The Kyoto Protocol’s Endless Bureaucracy: The Costly Politics of Global Environmentalism, Part 2 of 4

by | Apr 22, 2000

The KYOTO PROTOCOL is not needed, is not effective in mitigating climate change (even if developing nations were to cooperate), is economically destructive, and therefore politically unacceptable. Yet, it has already spawned a large international bureaucracy — even before being implemented. Lawyers will certainly be needed: it is becoming quite clear that the Protocol will […]

The KYOTO PROTOCOL is not needed, is not effective in mitigating climate change (even if developing nations were to cooperate), is economically destructive, and therefore politically unacceptable. Yet, it has already spawned a large international bureaucracy — even before being implemented. Lawyers will certainly be needed: it is becoming quite clear that the Protocol will lead to endless negotiations as national interests collide, and will likely require renegotiation. At present, it is little more than a framework — and an immensely complicated one. Even after agreement has been reached regarding proposed emission cutbacks by individual nations, little has been done so far to establish the terms for inspection, monitoring, and enforcement. At the moment, negotiations are proceeding on how to establish allowances for carbon sinks, such as tree planting, or for increases in efficiency. The problems here are detailed and endless.

To complicate matters further, the United States has been persistent in advocating a scheme of emission trading, which would lower the cost of complying with the Protocol. Entities, whether industries or countries, that find it easier to cut back emissions could sell their unused allowances to entities that would incur a high cost. The net result would be a reduction in emissions at an overall lower cost. There also provisions in the KYOTO PROTOCOL whereby industrialized nations, which are required to reduce emissions, can gain credits by helping developing nations that are not required to reduce emissions. One such scheme is called joint implementation; for example, a US electric utility can gain credit for planting trees in Central America to sequester CO2 from the atmosphere. Another scheme is the Clean Development Mechanism, which consists of transferring technology, equipment and/or capital to developing nations, to let them acquire more efficient power plants and other methods of reducing emissions.

The Montreal Protocol Analogy

The 1987 Montreal Protocol (for the protection of the ozone layer), which resulted in banning the production of CFCs, is often held to be the paradigm of the KYOTO PROTOCOL. The analogy is not very strong – except insofar as they are both based on rather shaky science and do not place stringent requirements on developing nations – a fatal flaw for any global environmental issue. (In fact, enforcement of the MP is so poor that smuggling of foreign production into the United States is second in importance only to the smuggling of drugs.)

Perhaps more important, halocarbons constitute only a minor percentage of the national economy; raising their cost saddles consumers with great expense but makes little impact on the GDP. Substitutes are mostly available, albeit at much higher cost. Not surprisingly, certain chemical companies holding patents for the manufacture of such substitutes are fully supportive of the MP.

Aside from gaining public support for the Kyoto agreement, the Administration is also attempting to circumvent the Senate’s objection that most of the world’s nations are not part of the KYOTO PROTOCOL. The ploy used here is to re-interpret the language and insist that the Resolution would be satisfied if “key nations” were to take “meaningful” steps towards reductions. We are already witnessing diplomatic efforts by the White House to persuade countries to undertake voluntarily cuts in emissions. So far, Argentina and Kazakhstan seem to have made noises in that direction; we can only guess at the quid pro quo offered to them.

We can see here the beginning of a policy to transfer resources to developing nations in order to persuade them to comply, if only voluntarily, with the kind of emission cutbacks called for in the KYOTO PROTOCOL. The principal problem of course is in deciding how to set emission quotas for the 130 nations that are not now required to cut emissions. Many problems arise. For example, if a national quota were set now for India, how would it be calculated? Would it be based on the present population or on some future population? And if it is to be a per-capita quota, will the per-capita allowance be close to its present value or closer to the per-capita consumption of the average U.S. citizen? One can already sense the possibility of mischief here. A dictator in a poor country could encourage population growth in order to receive more emission credits for sale to industrialized nations. In fact, there is the perverse possibility that a kleptocratic ruler may try to hold down economic development so as to discourage energy consumption by his population. The international emission-trading ideas are beginning to look a lot like the New International Economic Order, which has been high on the agenda of developing countries for decades. Cynics have described the NIEO rather unkindly as the transfer of resources from the poor in the rich countries to the rich in the poor countries.

On an international scale, many countries signed the KYOTO PROTOCOL before the deadline of March 15, 1999, but only two small nations have ratified it. One nation, Iceland, has announced that it will not sign, citing its economic need for more energy in order to develop industry and maintain its standard of living. In order for the Protocol to go into effect, 55 percent of the nations representing at least 55 percent of emissions will have to ratify. Since the United States is the largest emitter of carbon dioxide (36 percent), it holds the key to the implementation of the Kyoto Protocol.

But within the United States, a huge political battle has been shaping up.
In July 1997, the US Senate passed the anti-Kyoto Resolution 98, the so-called Byrd-Hagel resolution, by a vote of 95 to zero. The Resolution demands that the Administration should not enter into a treaty which would either damage the United States economically or not include nations that emit greenhouse gases. In response to the Resolution, the Administration, after signing the Protocol in Nov 1998, has decided not to submit it for Senate ratification since it would surely be turned down. Instead, the White House is engaged in a campaign to circumvent the Congress in a variety of ways.

The Environmental Protection Agency may be attempting to classify CO2 as a pollutant that could be controlled by the EPA under the terms of the Clean Air Act. This ploy will be difficult to achieve since CO2 is not injurious to human health. Furthermore, Congress is likely to legislate against such a regulation and interpretation of the Clean Air Act. The White House is trying also to enlist public opinion behind the KYOTO PROTOCOL by organizing regional workshops, 18 of them, that stress the dangers of GH warming to different regions of the United States — using funds that were appropriated for climate research. In addition, President Clinton has asked for four billion dollars to support a Climate Change Technology Initiative, a system of subsidies for industries interested in government support for developing alternative energy sources – a replay of the panicky efforts of Nixon’s Project Independence and later programs under Jimmy Carter.

Originally published in the World and I, December 1999, pages 331-341. Reprinted with permission of the author.

S. Fred Singer is the founder and president of the Science & Environmental Policy Project.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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