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Smoke still lingers over Kyoto Treaty

by Archives September 17, 2003

This year the Canadian government is set to hand out $1 billion in funding to businesses and homeowners as it begins the first steps toward a workable Kyoto Protocol aimed at slowing global warming. Funding will also be provided for commercial building refits, tens of millions of dollars for ethanol-subsidies, and a whopping $150 million to fund partnerships with province and municipalities on climate-change abatements.

The Kyoto Treaty calls on industrialized nations to limit or reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, primarily carbon dioxide from industry and cars, which many scientist’s believe are raising global temperatures. Kyoto assigns each country a target, requiring it to curb emissions by an average of 5.2 per cent below 1990 levels by 2012.

Through all the rhetoric and flash-cash schemes, critics are fast to point out that Kyoto may just be another initiative headed for the recycling bin. The accord will not come into force until countries representing 55 per cent of global emissions ratify the deal. Russia, with 17.4 per cent of global emissions could ratify the deal this September, but there has been no positive indication that it will do so.

In the past Kyoto has done poorly with elected politicians, both federal and provincial, either in or out of office. Many tend to follow the line of Imperial Oil CEO Bob Peterson, who last December shrugged off the notion of global warming and called Kyoto “the dumbest-assed thing I’ve heard in a long time.” He has since softened his stance but insists that Canada should take more time to ratify the treaty.

Jayson Myers, Chief Economist of the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters group, weighed in by saying, “Kyoto implementation will cause severe economic pain, particularly in the energy and manufacturing sectors.”

Enter the U.S. Last March the US National Policy and Analysis Council claimed that the US would have to cut its energy use by one quarter, the equivalent of stopping all highway, rail, sea and air traffic permanently to meet the requirements of Kyoto. That prompted the US to withdraw support for the treaty.

Scientists sign petition

The science world is still at odds over global warming. In 2003, the number of scientists who signed a petition denying global warming rose from 17,000 in 1997 to 44,000. They have signed a petition saying, in part, “there is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, methane, or other greenhouse gases is causing catastrophic heating of the Earth’s atmosphere and disruption of the Earth’s climate.”

According to Dr. Roy Spencer, meteorologist and team leader of the NASA/Marshall Space Flight Center, “the temperatures we measure from space are actually on a very slight downward trend since 1979 . . . the trend is about 0.05 degrees Celcius per decade cooling.”

A survey of 36 state criminologists, scientists retained by state governments to monitor and research climate issues, conducted in 1997 found that 58 per cent disagreed with the statement, “global warming is for real.” While only 36 per cent agreed. A remarkable 89 per cent agreed, “current science is unable to isolate and measure variations in global temperatures caused only by man-made factors.”

There are two reasons behind the anti global warming movement. First, the most reliable temperature data show no global warming trend. Global warming alarmists point to surface-based temperature measurements showing 1997 was the warmest year on record. But satellites and weather balloons rank 1997 as the seventh coolest year since satellite measurements began in 1978.

The second reason is the reliance on global computer models that are too crude to predict future climate changes.

Predictions of global climate change are based on general circulation models (GCMs), complex computer programs that attempt to simulate the Earth’s atmosphere. GCMs help scientists learn more about atmospheric physics, but they have been unreliable as predictors of future climates.

While global temperatures have risen between 0.3 and 0.6 degrees Celcius over the past one hundred years, computer models predict that global temperatures should have gone up between 0.7 and 1.4 degrees Celcius by 1990. The two ranges do not even overlap.

The real Kyoto

Kyoto supporters acknowledge that the treaty represents only a first step toward achieving the goal set by the original climate treaty: to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere “at a level that would prevent dangerous interference with the climate system.”

Kyoto cannot be taken for granted. Its effects will only slow, not halt, the build up of greenhouse gases.

Unlike the 1990 Montreal Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer, which will eventually “solve” the problem of ozone depletion, the Kyoto Protocol will not “solve” the problem of climate change, but only begin the long process of weaning the world away from heavy reliance on fossil fuels.

Dr. Robert Watson, chief spokesperson on Climate Change for the World Bank-an unpopular organization, suggests that, “Kyoto is unlikely to have much impact in stopping the effects of global warming, but it does open doors for the production of more energy-efficient technologies.”

If these doors are opened, the evolution of the Kyoto Protocol might resemble the Montreal Protocol, which evolved from a weak agreement into a model environmental treaty as the threat of ozone depletion became clear.

The real hope is that Kyoto will not become a broad, rhetorical, self-congratulatory design that describes existing environment and development programs but do little to redirect them, or attempt to spin off some good.

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