|The Week That Was
September 30, 2000
NEW ON THE SEPP WEB
The Pro Farmer report, edited by Jerry Carlson, is read by 50,000 farmers every day. The Sept 28 issue carried quotes from an op-ed by Fred Singer, published in the Wall Street Journal Europe. It reported on the inconclusive UN preparatory meeting (Sept 11-15) held in Lyon, France.
UN CLIMATE TALKS INCONCLUSIVE
LYON, France, Sept. 18 (ENS report): - Following inconclusive climate change talks last week, the U.N.'s top official on the issue said world governments must reach clear decisions at talks at the Hague in November, or the entire process could collapse. "The Hague is a political deadline," Michael Zammit Cutujar, the U.N. executive secretary for climate change, told reporters at the end of U.N. climate talks in Lyon, France.
"No major industrialized country is going to commit itself to the Kyoto Protocol (treaty) until it knows the economic consequences," he added. Cutujar stressed there would have to be compromises to win the support of more reluctant countries at the ministerial talks at the Hague on Nov. 13-25. The international Kyoto Protocol signed in 1997 legally obliges Western nations to cut emissions of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide to 5.2 percent below 1990 levels by between 2008 and 2012. Fierce arguments rage over the extent to which nations can meet reduction targets by buying permits to pollute. This is cheaper and politically easier than stopping industry and transport spewing out CO2 emissions, which could cut two percent off nations' gross domestic product, according to UN figures.
Controversial options proposed at the UN talks include buying unused credits from nations exceeding reduction targets, subtracting CO2 absorbed by forests ("carbon sinks") from targets, and financing projects to curb greenhouse gas output in developing countries, such as cleaner power stations. Cutujar said governments at the Hague should accept the use of carbon sinks and projects in developing countries but must ensure these schemes were based on strict calculations of emissions to prevent cheating. But he disagreed with calls by environmental groups to introduce sanctions for countries that failed to comply with reduction targets in the early stages, saying this would scare them away from ratifying the treaty.
"My personal preference would be to go for rigor in the accounting rules but be a bit softer on compliance until we've got them on board," he said.
Comment: It's the old slippery slope argument all over again. Note also that a 5% cut (from 1990 emission levels) represents a 30-40% cut by 2010 for most industrialized countries. Note also that 5% is not going to have much effect on the atmosphere; the UN-IPCC calculated that a 60-80% cut for all countries (including developing nations) is needed to stabilize atmospheric greenhouse gases at the 1990 level.
The US Supreme Court will consider this matter in its current session. Several briefs of amicus curiae have been filed in support of C/B analysis, including one by a bipartisan group of more than 40 prominent economists. They argue that "protection of public health," the major purpose of the Clean Air Act, requires implicitly the balancing of cost and benefits. They ask the Supreme Court to overturn a lower court ruling that EPA may not do so under their interpretation of the statute.
In this connection, we call attention to the fundamental environmental law, the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969.
A plain reading of the text leads to the following conclusion. In making a decision, whether an investment decision or project decision, the decision-maker considers economic and technical aspects. Usually he will make a rate-of-return calculation or, equivalently, a cost-benefit analysis. The Congress is now saying that this is still the primary consideration, but let us be sure that we include environmental costs and benefits which have up until now not been included because they have not been quantified, that is, because they have not been expressed in the same units, namely, in dollars. What the Congress is therefore asking is that we develop methods and procedures which will assign dollar values to environmental amenities so that these can be considered on the same terms and along with other economic returns and benefits.
Using the oddly elliptical language required by proponents of the "precautionary principle," EPA says "The lack of clear indication of disease in the general population attributable to dioxin-like compounds should not be considered strong evidence for no effects of exposure to dioxins. Rather a lack of clear indication of disease may be the result of the inability of our current data and scientific tools to directly detect effects at these levels of exposure."
Dr. Jay Lehr, a nationally prominent environmental scientist and hydrologist,
said EPA's logic "defies common sense."
Source: Environment & Climate News vol.3 No. 9, Sept. 2000 (published by the Heartland Institute)