Road to Hague: A Desperate Effort To Salvage A Flawed Climate Change Treaty

Report Environment

Road to Hague: A Desperate Effort To Salvage A Flawed Climate Change Treaty

November 17, 2000 38 min read
Angela Antonelli
Visiting Fellow

More than 160 nations are gathering at The Hague in the Netherlands through November 24 to reach final agreement on the implementation of the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The Clinton Administration, led by Vice President Al Gore, had agreed to the Protocol on greenhouse gas emissions in December 1997 at the third Conference of the Parties (COP-3) to the Convention in Kyoto, Japan.

The Administration took this action just five months after the U.S. Senate had unanimously passed a resolution stating that it would not ratify any global climate treaty that would seriously harm the U.S. economy or fail to require developing and developed countries to reduce their emissions within the same compliance time frame. The Administration has yet to submit the treaty for Senate ratification. Moreover, the continuing national and international debates about the causes and extent of global warming have raised fundamental questions about the real need for this agreement and its feasibility.

The Kyoto Protocol establishes mandatory, differentiated targets for the world's developed countries to reduce or limit their greenhouse gas emissions. Under its negotiated terms, the United States must reduce its emissions of six greenhouse gases by 7 percent below its 1990 levels between 2008 and 2012. However, U.S. carbon emissions are projected to be 43 percent above the Kyoto-mandated cap by 2010. The gap between projected emissions and the Kyoto cap will grow to 51 percent by 2015. At the same time, developing countries such as China, India, and Mexico, whose emissions will exceed those of developed countries in the same time frame, are exempt from such requirements.2

Three years after the Protocol was adopted, the Clinton Administration has failed to secure the Senate's support for the treaty. In signing the Protocol on November 12, 1998, the Administration had signaled both the intent to seek Senate ratification and the intent to pursue the treaty's goals without it. The Administration has taken the position that "global climate change is one of our greatest environmental challenges" and has established a domestic plan to try to meet the unratified Protocol's unrealistic goals.3 It proposed regulating carbon dioxide4 as a pollutant, promised the business community financial rewards through credits for early action to reduce greenhouse gases, and significantly increased federal spending and tax credits for climate change "research" and "investment" programs.5

Although the Administration is taking steps to implement its domestic plan of action, it has had much less success with other parties to the Protocol in resolving the many complex international implementation issues. Despite more than four meetings involving more than 160 nations, there has been little real progress to date. For the Protocol to enter into force, it must be ratified by at least 55 nations representing at least 55 percent of the total carbon dioxide emissions emitted in 1990 by the developed nations of the world.6 So far, only 30 nations have ratified the Protocol--all developing countries.7 Among the more contentious issues to be resolved are how to measure emissions reductions, the rules for an emissions trading system, how to estimate removal and storage of carbon by forests and other natural "sinks," and the consequences for non-compliance.

It was expected that the parties attending the COP-4 meeting in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in November 1998 would make progress in negotiating the unresolved issues, but little was accomplished. The parties agreed to set a two-year timetable for a work plan that would culminate in successful completion of negotiations at the COP-6 meeting now taking place at The Hague. Then, after little additional progress had been made at the COP-5 meeting in Bonn, Germany, in October 1999, the delegates made a commitment to bring the Kyoto Protocol into force no later than 2002.

According to Michael Zammit Cutajar, the COP-6 meeting's Executive Secretary, "The [Hague] meeting's success will be measured by the early entry into force of the Kyoto Protocol--I hope by 2002, ten years after the adoption of the Convention at the Rio Earth Summit."8 But as Cutajar had observed at a preliminary meeting this past September in Lyon, France, "No major industrialized country is going to commit itself to the Kyoto Protocol until it knows the economic consequences."9

There will be a major push at The Hague to save the Kyoto Protocol. The slow progress in negotiating implementation underscores how unworkable the framework is and how much is at stake for participating nations. For the United States, analysis of the Protocol clearly indicates that a fully implemented Kyoto Protocol will negatively affect the U.S. economy, American jobs, the environment, the U.S. standard of living, energy costs and use, global competitiveness, the balance of trade, and--perhaps most important--national sovereignty.10 As the previous COP meetings have demonstrated, the real negotiations will go on behind closed doors, and most of the difficult issues will not be agreed to until the last minute, if at all. These decisions will have long-lasting consequences for the United States and the next President.

