|The Week That Was
March 17, 2001
NEW ON THE SEPP
[Edited version of a NY Times report of March 14, 2001, with COMMENTS added]
WASHINGTON, March 13 President Bush reversed a campaign pledge today and said his administration would not seek to regulate power plants' emissions of carbon dioxide, a gas that many scientists say is a key contributor to global warming. [BUT OTHER SCIENTISTS DO NOT SUBSCRIBE TO THIS SIMPLISTIC VIEW.]
The White House said a cabinet-level review had concluded that Mr. Bush's original promise had been a mistake inconsistent with the broader goal of increasing domestic energy production. The president outlined his new view in a letter to four Republican senators, whose criticisms of Mr. Bush's initial plan had been among a torrent of protests by conservatives and industry leaders who warned that any effort to regulate carbon dioxide emissions could deal a severe blow to the energy industry and to the American economy.
As recently as 10 days ago, Christie Whitman, the new administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, had described Mr. Bush's campaign promise as if it were already policy. Administration officials would not say directly today whether Ms. Whitman had supported the change in position but suggested that she had not. They said the views of Vice President Dick Cheney and Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham had been most instrumental in the final decision. A spokeswoman for Ms. Whitman, Tina Kreisher, said the E.P.A. chief would "follow the president's lead."
"At a time when California has already experienced energy shortages, and other Western states are worried about price and availability of energy this summer, we must be very careful not to take actions that could harm consumers," Mr. Bush said in the letter. "This is especially true given the incomplete state of scientific knowledge of the causes of, and solutions to, global climate change and the lack of commercially available technologies for removing and storing carbon dioxide." [OK. HE LEAVES THE DOOR ON SCIENCE OPEN.]
Mr. Bush said he remained committed to an energy policy that would seek
to improve air quality by reducing emissions of nitrogen oxides, sulfur
dioxide and mercury, which are already regulated as pollutants. But he
said he no longer supported the position outlined in a campaign statement
of Sept. 29, which had also promised to set "mandatory reduction
targets" for carbon
The pressure to make the decision came in part from those who saw any move to regulate carbon dioxide as an implicit endorsement of the goals of the Kyoto Protocol. This treaty, negotiated and signed by the Clinton administration but as yet unratified, would commit 38 industrialized countries to sharp ongoing cuts in carbon dioxide emissions.
Many senators, particularly Jesse Helms, Republican of North Carolina, and Chuck Hagel, Republican of Nebraska, oppose it as a potential harm to the economy and because it would allow American energy policy, in essence, to be governed by an international treaty. The letter was sent to Mr. Helms, Mr. Hagel, Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas and Senator Larry E. Craig of Idaho.
Mr. Bush's earlier position had been more far-reaching even than that of his campaign opponent, former Vice President Al Gore, who had called for strong incentives to encourage voluntary moves by industry to reduce emissions.
Many people involved on both sides of the fight said the decision by Mr.Bush represented a sharp rebuke of Ms. Whitman, the former New Jersey governor. Among others in the administration who had been seen as supporting restrictions on carbon dioxide was the Treasury secretary, Paul H. O'Neill, who in his previous post as chairman of Alcoa had said in a 1998 speech that the problem of global warming was on par with a potential nuclear holocaust in terms of demanding government action.
A White House spokesman, Scott McClellan, said Mr. Bush had made his
decision in consultation with his cabinet. "The president is following
through on his commitment to a multi-pollutant strategy that will significantly
reduce pollutants. CO2 should not have been included as a pollutant during
the campaign. It was a mistake."
a coalition of Senate and House members led by two Republicans - Senator James Jeffords of Vermont and New York Representative Sherwood Boehlert - plan to introduce legislation that would require power plants to cut their carbon dioxide emissions back to 1990 levels.
AND OLD NEWS:
[From NYT of March 10, 2001 by ANDREW C. REVKIN]
The Bush administration, some influential Republicans in Congress and several big owners of coal-burning power plants have joined in advocating something long sought by environmental groups and Democrats: cuts in the plants' emissions of carbon dioxide, a heat-trapping greenhouse gas widely thought to contribute to a global warming trend.
