April 21st 2001

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Articles from this issue:

INTERVIEW: Refugees - what should we do?

EDITORIAL: Defence - the way forward

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Costello's future linked to Howard's fate

INDONESIA : Can Wahid survive IMF demands and army intrigue?

TRADE : Why US trade deal won't fly

ENVIRONMENT: Kyoto greenhouse Protocol "dead in the water"

New Voluntary Euthanasia Bill in SA

Grain farmers tackle crisis in agriculture

Straws in the Wind



COMMENT: How modern culture erodes family ties

DRUGS: Guarded optimism after Melbourne summit

ECONOMICS: Victims of the "new economy"

EDUCATION: "Educational Left" - how it failed schools

BOOKS: "How many divisions ... ?"

BOOKS: Business ethics: 'NO LOGO', by Naomi Klein

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Kyoto greenhouse Protocol "dead in the water"

by News Weekly

News Weekly, April 21, 2001
The Australian Government has decided to withdraw its support for the Kyoto Protocol to control "greenhouse" gases, following the Bush Administration's decision late in March not to sign the agreement.

The accord, reached in Kyoto in 1997, has been signed by more than 100 countries but only comes into force when countries ratify it. Developed countries have delayed a decision until the US, which refused to sign it, determines its final position.

The Kyoto Protocol proposed that developed nations such as Australia, the US, Japan and Western Europe, would reduce emissions of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide (CO2) by 5.2 per cent by 2012 from 1990 levels.

Political support

This proposal was strongly supported by Western European Social Democrats and by the Greens, who said computer models indicated that unless emissions of climate-heating cases were controlled, the earth's atmosphere would heat up, leading to more droughts, floods, rising sea levels and the extinction of many plant and animal species.

The problem is that the hard scientific evidence does not back up the theory of global warming; nor does it show that if global warming occurs, its consequences would necessarily be negative.

Among the problems with the theory are the troubling incongruities between satellite data, measurements of temperature taken at ground-based stations, and the computer models. They contradict one another. The satellite data indicate an overall cooling trend, while some ground monitoring stations suggest a slight warming is taking place. The computer models vary, but some suggest catastrophic environmental consequences of increased CO2 in the atmosphere.

Further complicating matters is the fact that most of the warming trend observed by scientists occurred in the early 20th Century, or well before mass industrialisation worldwide.

Professor Fred Singer, a respected American climatologist, Professor Emeritus of Environmental Sciences at the University of Virginia and a former director of the US Weather Satellite Service, wrote in 1998:

"Some perspective can be gained from historic data that show CO2 concentrations in past geological periods up to 20 times greater than the present value - without harming the climate system. There seem to be no obvious connections.

"While the large fluctuations of the Ice Ages of the past two million years arose after CO2 levels had fallen to near-present levels, there was a period of widespread glaciation during the Ordovician period (440 million years ago) when CO2 levels were 15 times the present value."

He concluded:

"I have investigated the matter of historic climate stability in more detail. From published ice-core data, one finds that climate fluctuations were much greater during the low CO2 levels of the most recent ice age than at the higher CO2 levels of the present warm interglacial (Holocene) period of the past 10,000 years. Does this result suggest that higher CO2 levels promote more climate stability and therefore present less 'danger to the climate system'? It is something the world should certainly ponder before embarking on economically ruinous policies of drastic emission cuts."

Senator Robert Hill, the Australian Minister for the Environment, had supported Kyoto's greenhouse gas protocol, although insisting that it had to apply to both developed and developing countries, including China, India and Russia, which are major polluters because of their dirty industries.

Germany, one of the strongest protagonists of the Kyoto Protocol, is able to meet its greenhouse targets because polluting power stations in East Germany were closed down after reunification with the West some years ago.

US opinion

The differences of opinion which exist in Australia have been reflected in the US. Although Al Gore was an enthusiastic supporter of Kyoto, the US Senate unanimously adopted the bipartisan Byrd-Hagel resolution that rejected mandatory emission controls in 1997.

Since the Bush Administration took office last January, the Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christine Todd Whitman and some other Bush administration staffers supported the protocol; but President Bush ultimately rejected it as unfair to the United States and economically destructive - especially to low-income groups.

Within the US, the critics have pointed out that significant reductions of CO2 output would entail dramatic cutbacks in energy usage and industrial activity with potentially massive negative economic impacts.

"If you attempt to regulate carbon dioxide, you will regulate us into a permanent energy crisis in this country," said Republican Senator Larry Craig of Idaho, who added, "I think they understand that at the White House now" - meaning, the practical consequences of appeasing radical environmentalists.

Reducing US output of CO2 to below 1990 levels would precipitate major economic dislocations, and perhaps even a worldwide depression, some observers believe.

Professor Singer said, "Cutting energy consumption by 30 to 40 per cent within a decade is practically unachievable."

In any case, he argued, it does not require a major government program to wean us away from fossil fuels. As these become depleted and scarce, their price is bound to rise, thereby making other forms of energy more competitive.

Talks on implementing the Kyoto Protocol broke down last November at a meeting of developed nations in The Hague, and are due to resume in Bonn next July.

But for the moment, it looks as if Kyoto is dead in the water.

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