Unfortunately, the timing of the COP-6 meeting requires that the interests of the United States in these negotiations are represented primarily by a lame duck Administration rather than by the newly elected President and his Administration. Moreover, the ongoing fiscal year (FY) 2001 U.S. budget negotiations have forced a lame duck session of Congress and created uncertainty for Members who would otherwise consider attending the meeting at The Hague to monitor the negotiations. The interests of the United States would be better served if any final agreements on implementation were postponed until the COP-7 meeting to be held next year in Morocco.

Here's a sobering thought: 20th century temperatures rose about 10 times the amount that Kyoto would prevent in the next 50 years, and, at the same time, life span doubled, crop yields quintupled, and the greatest democratization of wealth in the world's history took place.

--Patrick J. Michaels and Robert Balling, Jr., The Satanic Gases: Clearing the Air About Global Warming.11

The extent of human impact on the climate remains the subject of highly complex scientific analysis. Many uncertainties surround even the theory of "global warming." Initially, it was commonly thought that climate change, particularly global warming, could be explained as a simple cause-and-effect relationship between increases in greenhouse gas emissions and increases in average temperatures.

The conventional thinking has been that man's industrial activities increase greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere and trigger warming with environmental consequences. But the findings of recent scientific research raise questions about these long-held assumptions. As technology improves, other variables that affect climate are better understood. These include cloud changes, carbon sinks, solar radiation, tropospheric ozone, tropospheric aerosols, and volcanic aerosols.12 The more that is learned about the climate change process, the more inadequate the existing climate change models become. The temperature change they predict is continually reduced as more information and better models become available.13

Dr. Kenneth Green, Director of the Environmental Program at the Reason Public Policy Institute, has put the observed changes in the climate in perspective:

Our ability really to know what the climate is doing is limited by a short observational record and by the uncertainties involved in trying to figure out what the climate was like in the past or might be like in the future, for comparison with recent climate changes. While the Earth's climate has been evolving and changing for over four billion years, recordings of the temperature only cover about 150 years, less than .000004 percent of the entire pattern of evolving climate. In fact, temperature records are spotty before the 1950s and only cover a tiny portion of the globe mostly over land.14

Every five years, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assesses the state of global warming science. In its 1995 Second Assessment Report on global climate change, the IPCC released its now famous and widely reported conclusion that there is a "discernable human impact on the climate system."15

Less widely reported was the same report's conclusion that "it should be clear...that current data and systems are inadequate for the complete description of climate change."16 The IPCC report responded to the question of whether climate changes can be attributed to human action by stating:

Although these global mean results suggest that there is some anthropogenic component in the observed temperature record, they cannot be considered compelling evidence of a clear cause-and-effect link between anthropogenic forcing and changes in the Earth's surface temperature.17

Thus, while there is some warming, there remains considerable uncertainty about how much of it is due to human activity.

Over the last year, a series of National Academy of Sciences (NAS) reports have confirmed significant uncertainties regarding the science of global warming, the inadequacy of U.S. climate models, and the tools available to study global climate. The September 1999 report produced by the Academy's National Research Council Committee on Global Climate Change Research, Global Environmental Change: Research Pathways for the Next Decade, for example, concludes:

It would be a misinterpretation of U.S. administration policy and agreements at the Kyoto conference to conclude that the causes and characteristics of global change are sufficiently clear that scientific inquiry in this area should be limited to mitigation measures. The agreements at the Kyoto conference are based on a general understanding of some causes and characteristics of global change; however, there remain many scientific uncertainties about important aspects of climate change.18

On March 30, 2000, Elbert W. Friday, Director of the National Research Council's Atmospheric Sciences and Climate Board, made it clear in testimony before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee that the comprehensive review of the climate change research reflected in the Pathways report points to serious deficiencies in U.S. capabilities with respect to the monitoring of climate change trends, making it much more difficult to draw conclusions about the long-term behavior of the climate system.19

In January 2000, another National Research Council report concluded that both the surface-based temperature record (which shows a small global warming trend) and the satellite-measured temperature record (which shows a very slight warming trend--a rate less than one-third the rate observed at the Earth's surface) are correct.20 As the Reconciling Observations of Global Temperature Change report points out, "climate models generally predict that temperatures should increase in the upper air as well as at the surface if increased concentrations of greenhouse gases are causing the warming."21

