U.N. meets in Bonn to shape Kyoto rules
By Henry Lamb
By far, most of the earth's six billion are unconcerned about human-induced global warming. By comparison, a small handful of people are deeply concerned about it. Most of these people will assemble in Bonn, Germany on October 25th to plan strategies to force all humans to conform to a life-style they say will slow global warming.
The two-week meeting is the 5th Conference of the Parties (COP 5) to the Framework Convention on Climate Change which is expected to attract more than 5,000 delegates and observers from more than 150 of the world's 188 nations.
When the treaty was signed by President Bush in 1992, it required voluntary action by 34 developed nations to reduce greenhouse emission to 1990 levels by the year 2000. When the first conference of the parties met in Berlin in 1995, the delegates decided that the developed nations would not meet the voluntary targets, and that legally binding targets must be mandated by the United Nations body. The Kyoto Protocol established those legally binding targets in 1997, requiring the United States to reduce its emissions to a level 7 per cent below 1990 levels by 2008- 2012. A Ministerial Declaration adopted at COP 2 in Geneva, described the Kyoto Protocol as the "first stage" of an on-going effort to eventually eliminate the use of fossil fuels.
Is human activity causing global warming?
The only truthful answer is - no one knows. Neither the $8 million advertising campaign funded by the Environmental Trust, nor Vice Presidential pronouncements that claim human-induced global warming is real - can make it so.
It is also too early to conclude that human activity has no effect on global warming, although the science continues to support this view. The clear, simple fact is, that no one knows - for sure - whether or not the use of fossil fuel has any influence on the climate. Even Dr. Stephen Schneider, Stanford University's outspoken global warming advocate, admitted at COP 4, that no "reputable" scientist could say for certain that climate change due to human activity has yet occurred.
This fact is well known to the United Nations negotiators, but it doesn't matter. The 1992 "Earth Summit" which produced the climate treaty, also produced a declaration which sets forth what is called the "precautionary principle." This means when a threat exists, policy action should not be postponed by the absence of scientific certainty.
The Second Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), presented to COP 2 in 1996, said "...the balance of evidence suggests a discernable human influence on global climate." The IPCC is the official scientific body of the United Nations.
This somewhat meager statement was sufficient for the policy makers to announce that the science was settled; that there would be no further discussion of the science, and that henceforth, the delegates would focus on policies to prevent the emissions of greenhouse gasses from reaching a "dangerous" level. Of course, "dangerous" is not defined, and no one knows whether or not any particular level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is dangerous. The earth has experienced periods when carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was several times more dense than current levels.
The rest of the scientific community was not deterred by the U.N. pronouncement. Several scientists, however, were de-funded when their research failed to support the U.N's conclusions. Since the U.N. pronouncement in 1996, more than 18,000 scientists have signed a public statement that says:
"There is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, methane, or other greenhouse gases is causing or will, in the foreseeable future, cause catastrophic heating of the Earth's atmosphere and disruption of the Earth's climate. Moreover, there is substantial scientific evidence that increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide produce many beneficial effects upon the natural plant and animal environments of the Earth."
Few issues have ever divided the scientific community as bitterly as the dispute about global warming. But it doesn't matter. The policy makers gathered in Bonn, continue to negotiate rules that will require dramatic changes in the way people in developed countries conduct their lives.
Dr. Bonner Cohen, publisher of EPA Watch, compares the policy requirements of the Kyoto Protocol to a doctor who prescribes chemotherapy to a patient, just in case a sneeze may lead to cancer, when it is not yet known whether or not the patient even has a cold.
Policy makers are so far beyond any discussion of the science, that they are now concentrating on the precise rules for implementing the Kyoto protocol as if it had already been ratified. Since the Protocol was adopted in 1997, it has been ratified by only 14 nations, none of which are bound by its requirements. None of the developed nations have ratified the Protocol. Nevertheless, the agenda has been set, and negotiations will resume on October 25.
Two major areas are on the table for negotiations: (1) rules by which so-called "flexibility mechanisms" will be implemented, and (2) defining the consequences for non-compliance.
In the jargon of the U.N., flexibility mechanisms are: CDM, JI, and ETR.
CDM (Clean Development Mechanism) is envisioned to be a system that would allow a developed country to receive "credit" toward its Kyoto emissions target by financing a "sustainable" project in a developing country. For example, if the United States wanted to finance the construction of a coal-burning generating facility that could provide electricity to every family in Bangladesh, the U.S. would get no credit for its effort. On the other hand, should the United States finance solar panels, or windmills, its emission reduction requirements would be eased by some yet-to-be-determined measure.
