New Zealand to forge a joint strategy for future climate negotiations.
The meeting’s purpose is to try to figure out how to revive the moribund talks that collapsed last November in the Hague at the Sixth Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. One of the major sticking points at COP-6 was over the extent to which carbon sinks can be counted toward meeting emissions reductions. The Umbrella Group wants much more credit for sinks than does the European Union. Another controversial issue is the use of so-called flexible mechanisms. The Umbrella Group wants full use of emissions trading, for example, while the EU wishes to limit the use of such mechanisms.
The talks have been scheduled for February, which means that the new Bush Administration will have very little time to prepare their position or to put a new negotiating team in place. President-elect Bush opposed the Kyoto Protocol in his campaign, but no official position is expected until after he takes office.
Bush Cabinet Looks Stronger on Kyoto with Abraham at Energy
Since our last issue, President-elect George W. Bush’s cabinet picks look much less wobbly on global warming than the early nominations of Paul O’Neill to be Treasury Secretary and Gov. Christine Todd Whitman to head EPA. Bush nominated former Senator Spence Abraham to be Secretary of Energy on January 2.
In the Senate, Abraham was a solid opponent of the Kyoto Protocol. He sponsored legislation to repeal the federal excise tax on gasoline during last summer’s price spike and supported abolishing the Department of Energy. It’s also no surprise that, as a senator from Michigan, he was one of the leading opponents of raising Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards on automobiles.
Secretary of Energy looks like it will be a key position in the early months of the new administration. Current energy shortages may get worse, and candidate Bush laid out an ambitious long-term plan to increase production and reduce supply bottlenecks.
In addition, Kyoto opponents have a strong ally in Bush’s chief of staff, Andrew H. Card, Jr. Card served as secretary of transportation in the George Bush Administration, as president of the Alliance of American Automobile Manufacturers, and most recently as vice president in charge of General Motors’ Washington, D.C. office.
EIA Analyzes Multi-Emissions Reduction Proposals
Several bill have been floating around Capitol Hill which propose mandatory coordinated multi-emissions reductions of SO2, NOx and CO2. The Bush campaign also pledged in its energy policy statement to propose legislation to reduce emissions of these three gases as well as mercury through a “multi-pollutant” approach. At the request of former-Rep. David McIntosh, then-chairman of the House Subcommittee on National Economic Growth, Natural Resources, and Regulatory Affairs, the Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) has issued a study that analyzes “the potential costs of various multi-emission reduction strategies to reduce the air emissions from electric power plants.”
To analyze the potential costs, EIA assumes an emissions trading scheme similar to the one used in Title IV of the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 to reduce SO2 emissions. It also assumes a reduction in SO2 and NOx of 75 percent below 1997 levels and a reduction of CO2 emissions to 1990 levels by 2005 to 2008 and a further reduction to 7 percent below 1990 levels by 2008 to 2012. It also analyzes the difference in costs between separate programs for each of the gases and an integrated reduction approach.
The costs of reducing NOx and SO2 emissions would do little to raise electricity prices above EIA’s business-as-usual projections. The cost of electricity to consumers would rise 5.9 cents per kilowatt-hour as a result with or without the emissions reductions. However, the annual cost of a separate CO2 program would be $90 to $121 billion over the same period, raising consumer electricity prices by 8.3 cents per kilowatt-hour.
An integrated approach where emission targets for the three gases were met simultaneously would lower the cost of emissions reduction by $5 to $11 billion. The loss to GDP under the integrated approach would be $60 to $115 billion in 2005 and $60 to $84 billion in 2010.
According to EIA, “The impact on electricity prices is projected to be much larger in the CO2 cap and integrated cases than in the NOx and SO2 cap cases. Because there are currently no commercially available technologies for removing and storing (sequestering) CO2 and none is expected to be available during the projection period, the only way to make large reductions in CO2 emissions is to reduce the consumption of fuels with relatively high carbon content and improve the efficiency of energy production and use.”
In other words, SO2 and NOx reductions can be met through installation of emission reduction equipment in existing plants, but reductions in CO2 emissions will require retiring coal-fired power plants and constructing natural gas (if gas supplies increase) power plants or perhaps more-efficient coal-fired power plants. The bottom line is that including CO2 emissions reductions in a multi-emission reduction strategy would significantly raise consumer energy prices. The report can be downloaded at http://www.eia.doe.gov/.
US Energy Crisis: A Reality Check
An article in the Philadelphia Inquirer (December 29, 2000) discusses the real energy problems that George W. Bush will face as President. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is not on the list.