In other words, all climate models project a rise in the atmosphere's temperature from the surface to about five miles up because of increasing levels of greenhouse gas. But if the global average temperature records are correct, then the climate models are wrong. The layer of the atmosphere measured by satellite instruments should warm at a faster rate than the surface, according to the climate models, yet the records show the opposite occurring. The report concludes:

Regardless of whether the disparity is real, the panel cautions that temperature trends based on data for such short periods of record, with arbitrary start and end points, are not necessarily indicative of the long-term behavior of the climate system.22

Based on these findings, Dr. John Christy of the Earth System Science Laboratory at the University of Alabama-Huntsville has observed, "One finds it difficult to conclude the climate change is occurring in the U.S. and that it is exceedingly difficult to conclude that part of that change might have been caused by human factors."23 Christy also points out that satellite data show most of the planet has experienced below-average temperatures. He notes:

Has hot weather occurred before in the U.S.? All time record high temperatures by states begin in 1888. Only eleven of the states have uniquely seen record highs since 1950 (35 occurred prior to 1950, 4 states had records occurring before and after 1950). Hot weather happens. Similar findings appear from an examination of destructive weather events. The intensity and frequency of hurricanes have not increased. The intensity and frequency of tornadoes have not increased.... Droughts and wet spells have not statistically increased or decreased. Last summer's drought in the Northeast was remarkable in the sense that for the country as a whole, the typical percentage area covered by drought was below average. Deaths in US cities are no longer correlated with high temperatures, though deaths still increase during cold temperatures.24

On June 12, 2000, the Clinton Administration's Global Climate Change Research Program (GCRP) in the Department of Energy released a draft of its first National Assessment, which predicts that U.S. temperatures will soar by 5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100.25 This widely reported conclusion contradicts the recent trend in the scientific community toward more moderate predictions of warming and its likely consequences. In 1990, for example, the IPCC predicted an increase of 5.8 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100. In 1992, it predicted an increase of 4.5 degrees Fahrenheit by that year. And in 1995, it predicted an increase of 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100--40 percent below its 1990 prediction.26

The release of the draft report for public comment followed two rounds of technical peer review. Congress had directed in the FY 2000 appropriations bill27 that all research used in the National Assessment be subject to peer review and made available to the public prior to its use in the actual Assessment, and that the Assessment be made available to the public in the Federal Register for a 60-day public comment period. The Administration agreed to this requirement; but when it released the draft GCRP report last June, elements of the Assessment addressing regional and sectoral impacts were not made available for review.

Members of Congress have questioned the timing of the draft's release and the circumvention of the peer review and public notice requirements. Moreover, the compressed timetable for review makes it more likely that the National Assessment will be included in the IPCC's Third Assessment Report, due out in early 2001. Evidence suggests that the IPCC has already used the U.S. draft report in its assessment, and in fact references it,28 which has triggered a lawsuit by three Members of Congress and public policy organizations alleging violations of the Federal Advisory Committee Act and the U.S. Global Climate Change Research Act, as well as congressionally directed restrictions on federal spending.29 President Clinton released the final report on November 11, just as the negotiations were set to begin.30

Less than two weeks before the U.S. presidential elections, copies of the IPCC Assessment's draft Summary for Policymakers were leaked to the Associated Press and other media, and the issue of global warming became part of the election debates. The Summary suggests a higher range of potential warming than previous estimates and higher sea levels by 2100, with global average temperatures increasing between 2.7 degrees to 10.4 degrees Fahrenheit, and sea levels by 14 to 80 centimeters.31

Dr. Kenneth Green, who reviewed part of the Third Assessment but not the IPCC's leaked report, highlights several key things the Summary fails to do. Specifically, it:

  • Does not explain that increases in predicted future temperatures from the last IPCC assessment are due to added worst-case scenarios generated outside the careful peer-reviewed publication of the Third Assessment Report, rather than changes in gathered evidence or empirically documented trends in climate, energy use, or greenhouse gas production;

  • Does not spell out how extreme the worst-case scenarios are;

  • Does not explain that predictions of future climate were generated not with state-of-the-art models, but with simple climate models that cannot reliably reproduce known temperature changes of recent years;

  • Does not provide the contextualizing information needed to communicate accurately what scientists have learned about past climate changes, current climate function, or future climate expectations;

  • Does not mention that observed climate changes are only partially due to human activity; and

  • Was not peer reviewed by the same experts who reviewed the technical reports from which it is derived.32

