The Kyoto Card Up George's Sleeve

Newsweek is running an article by George Will titled “Inconvenient Kyoto Truths“. Will says, “It is time to call some bluffs … President Bush should give the world something amusing to watch. He should demand that the Senate vote on the [Kyoto] protocol.” He then goes on to say that America is not disproportionately responsible for global warming, that global warming isn’t necessarily such a bad thing, that we don’t know how to stop it anyway, and that any efforts to do so could cost “tens of trillions”. And for all these reasons, he says, the Kyoto protocol was correctly rejected by the U.S.

George Will is a smart guy, but in this case he’s wrong on all counts. His science is wrong, his economics are wrong, and most importantly, the issue today is not Kyoto!

  • The U.S. is the world leader in global warming pollution. Data from the U.S. Department of Energy show the U.S. is responsible for 28 percent of the extra CO2 in the atmosphere today, China only 8 percent.
  • Two thousand scientists from across the world say that global warming is “unequivocal” and what they describe is by no means a good thing. (See my previous post, “What is the IPCC, anyway?“)
  • Most economic models project the costs of reducing greenhouse gas emissions at less than 1 percent of the world’s gross domestic product over 100 years. (See this Nature article, part of their paid archive)
  • Current technologies can reduce greenhouse gas emissions. For details, see my post “Global Warming Solutions that Work“.

Now for this Kyoto thing. It seems that whenever the George Wills of this world recognize they are losing ground, they dredge up Kyoto: Kyoto was bad, so all action on global warming is bad. This is a red herring. Let’s review the facts.

The Kyoto Protocol, which set an international regime for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, was signed in 1997 by 168 nations, including the U.S. The concept was right but the agreement was flawed. For example, it didn’t mandate action for developing countries like China. But it got the world on the right path.

The Senate never ratified the treaty, and President Bush pulled us out in 2001. The protocol entered into force in 2005 with the formal entrance of Russia, and expires in 2012 when all participating countries are required to meet their targets. The U.S. and Australia are the only developed nations not participating, and no one expects them to join at this point. For all intents and purposes, Kyoto is a done deal.

It’s a mistake to use Kyoto’s flaws to forestall discussion of the real issues. The issue facing the U.S. right now is whether to have its own meaningful climate policy, and if so, what form it will take. International negotiations will soon begin on the “son of Kyoto” – the protocol that kicks in when the Kyoto protocol expires. Will the U.S. play a role? What steps can we take to ensure that the U.S., China, and other countries will participate?

Let me know what you think.

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  1. Patrick Kennedy
    Posted February 15, 2007 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

    There has been a spate of these opinion pieces recently. I have seen similar ones by Rich Lowry and Jonah Goldberg, who though they aren’t as nationally famous as George Will, are well known in the shrinking circle of U.S. climate skeptics. They seem to share the same lines of argument as George Will which as you point out are either wrong or are very misleading. Fortunately these skeptics are also increasingly irrelevant to the debate.

    As congress moves forward on climate change legislation, I expect one of the things they will try to factor into the design of any new law will be the “son of Kyoto”. We already have some sense of what the targets for a new agreement should look like.

    If negotiations for a post-Kyoto agreement are to be successful, the U.S. will need to be a participant. I don’t think a new agreement could be negotiated without us. Would Europe participate in a son of Kyoto without the U.S.? It seems unlikely to me.

    I think the first step needs towards a son of Kyoto needs to be a demonstration that the U.S. is serious about reducing greenhouse gas emissions. China, India, Brazil etc. need to be a part of a new agreement as well but we cannot expect them to go before us.

    Time is running out to begin negotiations for a new international climate agreement that will be ready to go when Kyoto expires. Will the U.S. get it’s climate house in order in time? We should have a much better idea about that by the end of the summer.

  2. Curious Cat
    Posted February 16, 2007 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    Remind us again how many countries ultimately signed to Kyoto Protocol, and what’s the current breakdown and projected prognosis for countries meeting or exceeding their targets by 2012? Thanks.

  3. Posted February 16, 2007 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    The UNFCCC publishes the most recent ratification statistics here:

    You also can find National Inventory Submissions for 2006 on this site:

    Note that Kyoto implementation just started and targets don’t have to be met until 2012. All that’s available now are interim reports.

    But in any case, as I said, Kyoto is old news and a done deal. Now we need to be looking forward to “son of Kyoto” – what we’ll do after Kyoto ends in 2012.

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