Among those problems are, “fear of heating-oil shortages in the Northeast, record high natural-gas prices, and soaring electric bills and threats of blackouts in California. Bush was facing reality when he told a group of reporters, ‘When we’re undersupplied as a nation and demand increases, prices will go up.’” The solution, said Bush, is to raise supply through higher production.
Most experts agree, however, that there is little the president can do in the short term. “He’s going to have to look down the road on how he can improve the situation and keep it from happening again,” said Robert Ebel, director of energy programs at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Energy shortages and much higher prices may be one of the main causes of the current economic slowdown. However, the current energy crunch is minor compared to what would be required to meet the Kyoto emissions limits.
Antarctic Ice Sheet Retreating More Slowly Than Thought
“New evidence suggests that the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) is retreating more slowly and contributing less to rising global sea levels than scientists once thought,” according to research summarized in a NASA news release. The research was presented at the American Geophysical Union’s annual meeting in San Francisco on December 16.
“Our previous best estimates that the ice sheet as adding 1 millimeter per year to global sea level are almost certainly too high,” said Robert Bindschadler, a glaciologist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. Scientists believed that the WAIS had reached its maximum growth 20,000 years ago, at about 3 times its current size. The new evidence, however, shows that it was still growing as little as 8,000 years ago.
According to Bindschadler’s analysis, “More rapid retreat approximately 7600 years ago and possible near-stability in the Ross Sea sector at present suggests a slow rate of initial retreat followed by a more rapid-than-average retreat during the late Holocene, returning to a near-zero rate of retreat currently.”
“Bindschadler points to “the geologic record of dated stages in the retreat of the ice sheet’s continental base as evidence that it has shrunk in fits and starts,” according to the NASA news release. “Such episodic retreats may be controlled more by the varying depth of the underlying surface and water than by the changing climate.”
Global Temperatures in 2000: Hot or Cold?
The New York Times on December 19 proclaimed 2000 to be “one of the hottest years since 1860,” even though the year wasn’t over and therefore not all the data had been collected yet. According to the World Meteorological Organization, said the Times, “2000 was the 22nd successive year that global temperatures have been above the average of the 1961-1990 base period.”
The use of 1961-1990 as the base period is suspect, however. That period encompasses a fairly long global cooling trend that began in 1940 and lasted through most of the 1970s. So it’s not surprising that temperatures since then have been above that particular average.
Preliminary data from the satellite measurements made by John Christy and Roy Spencer, on the other hand, show that global temperatures in the year 2000 were cooler than the running average since 1979. The overall trend since 1979 is plus 0.04 degrees C per decade, according to Christy, of the University of Alabama at Huntsville.
Red River Floods Not Caused by Global Warming
Flooding along the Red River in 1997 devastated parts of Canada and destroyed Grand Forks, North Dakota. Government officials from Canada and the US (President Clinton and Vice President Gore) blamed the floods on global warming. Indeed, the Red River-climate change link has become ingrained in global warming folklore.
A new study shows that such a claim is entirely erroneous, however. Appearing in Natural Hazards (21: 2000), the study points out that the Red River has “a high natural potential for flooding” due to the fact that “it is located on a former glacial lake bottom.” In spite of the natural flood hazard posed by the area, development has continued to increase, thereby leading to ever-higher costs related to flood damage.
The 1997 flood was the largest of the 20th century, but it is smaller than floods that occurred in the 19th century. A slightly larger flood occurred in 1852, and in 1826 a catastrophic flood occurred that discharged 40 percent more water than the 1997 flood.
It’s a Cold, Cold Winter
The US has just experienced its coldest November to December period in the 106-year temperature record in the lower 48 states, according to preliminary figures from the US National Climatic Data Center. The World Climate Report (January 8, 2001) argues that these figures are likely to go down even further when the final data comes in. “The early returns are largely from urban stations whose concentrated economic activity is known to produce artificial warming, while rural stations, slower to report, are free from this effect and therefore could likely lower the preliminary average,” noted WCR.
In Siberia, one of the two areas in the world that is supposed to warm up more rapidly than any other, according to climate models (the other being Northwest North America), they are experiencing life threatening cold temperatures. The city of Barnaul recorded its lowest temperature in the last 100 years on January 7, 67 degrees below zero F. Authorities evacuated patients from poorly-heated hospitals.
In Krasnoyarsk the month of December never saw temperatures rise above minus 58 degrees F. People are keeping gas ovens running nearly 24 hours a day just to keep their homes at around 50 degrees F, and the freezing temperatures are disrupting the distribution of water.
Forecasters are worried that January could be even worse. According to UPI (January 7, 2001), “Weather forecasters confirm an old Russian tradition according to which the harshest weather can be expected during the so-called ‘Baptist Frost,’ the week following January 19.”
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