Because the leaked Summary for Policymakers lacks information for putting the document into perspective, Dr. Green concluded that the leak "can only harm the search for a consensus statement of knowledge and the search for appropriate responses to the risks posed by climate change."33

Regrettably, the IPCC's Third Assessment appears to repeat the disturbing pattern that characterized its Second Assessment in 1996. For example, "discernable human influence" language was added to the Second Assessment's Summary for Policymakers after the report had already been approved by the IPCC in 1995 but before the report was printed in 1996. Several other changes in the Summary were made after the IPCC had approved the report in 1995.34

In the four months leading up to The Hague negotiations this month, efforts by the Clinton Administration and the United Nations to release the conclusions of these draft reports prematurely have created an atmosphere of distrust and seriously impeded any certain understanding of the factors that contribute to climate change. Clearly, much more research is needed before the United States commits to such a costly and burdensome policy as the Kyoto Protocol.

There will be a major push at The Hague to save the Kyoto Protocol. Both the number of outstanding issues to be resolved and the failure to address many of these issues over the past three years underscore the reality that the Protocol is fundamentally flawed.

A review of the issues reveals that the Protocol is also inherently unfair, placing the United States at a significant disadvantage compared with Europe and other developed nations. In addition, the United States would be forced to take costly steps to curtail energy consumption and reduce emissions even as emissions worldwide--driven particularly by growth in the emissions of developing countries--increase overall. Finally, the United States would be subjecting itself to the enforcement mechanisms of yet-to-be-determined international organizations that would exercise considerable control over U.S. energy and land use.

Fortunately, the Kyoto Protocol will not become binding on the United States until ratified by two-thirds of the Members of the U.S. Senate, which is not likely to happen any time soon. As of September 12, 2000, 84 countries had signed the treaty, including the United States, the European Union (EU) and most of its members, Canada, Japan, and several developing nations such as China that are not bound by its emission reduction targets. To date, none of the 30 countries that have ratified the Kyoto Protocol are developed nations.

Unresolved Issues
The outstanding issues are significant. The delegates at COP-6 will be working to define the rules by which the so-called Kyoto Mechanisms (on international emissions trading, the clean development mechanism, joint implementation, and carbon "sinks") will be implemented and establish the rules and enforcement measures for non-compliance.

Emissions Reductions
Developed countries (referred to as Annex B countries) in the Protocol are committed to reducing overall emissions by at least 5 percent below 1990 levels between 2008 and 2012. The amount by which developed countries must change their emissions is reflected as a percentage of base year 1990 emission levels and ranges from 92 percent (a reduction of 8 percent) for most European countries to 110 percent (an increase of 10 percent) for Iceland. The United States accepted a level of 7 percent below its 1990 levels by 2008 to 2012. The EU agreed to an average of 8 percent below the combined 1990 levels of its members by the 2008 to 2012 time frame. Australia, by comparison, will be allowed an 8 percent increase.

How realistic the targets are remains open to debate. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 1999 were 0.8 percent higher than in 1998 and 10.7 percent higher than in 1990.35 U.S. carbon emissions are projected to be 43 percent above the Kyoto-mandated cap by 2010. The gap between projected emissions and the Kyoto cap grows to 51 percent by 2015. To meet the target, the United States would have to cut emissions by more than one-third in less than a decade.

A recent report by the Worldwide Fund for Nature estimates that the EU will fail to achieve its target of an 8 percent reduction from 1990 levels by the year 2010.36 A review of five government reports and one independent study by WEFA, a U.S. econometrics consulting firm, found that all the reports conclude prospects are not good that the United States, Canada, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand could meet their Kyoto targets without relying on such measures as emissions trading or carbon taxes, and that prospects for meeting reduction targets through additional fuel substitution are small.37

Developing Country Participation
A fundamental flaw in the Kyoto Protocol that is unlikely to be resolved during the COP-6 negotiations is that it does not require "meaningful participation" by the developing nations. Only 38 developed nations have binding emission reductions targets.

