Politics<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />
Will Anything Happen in Marrakesh?
New episodes of the long-running soap opera known as the Kyoto Protocol are being shot this week and next on location in Marrakesh, Morocco, as the world's major media reported with varying mixtures of anger and sadness that the series’ big star - the United States - was still refusing to appear in any new episodes. The new chairman of the seventh Conference of the Parties (COP-7), Moroccan environment minister Mohamed El Yazghi, warned that the Bush administration’s decision to stay on the sidelines and merely observe the negotiations could lead to international isolation of the U.S.
Although outgoing COP chairman Jan Pronk and others claimed last July at COP-6.5 in Bonn that they had finally reached agreement on all unresolved issues, it turns out that agreement still must be reached on the “technical details,” that is, on the actual legal text of the agreement in several key areas. The most important of these are reporting, monitoring, and enforcement.
Negotiators in Bonn agreed in principle to enforce the Protocol by penalizing nations that failed to meet their emissions targets. The penalties would include being banned from international emissions trading and other flexibility mechanisms and reducing the emissions limit in the second compliance period (beginning in 2013) by 1.3 tons for every ton of emissions above a nation’s target in the first compliance period (2008-2012).
This latter penalty is problematic because no targets have been agreed to for the second compliance period. It seems likely that nations failing to meet their initial targets will simply demand easier targets in the second period. What is meant by “legally-binding commitments” therefore remains a major question.
“I’m quite worried that the deeper we get into [the legal text], the more bureaucrats trying to re-engineer it will come to fore,” said Paul Vickers, director of TransAlta Corp.’s Carbon Market Initiative. “I must admit, I think it's going to be slower than everyone thinks on rules” (Greenwire, October 26, 2001).
For example, Russia has demanded greater flexibility. As noted in Greenwire (October 30, 2001), under the Bonn agreement “Russia would be allowed to sell the equivalent of 17 million metric tons of CO2 in greenhouse gas emission reduction credits to other countries each year. Russia’s credit is based on certain forestry ‘sinks’ aimed at soaking up CO2, as well as the fact Russia’s emissions fell in the early 1990s when the economic shrank.” Russia is now requesting that its sink credit by doubled to 34 million metric tons of CO2.
COP-7 continues through Friday, November 9, 2001. For daily updates by Bonner Cohen, of the Lexington Institute, of the COP-7 negotiations see www.earthtimes.org .
Coal Makes a Comeback in UK
British coal consumption for electricity generation is going up sharply, which threatens the Blair government's voluntary pledge to reduce CO2 emissions by 23% below 1990 levels by the end of the decade. According to an October 25 Reuters story, British coal use shot up 17.4 percent in the first quarter of 2001, compared to a 3.6 percent rise for natural gas. In 2000, coal increased 15 percent over 1999, while gas consumption was up only 0.7 percent.
“Emissions have increased for the second year running, above levels when the government first came into office (1997), and this is largely due to increased coal-burn,” Colin Godfrey, managing director of CLG Energy consultants, told Reuters. The “dash to gas” in the 1990’s has been reversed by the steep increases in gas prices. Coal is now cheaper than gas.
Powergen, an electric utility, announced that it was re-opening a 1970s-era 485-megawatt coal-fired plant that it shut down in 1996 and would mothball a 450-megawatt gas-fired plant that opened in 1992. Another utility, Innogy, re-started a 340-megawatt coal-fired plant in August that it had mothballed three years ago. Other utilities are reportedly considering closing newer gas plants in favor of older coal plants.
Coal produces roughly twice as much carbon dioxide as gas for each unit of electricity. As Kate Hampton of Friends of the Earth UK remarked, “If there is a shift from gas towards coal we won’t meet emission targets. The government has been betting on gas.”
Fuel Cells not Ready for Primetime
A new study by industrial proponents of fuel cell technology examines the challenges that must be met to make fuel-cell-powered vehicles economically viable and concludes that significant government subsidies will be necessary over many years or even decades. “Bringing Fuel Cells to Market: Scenarios and Challenges with Fuel Alternatives” was prepared by a team of experts led by Bevilacqua Knight, Inc., a consulting firm based in Hayward, California, for the California Fuel Cell Partnership.
According to an article on the study by Matt Nauman in the San Jose Mercury News (October 16, 2001), if fuel-cell vehicles are to become commercially viable, the government must spend millions of dollars to minimize the financial risks for car and oil companies.... That’s because it will take years - perhaps decades - before anyone makes any money of fuel-cell vehicles or the infrastructure needed to fuel and service them, the study says.
