Free Market Mission to Kyoto

Japan’s Foreign Minister opened the United Nations climate conference in Kyoto by calling it "an event that could change the history of mankind." Hoping to use global warming as a justification for de-industrializing the world economy, scores of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), traveled to Kyoto from points all over the world. They are used to having their Malthusian ideology go unopposed at UN conferences, but this time the NGOs had an adversary – CEI.

CEI President Fred Smith and I traveled to the climate conference with research assistant Hugh Morley. Accompanying us was Hoover Institution scholar and CEI board member Thomas Gale Moore, author of the forthcoming book, Climate of Fear: Why We Shouldn’t Worry about Global Warming. We provided an intellectual counterweight to radical environmentalism in Kyoto.

Environmentalist advocacy groups — "environmental NGOs" in UN parlance — typically wear the white hats at UN conferences. They are self-appointed spokesmen for the broader public interest. "Industry NGOs," cast as self-interested villains wearing the black hats, lack the credibility necessary to represent economic freedom. CEI did much to transcend this fictitious, bipolar world view created by proponents of international regulation.

Our presence alone, however, was not enough to prevent major mischief-making. Vice President Al Gore flew to the conference for a day to break open the deadlocked negotiations. In a speech to the conference, he instructed the U.S. delegation to show "increased negotiating flexibility." This signaled to all that the Clinton-Gore administration was prepared to cave in on every substantive issue – targets, emission trading, developing country participation, and so on. Gore made clear that the administration preferred a bad treaty to no treaty at all.

And a bad treaty it is. The Kyoto Protocol agreed to by the administration commits the U.S. to curb greenhouse gas emissions by 7 percent below 1990 levels by 2012. To comply with the treaty’s draconian terms, the U.S. would have to cut energy use some 40 percent below what it otherwise would be in 2012.

To add insult to injury, the Kyoto treaty establishes a "Clean Development Mechanism" to transfer technology and other foreign aid to the Third World. Hidden in the fine print of the Protocol is language authorizing the United Nations to levy taxes on American businesses participating in the mechanism. U.N. bureaucrats have sought independent taxation authority for years, and may finally have achieved it.

The U.S. Senate must ratify the Kyoto Protocol before it becomes law of the land. Prior to the conference, the Senate unanimously approved the Byrd-Hagel resolution, which declared that any treaty the U.S. adopts must not harm the U.S. economy and must not exempt developing countries from binding obligations. On its face, the treaty fails on both counts. U.S. Senators Chuck Hagel (R-NE) and Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) have declared the treaty "dead on arrival."

The administration concedes that the treaty failed to garner "meaningful participation" of developing countries, and says it will withhold the treaty from the Senate until such time as it is able to persuade key developing nations, such as China, India, and Brazil, to undertake emissions reductions. That only complicates matters further, however, as the administration retains the option of partially implementing the energy-suppression treaty at home through environmental regulations, executive orders and the budget process. There is a real danger that Clinton and Gore will evade the Senate advice and consent requirements to advance the treaty.

As the world inches closer to a implementing a global warming treaty with binding restrictions on U.S. economic growth, it is crucial that pro-freedom voices be heard in the global policy debate. Fortunately, CEI was not alone in Kyoto. Conservative movement organizations, including the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, Science and Environmental Policy Project, Sovereignty International, and Eagle Forum, also attended the UN conference to report the outrages they were witnessing in Kyoto: threats to national sovereignty, the global population control agenda, and proposals for global energy rationing.

With these other opponents of a global energy-suppression treaty, CEI formed an ad hoc "contrarian" coalition, "Friends of Humanity," with which we engaged the greens in the "street theater" battle. The first skirmish ensued after Friends of the Earth International gave a Scorched Earth Award to American industry representatives – a bowl of burnt soil meant to publicize the greens’ fear that we are burning up the planet. The coalition quickly "recycled" the award with a new label, the Scorched Economy Award, and filled it with coins to symbolize the economic costs of the global warming treaty. Against the backdrop of a large anti-climate treaty banner, the pro-energy coalition presented the award to the environmentalists, praised science, technology, and economic progress, and denounced the climate treaty.

Not only did the returned "award" foil the greens’ publicity stunt, it also generated some important publicity for climate treaty skeptics. It forced Friends of the Earth-International and the World Wide Fund for Nature to accept CEI’s challenge to debate the merits of a climate treaty in a more formal setting. The resulting "Contrarians vs. Greens" face-off allowed the scientific, economic, and ethical implications of global energy restrictions to be debated seriously at a UN conference, perhaps for the very first time.

Another feature of policy combat is intellectual ammunition. CEI attempted to serve as an umbrella group for the broader opposition to energy suppression in the United States. Besides distributing voluminous materials of our own to the news media and the delegates, we also distributed books, videos, and other materials in Kyoto for other organizations that could not attend, including the Independent Institute, Heritage Foundation, and the European Science and Environment Forum, among others. These materials were vital in demonstrating to conference-goers that opposition to the climate treaty is not a fringe position, environmentalist propaganda notwithstanding.

While pro-market forces were badly outnumbered in Kyoto, our presence at the climate conference was out of proportion to our numbers. Not only did CEI report on the Kyoto conference daily on our website(, we also provided important perspective and commentary for print and broadcast media in the U.S. and abroad, as well as analyses for members of Congress and their staff.

The next global warming confab is scheduled to take place in Buenos Aires, Argentina. It is crucial that more free market and conservative organizations recognize the dangers inherent in international environmental negotiations and get involved. Hopefully the next meeting will see an expanded Friends of Humanity coalition to stop the energy-suppression agenda in its tracks.