Moreover, the Protocol requires nothing from any of the world's top developing country emitters of carbon dioxide, which include Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Iran, Mexico, South Africa, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Taiwan--about 150 nations in all. Yet these nations soon will emit more carbon than the United States while being able to dictate the compliance terms for the United States and other developed countries. China leads the world in coal use and CO2 emissions from coal, and coal use in China and other Asian developing countries is expected to increase significantly over the next 20 years. Forecasts show world coal demand growing nearly 70 percent between 1995 and 2020, with China and India accounting for 85 percent of that increase.38

On July 25, 1997, the Senate overwhelmingly passed Senate Resolution 98 (the Byrd-Hagel Resolution) to express its intent that the United States not be a signatory to any protocol that does not mandate "new specific scheduled commitments to limit or reduce greenhouse gas emissions for the developing country Parties within the same compliance period" imposed on developed nations.39 Many developing countries have rapidly growing economies and will become the largest emitters of greenhouse gases within the next 15 to 20 years. Because greenhouse gases know no boundaries, stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations would require global participation. Moreover, regulating the emissions of only a handful of countries could lead to the migration of energy-intensive production--such as the chemical, steel, petroleum, refining, aluminum, and mining industries--from industrialized countries to the growing developing countries that are not subject to the Kyoto restrictions.40

Developing countries also have rejected overtures by the Clinton Administration to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases, insisting instead that they desperately need to use carbon-based energy to overcome poverty. Since 1997, only the developing countries of Argentina, Kazakhstan, and Bolivia have agreed to reduce their emissions. Side negotiations between a handful of other developing countries and the United States have occurred, but these countries are discussing voluntary commitments in exchange for generous technology transfers and other aid from the United States--and only outside of the formal framework of the Kyoto Protocol.

The impact that developing countries are expected to have on CO2 emissions makes it very unlikely that the Protocol will have any real effect on global temperatures. At best, the Kyoto Protocol would lower the projected temperature during the next century by only 0.1 degree Celsius.41

Emissions Trading
An international emissions trading system is the only way to effect significant reductions in the costs of meeting the Kyoto targets. The Protocol would allow each country with a binding emission reduction target to use emissions trading, and other flexibility mechanisms such as "bubbling" emissions with other countries, to meet the target. Developed countries that reduce their emissions more than their required national targets could then sell their excess "credits" to another country that is finding it more difficult or expensive to reduce its emissions.

An emissions trading system allows countries (and private entities that are so authorized) to buy and sell emission allowances. Such trading is intended to supplement domestic actions, so that a nation could not entirely meet its targets through trading.

The U.S. position is that there should not be any limits on the amount of emission reductions that can be achieved through emission trading. But the EU and others argue that there should be caps limiting a nation's ability to use the mechanism, consistent with the Protocol's requirement. Ironically, the EU would not impose such a cap on its own ability to "bubble" the emissions of its members.42

Another key emissions trading issue to be addressed is the concern that certain countries, such as Russia and Ukraine, which should be able to meet their targets with minimal effort could sell large quantities of credits to others after they do so.43 Yet, there is considerable doubt that an emissions trading system will be workable even among the developed countries, because demand for credits will likely outstrip supply.44

For the United States, the ability to take advantage of an unrestricted global emissions trading system would make a significant difference in reducing the economic impact of compliance with the Protocol. Studies show that an unrestricted emissions trading system could reduce the amount of economic productivity in the United States that is lost to compliance from as much as $200 billion to $400 billion to between $100 billion and $200 billion.45 Yet it is not at all clear that enough credits would be available, since the system would be restricted to developed nations.46 In addition, even if developed nations could buy from developing nations, they would have to pay a lot to attract credits from developing nations at a time when the developing nations are focused on economic growth and are projected to be the largest emitters in the future.47

Clean Development Mechanism
The clean development mechanism (CDM), seen by many developing countries as a wealth transfer cash cow, would permit the United States and other developed countries to receive some undetermined amount of "credit" towards their Kyoto emissions targets by financing "sustainable" projects in a developing country that would help it reduce its emissions. CDMs are the only vehicle permitted by the Protocol that allows developed countries to get emissions credits from developing countries.

Under the CDM program, some yet-to-be determined bureaucratic international regulatory body would decide what constitutes a "sustainable" project and who would bear the responsibility for the validity of the emission reductions (credits) that result from these projects. Among the tests to be applied would be whether there are emissions reductions beyond what would occur without the project (the "additionality" test).48

CDM transaction costs would be high. The United States and other developed nations would pay for the costs associated with developing and staffing the project, as well as a share of the costs of setting up and running the international regime that would oversee the CDM program. Finally, developed countries would pay for helping developing countries, which are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change, to meet the costs of adaptation.49

Joint Implementation
As is the case with the CDM, the purpose of Joint Implementation (JI) is to allow developed countries with high mitigation costs to spend resources on mitigation activities in other developed countries where mitigation costs are lower. JI is envisioned as a system that allows a developed country to receive "credit" toward its emissions targets by contributing to a project in another developed country, particularly in Europe or the former Soviet Union. It would allow the developed countries, or companies from those countries, to share the emissions reduction units.50 This is one of several mechanisms promoted by the United States that would permit a developed country to meet its emission reduction targets at a possibly lower cost than that of domestic implementation.