The cuts would come as part of a larger bill controlling carbon dioxide and three other emissions from the power plants: sulfur dioxide, which causes acid rain; nitrogen oxides, which contribute to smog; and mercury, a toxic heavy metal.
Mr. Bush promised in his campaign last fall to seek such a bill, and Christie Whitman, the new administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, has reasserted that pledge in recent days.
SEPP Comment: Now at last we learn from the NYT why some large utilities actually support CO2 caps legislation and had their lobbyists insert such language into George W. Bush' energy policy statement of Sept 29, 2000:
a bill could be written that controls [CO2] while stating it is not a "pollutant [which would bring it under the umbrella of the Clean Air Act]," according to William F. Tyndall, vice president for environmental services and federal affairs at the Cinergy Corporation, a power company based in Cincinnati that has a fleet of coal-fired plants around the Midwest but supports a comprehensive plant cleanup.
Cinergy, American Electric Power - a huge coal-dependent midwestern power
company - and some other utilities say they would accede to the limits
in the expectation that the bill would provide flexibility. That could
come in the form of allowing utilities to trade emissions credits earned
by reducing emissions or planting forests, which sop up carbon dioxide
through photosynthesis and store the carbon in wood and soil.
SUSTAINABLE ENERGY TALKS END IN DISARRAY
International negotiations over sustainable energy have revealed deep divisions between developed countries who want world energy consumption to level off, and developing countries, who want room to grow and financial support for development.
The negotiating group in question is doing preparatory work for the next meeting of the United Nations' Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD-9) at UN headquarters New York from 16-27 April 2001, leading up to the grand World Summit for Sustainable Development or "Rio+10" meeting in 2002. WSSD is supposed to shape the UN agenda for the next decade.
In typical UN fashion the group's name is arcane -- the Ad Hoc Open-Ended Intergovernmental Group of Experts on Energy and Sustainable Development. Established by the UN General Assembly, the "Expert Group" is charged to "focus on key issues relating to energy for sustainable development including: accessibility of energy, energy efficiency, renewable energy, advanced fossil fuel technologies, nuclear energy technologies, rural energy and energy-related issues in transportation."
A week of negotiations produced many disagreements, with disputed text placed in brackets in the final report. Langston Goree of the International Institute for Sustainable Development, says "delegates failed to reach agreement on a number of contentious issues, most notably nuclear energy and international cooperation." According to IISD, "frustrating," "disappointing," "an opportunity almost lost," "inchoate" and "unfortunate" are some of the words participants used to describe the meeting.
Many of the issues mirror those in Kyoto Protocol negotiations, since the goal of the UN Environment Program is to get a binding International Agreement at Rio+10. One of the most contentious unresolved issues is the provision of what are termed "new and additional financial resources" for sustainable development projects in developing countries, which was left bracketed in several places in the text. The primary bloc of developing countries, G77/China, does not want anything prescribed for them that is not fully funded by the developed countries, but the latter were unwilling to address the issue, resulting in stalemate.
Even the issue of renewable energy was contentious. According to IISD, "contrary to what some observers expected, the issue of renewable energy did not receive wide support from all developing countries. Premising their arguments on current realities, some delegates felt that the investment costs for renewables in developing countries are extremely high. It would thus be foolhardy to prescribe them to developing countries as alternatives to traditional energy sources when the means to overcome the financial hurdles were not being sufficiently addressed."
The editorial ("Editorial warns of politicizing health problems")
attributed to the Atlanta Constitution in your Week That Was of March
3 is in fact an editorial by the Atlanta Journal Editorial Board. (Atlanta
Constitution's the morning paper, Journal is the afternoon paper; and
we have separate editorial boards.)
JAPAN IS FAILING KYOTO
TOKYO, Feb. 23 (Kyodo) -- Japan's carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions will likely show an increase of 7% in fiscal 2010 from fiscal 1990 levels, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) said Friday. The forecast signals that it is totally impossible for Japan to cut emissions of greenhouse gases by 6% from calendar 1990 levels between 2008 and 2012, as required under an international agreement to combat global warming
But the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies estimates that carbon dioxide emissions, which account for about 90% of all greenhouse gas emissions in Japan, are already up 9.8% from 1990. A law designed to help cut greenhouse-gas emissions took effect in 1998, but it is vague and has no teeth. It states that the central and local governments will formulate plans to deal with global warming and calls on businesses to "strive to adopt measures to limit" emissions.