The California Fuel Cell partnership’s study specifically examines what it will take from both a technical and an economic standpoint to reach annual sales of 40,000-100,000 fuel-cell vehicles in California, or 2 to 5 percent of the market. They study explains that there is tremendous uncertainty regarding whether or not the fuel cell idea is viable.
While discussing prospects for assembling the energy infrastructure necessary to expand usage of fuel cells to a larger scale, they state, “While this study used assumptions judged by its authors to be plausible, these are not forecasts or expectations but illustrative values that combine to create a result that meets the success criterion.”
Thus, they admit that their predictions suffer from the same problems that plague other forms of economic forecasting: it is simply impossible to predict everything that will go wrong with a given technology or innovation - particularly if the government plays a major role in pushing it ahead. The Partnership includes major auto companies, oil companies, state and federal government agencies, and fuel cell technology companies. Their report may be found at www.cafcp.org .
Sea Ice Thickens
On August 19, 2000 the New York Times published a front-page story claiming that open sea sighted by Dr. James J. McCarthy director of the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University, at the North Pole was clear evidence of global warming.
The story implied that this hasn’t occurred since the Eocene epoch 55 million years ago. McCarthy described the reaction to the sighting, “There was a sense of alarm. Global warming was real, and we were seeing its effects for the first time that far north.”
Ten days later the Times ran a retraction in a Science Times article that quoted Dr. Mark Serreze, a climatologist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colo., as saying, “There’s nothing to be necessarily alarmed about. There’s been open water at the pole before. We have no clear evidence at this point that this is related to global climate change.”
Perhaps due to this embarrassing gaffe, the New York Times is shying away from publishing further sea ice stories. That might explain its failure to mention sea ice thickening in the Antarctica. According to the Agence France-Presse (October 31, 2001), “Global warming might be a popular worry but scientists on Antarctica’s coast this southern summer are recording some of the thickest sea ice ever seen.”
“To my knowledge this is the greatest summer sea ice extent that’s ever been recorded in McMurdo Sound,” said Michael Cameron a seal expert working from New Zealand’s Scott Base. “Everybody’s guess is that it’s due to this giant iceberg off of Cape Bird blocking the swells that would normally break up any sea ice in the area.” The sea ice near McMurdo Sound was 40 percent thicker than normal last year, and this year it’s even thicker.
Of course, if the New York Times had reported this, they would have explained that thicker Antarctic sea ice is just the sort of thing one would expect with global warming.
Junk Science in Science
The October 26 issue of Science carried a study that attempts to use data from the Nenana Ice Classic, a betting lottery where participants guess the date and time when the frozen Tanana River, near the town of Nenana southwest of Fairbanks, Alaska, breaks up, to detect global warming.
A tripod connected to a clock mechanism on shore is secured to the ice on the river. When the ice melts the tripod is swept downriver tripping the clock and recording the time. This lottery has occurred every year since 1917, thereby providing a continuous record of ice breakup.
The Science study suggests two mechanisms to explain the ice breakup: thermal effects where the ice melts and dynamic effects where the ice is broken up by mechanical forces upstream. The first would be attributed to temperature, the latter to precipitation.
The study claims that there has been a trend towards earlier breakup that is correlated with a warming trend. But this conclusion is dubious, according to John Daly who maintains the “Still Waiting for Greenhouse” website. A look at the whole Nenana record shows significant cyclical variation ice breakup, but overall there is no trend.
The authors of the study, however, begin their statistical analysis at the year 1949, a very cold year. They also excluded the breakup of 2001, which was very late, later in fact than the breakup in 1917. The trend found in the analysis is entirely dependent on the starting and ending dates chosen.
Moreover, as Daly points out, the authors dismiss the possibility of dynamic effects as the major cause of earlier ice break up and claim that there are no significant precipitation and snowfall trends.
“That’s not how the Alaska Climate Research Center sees it,” writes Daly. “As we can see [from their chart] there has been a significant increase in tital snowfall during the 20th century, the inevitable effect of which would be greater mechanical forces acting upon the river ice from upstream, causing it to break up earlier than would be the case with thermal melt alone.”
For a more comprehensive critique of the study, go to www.john-daly.com/nenana.htm .
• The city of Marrakesh, Morocco, the site of COP-7 was likely chosen for its considerable charms and pleasant climate. It’s interesting to note, however, that since 1924 there has been no warming and perhaps an overall cooling in that city (www.john-daly.com ).
• IPCC Chairman Robert Watson told Kyodo News Service (October 18, 2001) that, “I could envision that the U.S. will sooner or later be part of the international debate on climate because industries in the U.S. will demand it.” Fortunately, Dr. Watson’s expertise as a scientific bureaucrat makes his political prophecies as credible as his climatic predictions.
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
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