Carbon Sinks
Another issue under active negotiation by the COP parties is how to estimate removal and storage of carbon by forests and other sinks, such as soils and oceans. Carbon sinks are natural or man-made systems that absorb and store carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Trees, plants, and the oceans are carbon sinks that have tremendous potential to reduce emission levels, though too much is currently unknown to determine by how much.

No agreement has been reached on what constitutes a carbon sink or how changes in a forest would affect its capacity to remove and store carbon. The inclusion of sinks in the Kyoto Protocol does not change the 1990 baseline for the United States, nor does it change the overall reduction commitment. It is unclear just how sinks might help the United States reach its emission-reduction commitment.

The U.N. scientific panel that provides technical analysis to the parties, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, completed its study on land use, land-use change, and forestry (LULUCF) activities to identify their roles as carbon sinks and deal with the measurement and verification issues related to them.51 Some European countries and environmental groups object that the use of sinks would allow the United States to avoid deep cuts in its emissions.

The June 2000 report suggests that land use changes in developed countries alone could meet the Kyoto targets. In addition, the report says that approximately 1.8 billion tons of emissions per year could be avoided if deforestation were stopped. The deforestation source of avoided emissions is more than three times the Kyoto target. Thus, with proper management of sinks, the Kyoto Protocol would become irrelevant. Vigorous challenges by Europe and environmental activists to the use of sinks can be expected.

The rules currently being negotiated relating to sinks will have a direct impact on landowners in America and could give control of U.S. land use policy to the United Nations. The Protocol requires that carbon sinks be included in determining how much carbon dioxide is in the atmosphere at a given time. This means, simply, that land use, land use changes, and forest use and growth must be monitored and reported to the United Nations. Exactly which lands and which forests to monitor are among the issues on which the delegates are having difficulty reaching agreement.

The carbon sink discussions should be of particular interest to Americans, especially in view of the President's announcement that he intends to protect millions of additional acres of wilderness. This is precisely the kind of action that proponents of the Protocol could claim as necessary to reach the Kyoto Protocol's targets.

The Role of Technology
The most significant way to improve living standards and generally improve environmental well-being is through a growing economy and the technological advances that such growth brings. There is a strong desire among those who support the Protocol to try to establish a timetable for the deployment of new technologies. By doing so, they could in fact undermine the very technological advancements they seek. WEFA's review of five government studies and one independent study showed their agreement that the cost and longevity of energy-using equipment will make it difficult to improve energy and carbon efficiency in the short term.52 In addition,

there is limited opportunity for technological innovation, demonstration, commercialization and acceptance in the short time period before 2008-2012.... [T]he reduction in carbon emissions that would be necessary to meet the goals may require leap-frogging technologies or technological innovation, both problematic and expensive.53

While it is true that the deployment of new energy-efficient technologies can help to address concerns about climate change, it is simply unrealistic to expect that governments can dictate the path of technological advancement. Technological advancement cannot be mandated. In the short term, there are no technologies that could make the unrealistic Kyoto Protocol emission reduction targets any more realistic.

There may still be desperate efforts at the COP-6 meeting at The Hague, which runs through November 24, to save the Kyoto Protocol. Three years and more than four meetings since the Protocol was first adopted in Kyoto in 1997, participating nations have made little progress toward resolving the many complex implementation issues. Supporters within the United Nations and in Western Europe place much hope on making significant progress at The Hague to propel the Protocol toward final ratification; but the road to The Hague has been long and difficult, and it is unlikely that the grand expectations for COP-6 will materialize.

The continuing difficulty in working out implementation details underscores the fundamental problems that plague the Kyoto Protocol--problems the U.S. Senate recognized even before the Clinton Administration agreed to the treaty. The Protocol is a flawed agreement for addressing global temperature changes and their impact on the environment. Considerable uncertainty remains about the science of climate change and mankind's contribution to it.