The objective here is not to get life-saving electricity to the maximum number of people at the lowest possible cost, but to prevent the use of fossil fuel at all cost, and to provide the more fashionable "sustainable" electricity to the fortunate few who may be selected to receive it.
JI (Joint Implementation) is envisioned to be a system that would allow "credits" for contributing to projects in Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. In other words, if money flows from west to east, the west won't have to curtail its energy use quite as much.
Once the U.N. gobbledegook has been penetrated, it is fairly easy to see that CDM means send money south, and JI means send money east. Otherwise, we're going to turn off your energy spigot.
ETR (Emissions Trading Regime) is envisioned to be a system that would allow developed countries to buy and sell emissions credits among themselves. A cursory analysis of the Kyoto targets and the eligible countries, reveals that the only countries that can have credits to sell are those countries in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union where the economy is in shambles and industry in near collapse. ETR is simply another way to send money eastward.
The consequences for non-compliance is on the table in Bonn in a more serious way than ever before. No agreement on this vital aspect of the Protocol is expected at this meeting. Discussion has been postponed since 1995, when the "legally binding" language was first adopted. The target date for final agreement is COP 6, scheduled for late next year or early 2001 in the Hague.
At previous meetings, special committees, special task forces and subsidiary groups have discussed compliance and enforcement. Ideas for enforcement are plentiful. Some have proposed using the new International Criminal Court for enforcement. A recently proposed Charter for Global Democracy calls for the creation of a brand new Environmental Court in the United Nations judicial system. Various taxes have been proposed to be levied against nations that fail to meet the targets mandated by the U.N. body.
The most likely compliance mechanism at the moment, and perhaps for the foreseeable future, is the World Trade Organization. It already exists and has the power to enforce trade sanctions against any nation. There has been considerable discussion about utilizing these powers to enforce the Kyoto Protocol.
As Bonner Cohen suggests, while most of the six billion people on earth are not convinced that the patient has a cold, the handful of "earth doctors" meeting in Bonn are writing the prescription and planning the procedures to administer chemotherapy.
The treatment may truly be worse than the disease. The only point of scientific agreement is the fact that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased from about 270 parts per million (ppm) to about 350 ppm over the last century, and that most of the increase is the result of using fossil fuel. The only known consequence of elevated atmospheric carbon, is a direct and measurable increase in the growth and productivity of vegetation. A comprehensive analysis of all the reviewed scientific studies on elevated atmospheric carbon conducted by scientists around the world, revealed that 93 percent of all vegetation species benefit from elevated atmospheric carbon.
Studies conducted by Dr. Sherwood Idso, a career scientist with the federal government, reveal increased production in several food crops that correlate directly with increased atmospheric carbon. Since human activity generates carbon dioxide, exhaling, for example, and since oxygen is generated by vegetation, one might reasonably conclude that the original system design included an automatic balancing system to ensure that increases in the number of mammals exhaling had all the oxygen needed to first inhale.
At a press conference at COP 4 in Buenos Aires, Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) said the Kyoto Protocol was an economic, rather than an environmental treaty. As the delegates begin to put the final rules together governing CDMs, JI, and ETRs, his observation is being confirmed. Compliance with Kyoto's targets in the United States would require a reduction of fossil fuel energy use of at least 30 percent over the next decade. Some calculations put the estimate much higher. Negotiators are convinced that Americans would rather send money east, south, or anywhere, rather than give up their automobiles, and air conditioners, and face revolving electricity "brown-outs."
As perplexing as these unresolved issues may be, the absolute refusal of the delegates to even consider bringing developing nations under the Protocol's requirements may be the most telling feature of the entire process. More than 150 nations are not affected by the treaty, including China, whose emissions are expected to surpass the United States' within the decade, Brazil, Korea, and virtually all of the emerging Asian economies.
Before the Kyoto Conference, the President said he would not accept a treaty that failed to embrace all the nations of the world. In Kyoto, Al Gore accepted the treaty, and the President signed it. The U.S. Senate adopted a resolution that said it would not ratify a treaty that failed to embrace all the nations of the world. Consequently, the treaty has not been presented for ratification. It is being withheld in hopes that a more friendly Senate will emerge after the next election.
Led by China and the developing nations, there is no hope that the U.N. will subject developing nations to the requirements of the Protocol. China has said in public forum, to ask them again in 20 or 50 years. In Buenos Aires, the question was officially removed from any further discussion.
Henry Lamb is the executive vice president of the Environmental Conservation Organization (ECO), and chairman of Sovereignty International. He has attended more than a dozen meetings of the U.N. Climate Change Conference since COP 2 in 1996. He will be reporting to WorldNetDaily from Bonn during the current session.
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