Is A Symbolic Pact Just Hot Air?
How important to the world's future is
the Kyoto global-warming pact that went into effect last
It can't be that important since Eileen
Claussen, president of the Pew Center on Global Climate
Change, told The Washington Post, "The greatest value
Symbolic is the word. The Kyoto treaty
won't reduce emissions in America because this country never
ratified it. What's more, negotiators at Kyoto in 1997 had
to know the United States never would ratify the pact. Before
Vice President Al Gore left to attend the Kyoto summit,
the Senate voted 95-0 in favor of a resolution warning that
the Senate would not support a global warming pact that
exempted developing nations such as China and India.
Kyoto won't make a difference in those
developing nations because they don't have to reduce emissions
or even agree to curb how much their pollution grows. While
141 countries ratified the pact, Kyoto's emission caps only
apply to some 35 countries.
Kyoto won't result in big greenhouse-gas
reductions in Europe.
The Kyoto pact required Europe to reduce
its emissions to 8 percent below its 1990 levels by 2012
and the United States to cut its emissions to 7 percent
below 1990 levels. That makes it seem as if Europe has a
tougher mandate, except the baseline year chosen, 1990,
was rigged to help Europe. The year 1990 preceded the shutdown
of coal-spewing smokestacks in the wake of the fall of the
Soviet Union. By 1997, many European countries already had
met their Kyoto target. When the race started, some European
nations were already at the finish line.
Claussen noted on the phone Thursday that
some European countries are now exceeding their goals and
will have to work to meet them. Allow me to interject that
they'll be struggling despite their humongous head start.
President Clinton clearly understood that
Kyoto was poison. He never asked the Senate to ratify it.
More important, Clinton never pushed for meaningful legislation
to reduce emissions. When Clinton left office, emissions
were on the rise -- they had reached a whopping 14 percent
above 1990 levels.
As Claussen noted, Team Clinton was "no
different in substance than the current administration."
Claussen explained that she believes Kyoto
is important because it establishes a global "statement
of will" to reduce greenhouse gases. But Kyoto is "symbolic,"
she added, because it doesn't begin to address by how much
emissions would need to be reduced to stop global warming.
Greenhouse-gas emissions would need to be as low as 50 percent
of 1990 levels to address human-induced global warming,
albeit in 50 to 75 years. Other environmentalists have argued
that much steeper reductions are needed -- one science biggie
said that "40 successful Kyotos" are needed.
The Bush administration estimates Kyoto
would cost the United States 5 million jobs and $400 billion
annually. Even if that figure is inflated, I don't know
many Americans who want to lose their job for a symbol or
a first step. And it doesn't help that the global-warming
debate has been distorted by politics.
I am a global-warming agnostic. I think
that warming may well be human induced, but I am skeptical
of the doomsday scenarios, and I don't trust people who
use the issue as a club against America itself (and George
W. Bush). I don't trust the zealots (like Gore) to pick
the best remedies, after they misrepresent the science.
Claussen rightly notes one reason for Bush
to make nice with Europe on Kyoto is that he owes British
Prime Minister Tony Blair. Note, I concentrate on Europe
because it is Europe that bellyaches the loudest about Bush's
unilateralism on Kyoto.
And Bush could boost his environmental
agenda in ways that not only would address global warming
but also would promote national security and cleaner air.
(As Brookings Institution scholar Gregg Easterbrook noted
on the New York Times' op-ed page last week, Bush's Clear
Skies measure would go a long way by reducing some greenhouse-gas
pollution from power plants by 70 percent. )
The Kyoto crowd has to get real, however.
Be honest with the American people about how much change
is involved. Admit that the science is not clear and that
even scientists who recognize global warming as human induced
vary widely in what they see as the remedy.
While Europe blames President Bush for
the demise of Kyoto, I blame Kyoto negotiators for passing
a document that wasn't a pact to spread the pain universally
but a pitchfork aimed at the U.S. economy. They call themselves
sophisticates, but they negotiated like Madame Defarge.
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