U.S. at Odds with Rest-of-World on Fighting Global Warming
Tuesday, 14 December 2004
by Michael T. Neuman
Summary: Delegates numbering 6,000 from 194 countries are meeting in
Buenos Aires, Argentina last week and this week to compare notes on
the growing threat of global warming. The occasion is the "10th
Conference of Parties" (COP-10) of the United Nations Framework
Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
Two issues dominating the conference are: (1) the ability of nations
to adapt to a changing climate in the future, and (2) the progress of
developed countries in reducing their nation's annual greenhouse gas
Environmental ministers from 80 countries are expected to join the
delegates on Wednesday this week and participate through to the
closing of the conference.
The COP-10 conference is the last annual international conference on
climate change being held before the effective date for
implementation of the "Kyoto Protocol" of 16 February 2005.
The Kyoto Protocol establishes binding greenhouse gas emission limits
(caps - millions of tons) on the 30 industrialized countries which
have ratified the protocol, and it includes an international
emissions trading system for countries that expect to exceed their
limits. The protocol commits the world's developed nations to reduce
their collective annual greenhouse gas emissions by 5 percent below
their aggregate 1990 emissions, by the period 2008 though 2012. The
protocol's entry into force also sets the stage for negotiations
toward future climate commitments beyond 2012.
The conference marks the 10th anniversary of the UNFCCC's entry into
force. Ministers from the participating countries are engaging in
panel discussions on accomplishments and future challenges; impacts
of climate change, adaptation measures; sustainable development;
technology and climate change; and mitigation of climate change,
including policies and their impacts.
The United Nation's International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC),
which is the research body of the U.N. on climate change, concluded
in a landmark "2001 Assessment" that significant actions are needed
to reduce anthropogenic (human-caused) emissions of greenhouse gases
(carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, methane, others) to the atmosphere,
to reduce the global warming threat to the global climate. These
threats, which include increased flooding, more frequent and more
intense storms, major widespread and longer lasting drought, deadly
and longer heat waves, an expansion in the range of tropical diseases
and continuously increasing rises in sea level (caused by melting
glaciers and continental ice masses and by thermal expansion of ocean
waters), are already documented to be on the rise.
The IPCC is not alone in its conclusions. In recent years, all major
scientific bodies in the United States whose members' expertise bears
directly on the matter have issued similar statements. For example,
the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) report, "Climate Change
Science: An Analysis of Some Key Questions", begins: "Greenhouse
gases are accumulating in Earth's atmosphere as a result of human
activities, causing surface air temperatures and subsurface ocean
temperatures to rise". The report continues: "The IPCC's conclusion
that most of the observed warming of the last 50 years is likely to
have been due to the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations
accurately reflects the current thinking of the scientific community
on this issue".
Furthermore, the American Meteorological Society, the American
Geophysical Union, and the American Association for the Advancement
of Science (AAAS) all have issued statements in recent years
concluding that the evidence for human modification of climate
It is also timely that the COP-10 conference follows on the heels of
the Arctic Council's "Arctic Climate Impact Assessment" (ACIA), a
report issued last month which found rapidly melting sea ice,
retreating land glaciers, permafrost thawing and sea level increases
in the Arctic.
Statements from delegates of other countries reporting at the COP-10
conference in Buenos Aires follow:
"For the poorest of the poor countries, climate change is more
catastrophic than terrorism", said the delegate for Tanzania, as a
representative of 48 of the least developed countries. "Funding is
needed to carry out assessments of where defenses must be built up to
avoid damages, some which has already begun to occur".
The delegate from Qatar called for more effective action to
address "an already heavily damaged socioeconomic infrastructure"
from global warming related extreme weather events.
A delegation from Tuvalu, a nation of coral atolls in the western
Pacific Ocean which are no more than five meters above sea level,
said island states are "disappointed with countries like Australia
and the United States that are parties to the UNFCCC but have refused
to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, which would commit themselves to cut
their nation's global warming emissions".
President Bush withdrew the U.S. from the 128-nation Kyoto protocol
in early 2001, despite the Office of the President's having signed
the agreement in 1997. President George W. Bush stated his reasons
for objecting to the agreement to be that the agreement would hurt
the U.S. economy and would not require any reductions from developing
nations. (Earlier, the U.S. Senate voted "no" by a margin of 99-0 to
ratifying any agreement that did not apply to all the nations.)
A report recently released by the U.S. Energy Information
Administration finds that the U.S. has done virtually nothing to
reduce greenhouse gases since the day the Kyoto Protocol was
negotiated (and signed) in 1997. Total U.S. annual greenhouse gas
emissions are now 13.4 percent higher than they were in 1990 based on
the latest figures available (6,935.7 million metric tons of carbon
dioxide equivalent (MMTCDE) in 2003 vs. 6,115.2 MMTCDE in 1990).
Since greenhouse gases are cumulative in the atmosphere over time
(carbon dioxide has a life of 50 - 200 years in the atmosphere), and
each year's emissions are compounded with earlier emissions and
succeeding emissions; this importance of beginning to reduce
emissions as soon as possible and to the fullest extent possible
cannot be overemphasized.
There is near unanimous agreement among scientists that timely
actions to slow the continuing buildup of greenhouse gases in the
atmosphere (from fuel burning in automobiles, power plant emissions,
industrial emissions, other transportation emissions) is imperative
if significant reductions to the threats of global warming are to be
realized. The impacts of global warming on the human environment are
expected to be profoundly negative and could be upon us sooner than
at first predicted, due to positive feedbacks in the climate system
that amplify smaller warming effects into more pronouced ones.
Delegates to this year's UN Conference have been spending much of
their time trying to convince the U.S. government to agree to tighter
environmental targets for the U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, since
the U.S. is the leading emitter of greenhouse gases to the
atmosphere. However, President George W. Bush is staying firm on his
opposition to mandatory emissions controls over greenhouse gas
emissions for the U.S., in favor of a voluntary approach for up to 10
years while the results of more research on global warming come in.
In an update last Saturday, experts warned that Latin America was
especially hard hit by the so-called "greenhouse effect," with
emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases blamed for abrupt climate
changes in a region that is home to more than 300 million people.
Although Latin America accounts for only about 4.3 percent of all
global greenhouse gas output, a preliminary report prepared by
environment officials from several countries highlighted signs of
recent altered weather patterns, including increased flooding and
droughts in Central and South America.
"The region is very vulnerable to extreme weather events," said
Fernando Tudela Abad, an official in the Mexican government's
The report, titled "Climate Change in Latin America: Challenges and
Opportunities" cited energy production and transportation emissions
as accounting for most of the region's output of greenhouse gases,
which rank behind the United States, Europe and Asia, but ahead of
Africa's annual output.
The top European Union negotiator urged participating nations to move
quickly toward formal talks on new targets for cutting greenhouse
gases emissions after 2012. But the Bush administration's position is
that it is too early to talk about cutting greenhouse gas emissions
Some at the conference have expressed hope that the United States and
large developing nations such as China and India might be more
willing to curb emissions or take other steps to slow global warming
Madison IMC: http://madison.indymedia.org/