November 20, 2000 | News Releases on Energy and Environment
The Netherlands gathering of representatives from 160 countries is the sixth such assembly under the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change. Delegates are discussing final implementation of the Kyoto Protocol, which would severely limit U.S. energy use in an effort to combat "global warming." The meeting ends Nov. 24.
"The Protocol is a flawed agreement for addressing global temperature changes and their impact on the environment," says Angela Antonelli, director of Heritage's Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies, in a new paper on the topic. "Considerable uncertainty remains about the science of climate change and mankind's contribution to it."
Fueling the uncertainty is a growing body of scientific evidence that casts doubt on whether any global temperature fluctuations are caused by emissions produced in the burning of energy sources such as coal and petroleum.
"The conventional thinking is that man's industrial activities increase greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, and that triggers warming," Antonelli says. "But the findings of recent scientific research-which suggest that any temperature changes may be due to natural fluctuations-raise questions about these long-held assumptions. And as technology improves, other variables that affect climate are better understood."
There is also uncertainty about the legal status of the Kyoto Protocol. The Clinton administration signed the treaty in 1998, even after the U.S. Senate unanimously adopted a resolution saying it would reject any climate treaty that could harm the U.S. economy or that failed to require developing and developed countries to share equitably the burden of reducing emissions. The administration has developed a plan to implement the Protocol in the United States, but has never submitted the treaty to the Senate for ratification.
In addition to the scientific and legal concerns, Antonelli says, there is needless haste. "The interests of the United States would be better served if any final agreements on implementation were postponed" until the next year's Protocol meeting in Morocco, she says, at which time they would reflect the views of the new administration and Congress.
Another problem flows from the treaty's requirement that it be ratified by at least 55 developed nations who produce the most carbon-dioxide emissions before it takes effect. But so far, only 30 nations-all developing-have ratified the Protocol.
Antonelli argues that the Protocol treats the United States unfairly. "It places the United States at a significant disadvantage compared with Europe and other developed nations," she says. "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."
The treaty also would require the United States to submit "to the enforcement mechanisms of yet-to-be-determined international organizations that would exercise considerable control over U.S. energy and land use," she warns.