Jewish World Review Feb. 21, 2005 /12 Adar I 5765
Debra J. Saunders
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 Wednesday?
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 is symbolic."
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
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
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
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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