The United States would be better served by turning its attention to improving its research and climate modeling capabilities in the short term. The global environment would be better served if the United States turned away from the global command-and-control regulatory approach reflected in the Protocol toward a "no regrets" domestic plan of action. Such a plan should be based on the understanding that strong economic growth propelled by low tax and deregulatory policies and a competitive domestic energy market will lead to long-term improvements in energy efficiency and new technologies that will do far more to reduce greenhouse gas emissions than could the Kyoto Protocol.

Angela Antonelli is a former Director of the Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation.


1. The author gratefully acknowledges the research contribution of Susan Moya.

2. U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Information Administration, "International Energy Outlook 2000," at The overall emission reduction target for developed countries is 5 percent below 1990 levels during the five-year period between 2008 and 2012. See tables A19 and A10.

3. "Meeting the Challenge of Global Climate Change," an April 1999 White House fact sheet released by the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, May 26, 1999; see

4. Carbon dioxide (CO2 ), one of six greenhouse gases covered by the Protocol, receives the most attention from climate scientists and policymakers. The others are methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, and sulfur hexafluoride. The most abundant gases contributing to the greenhouse effect, or natural warming of the planet, are carbon dioxide and water vapor. See hearing, "Is CO2 a Pollutant and Does EPA Have the Power to Regulate It?" before the Subcommittee on National Economic Growth, Natural Resources and Regulatory Affairs, Committee on Government Reform, 106th Congress, 2nd Session, October 6, 1999, at

5. See U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Information Administration, Analysis of the Climate Change Technology Initiative, Fiscal Year 2001, April 2000, and National Science and Technology Council, Subcommittee on Global Change Research, Committee on Environment and Natural Resources, Our Changing Planet: The FY 2001 U.S. Global Change Research Program, a Supplement to the President's Fiscal Year 2000 Budget of the United States Government, September 2000.

6. United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), at  

7. Ibid. 

8. UNFCCC, "Crucial Climate Change Talks Set for The Hague," press release, at  (November 4, 2000).

9. "Climate Change: France Conference Ends With `No Breakthroughs'," National Journal, September 18, 2000.

10. For a detailed review of the effects of the Kyoto Protocol, see Angela Antonelli, Brett D. Schaefer, and Alex Annett, "The Road to Kyoto: How the Global Climate Treaty Fosters Economic Impoverishment and Endangers U.S. Sovereignty," Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 1143, October 6, 1997.

11. Patrick J. Michaels and Robert C. Balling, Jr., The Satanic Gases: Clearing the Air About Global Warming (Washington, D.C.: The Cato Institute, 2000), p. 208.

12. Ibid. ; see also Kenneth Green, D.Env., "A Plain English Guide to Climate Change," Reason Public Policy Institute Plain English Guide No. 3, August 2000, pp. 5-15, at    (September 6, 2000).

13. Thomas Gale Moore, Climate of Fear: Why We Should Not Worry About Global Warming (Washington, D.C.: Cato Institute, 1998), p. 13.

14. Green, "A Plain English Guide to Climate Change," p. 15.

15. John T. Houghton et al., eds., Climate Change 1995: The Science of Climate Change, Contribution of Working Group I to the Second Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1996), p. 439.

16. Ibid. , p. 411.

17. Ibid. (emphasis added).

18. National Research Council, Global Environmental Change: Research Pathways for the Next Decade (Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, September 1999), p. x.

19. Testimony of Elbert W. Friday, Jr., Director, Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate, National Research Council, before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, March 30, 2000; see

20. National Research Council, Reconciling Observations of Global Temperature Change (Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, January 2000), at

21. The National Academies, "New Evidence Helps Reconcile Global Warming Discrepancies; Confirms that Earth's Surface Temperature is Rising," press release, January 12, 2000.

22. National Research Council, Reconciling Observations of Global Temperature Change, p. 2.

23. John R. Christy, "The Science Behind Global Warming," testimony before the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, U.S. Senate, 106th Cong., 2nd Sess., May 17, 2000, p. 6; see

24. Ibid, p. 5.

25. Federal Register, Vol. 65, No. 113 (June 12, 2000), pp. 36845-36846.

26. Moore, Climate of Fear, p. 20.

27. Public Law 106-74.

28. Testimony of Senator Larry Craig before the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, U.S. Senate, 106th Cong., 2nd Sess., July 18, 2000.