RELEASE OF IPCC WG-III SUMMARY FOR POLICYMAKERS:
Climate panel urged to 'get real'
A damaging row is threatening to envelop a panel of United Nations experts charged with recommending the best ways of softening the impact of climate change.
The panel started work on 28 February in Accra, Ghana, to finalise its report to governments. The report will be the third issued in 2001 by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
Its two earlier reports this year said unambiguously that there was greater scientific confidence that the world was warming, that human activities were at least partly responsible, and that the consequences would be serious.
But this third report, by contrast, looks likely to dwell instead on the remaining uncertainties surrounding climate change, and on the consequent difficulty of choosing suitable mitigation policies.
A copy of the draft which the Accra meeting will be seeking to finalise was passed to BBC News Online. It urges "a prudent risk management strategy" and "careful consideration of the consequences, both environmental and economic".
It says policymakers should be ready for "possible revision of the scientific insights into the risks of climate change". The draft says: "Climate change decision-making is essentially a sequential process under uncertainty . . . it should consider appropriate hedging" until there is agreement on the level at which greenhouse gas emissions should be stabilised.
But the panel's apparent unwillingness - or inability - to be as forthright as the authors of the two earlier reports has been attacked by a UK-based group, the Global Commons Institute. This argues for a policy of "contraction and convergence" (C&C) as the fairest way to tackle climate change.
C&C insists, in essence, that everyone in the world, from rich and poor countries alike, has an equal right to emit greenhouse gases, but that total emissions should be kept below the level where they intensify global warming.
The advocates of contraction and convergence include most of the European Union's environment ministers, the European Parliament, and the UK's Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution. It was given a significant boost at the climate conference last November in the Dutch capital, The Hague, when President Jacques Chirac of France spelt out his support for it.
Now, Aubrey Meyer, the director of the GCI, has written to Bert Metz, who co-chairs the IPCC group meeting in Accra, urging him to include a recommendation of C&C in the policy-makers' summary which the meeting will issue.
Support for the GCI stance has come from an influential climatologist, Sir John Houghton. Sir John is a former head of the UK Met. Office, and now co-chairs the IPCC's working group one, the team which last month said it was more confident that global warming was happening, and that average temperatures might rise twice as fast by 2100 as had been thought.
However, there are also those observers who will want the scepticism that has crept into the IPCC's working group three draft to be maintained. Those scientists who doubt the global warming hypothesis, and humankind's part in it, were delighted to see what they regarded as some realism enter the thinking of the UN body.
This toughening will disappoint those who thought that at least one section
of the IPCC might be more willing to engage some of the uncertainties
that dog climate science. There are scientists who feel the IPCC has overlooked
much recent research which throws into doubt some of the foundations on
which the global warming hypothesis is built.
DOUBTS ABOUT CLIMATE MODEL PREDICTIONS: ONE MORE EXAMPLE
Dr. James Hansen has updated (2/1 01) his article " Climate Forcings in the Industrial Era" http://www.giss.nasa.gov/research/intro/hansen.05/
" The main conclusion that leaps out is the huge uncertainty in the forcings due to aerosols (fine particles in the air) and forced cloud changes. "Forced cloud changes" refers to human-made cloud changes. Such changes, including aircraft contrails, are mainly an indirect effect of aerosols, which serve as condensation nuclei for cloud drops and can alter the brightness and lifetime of clouds. It will be impossible to interpret current climate change or predict reliably future climate unless we develop a better understanding of the aerosol and cloud forcings. "
"Finally, we emphasize that even the best known climate forcing, that due to the greenhouse gases, presents major uncertainties when one attempts to predict the future. The final figure illustrates the rapid growth of greenhouse forcing between 1950 and the 1970s, and a subsequent leveling off and modest decline of that growth rate. It raises interesting questions about our understanding of even these greenhouse gases. Why has the CO2 growth rate leveled off in the past two decades, despite increased emissions and deforestation? Why has the growth rate of CH4 declined?
"As we discuss in a companion paper, until we develop an understanding
of such issues it will be impossible to assess the effectiveness of policy
options for dealing with long-term climate change."
To which SEPP says: AMEN