29. On October 3, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, Consumer Alert, 60 Plus Association, The Heartland Institute, Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), Representatives Joseph Knollenberg (R-MI) and Jo Ann Emerson (R-MO), and David Wojick, Ph.D., filed suit in federal court to have the National Assessment declared unlawfully prepared. ( Competitive Enterprise Institute v. Clinton, D.C. Cir., 1:00-cv-02383, October 3, 2000.) The defendants in the lawsuit are the Chairman of the National Science and Technology Council, President William J. Clinton, and the Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, Neal Lane. The two organizations named in the suit have responsibility for the National Assessment Synthesis Team. The suit alleges that meetings were held in violation of the Federal Advisory Committee Act, which addresses public notice and participation; the U.S. Global Change Research Act, by going beyond statutory authority; and Public Law 106-74, which prohibits the expenditure of appropriated money to release or publish the report before completing underlying science and making the Council's findings available to all parties and subjecting its work to peer review. See Competitive Enterprise Institute, "Administration Sued Over National Assessment," Cooler Heads Newsletter, Vol. 4, No. 20 (October 5, 2000), at   

30. The report, Climate Change Impacts on the United States, is available at

31. Kenneth Green, D.Env., "Mopping Up After a Leak: Setting the Record Straight on the `New' Findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)," Reason Foundation e-brief No. 105, October 29, 2000, at

32. Ibid.

33. Ibid.

34. For a more detailed review of changes in the IPCC's Second Assessment, see S. Fred Singer, "Climate Policy--From Rio to Kyoto: A Political Issue for 2000 and Beyond," Hoover Institution Essays in Public Policy No. 102 (2000), pp. 19-23.

35. U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Information Administration, "Emissions of Greenhouse Gases In the United States 1999," Executive Summary, Report No. EIA/DOE-0573(99) at

36. European Information Service, "Environment: EU on Course to Miss Kyoto Climate Targets," European Report, October 21, 2000.

37. Mary H. Novak, "The Kyoto Protocol: Can Annex B Countries Meet Their Commitments?" Special Report, American Council for Capital Formation, Center for Policy Research, October 1999, p. 5.

38. Marc Humphries, "Global Climate Change: Coal Use in China and Other Asian Developing Countries," Congressional Research Service, CRS Issue Brief for Congress No. RL30233, June 16, 1999.

39. S. Res. 98, introduced by Senators Robert Byrd (R-WV) and Chuck Hagel (R-NE), was passed by a vote of 95-0.

40. Business Roundtable, "The Kyoto Protocol: A Gap Analysis," June 1998, pp. 1-3.

41. Thomas Wigley, "The Kyoto Protocol: CO2, CH4, and Climate Implications," Geophysical Research Letter, Vol. 25 (1998), pp. 2285-88, as cited in Heartland Institute, "The Science of Global Warming," Heartland Talking Points, October 18, 1999, at

42. Testimony of The Honorable Frank E. Loy, Undersecretary of State for Global Affairs, before the Committee on Foreign Relations and the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, U.S. Senate, 106th Cong., 2nd Sess., September 28, 2000, p. 5.

43. UNFCCC, "The Hague 2000," press kit, at

44. Novak, "The Kyoto Protocol: Can Annex B Countries Meet Their Commitments?" p. 5.

45. Margo Thorning, Ph.D., "Climate Change Policy: Contrasting the U.S. and European Union Approaches," Special Report for the European Commission Conference on EU-United States Relations, Brussels, July 6, 2000, at

46. Larry Parker, "Global Climate Change: Lowering Cost Estimates Through Emissions Trading--Some Dynamics and Pitfalls," Congressional Research Service, CRS Issue Brief for Congress No. RL30285, August 20, 1999, p. 4.

47. Novak, "The Kyoto Protocol: Can Annex B Countries Meet Their Commitments?" p. 5.

48. Business Dialogue on Climate Change, UNFCCC Secretariat, "Mechanisms: Some Key Issues Under Discussion," May 16, 2000.

49. J. W. Anderson, Richard D. Morgenstern, and Michael Toman, "At Buenos Aires and Beyond," Resources for the Future, at /static/reportimages/3A8455CAFC42BD176B0F9E564DC72DCC.pdf

50. Parker, "Global Climate Change: Lowering Cost Estimates Through Emissions Trading," p. 4.

51. Jocelyn Kaiser, "Panel Estimates Possible Carbon `Sinks'," Science, Vol. 288 (May 12, 2000), p. 942.

52. Novak, "The Kyoto Protocol: Can Annex B Countries Meet Their Commitments?" p. 5.

53. Ibid.


Angela Antonelli

Visiting Fellow