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February 28, 2014

Kerry Wants Another Failed Global Environment

  Orange County Register

There was an ulterior motive behind Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent hyperventilating over the “most fearsome” and “unequivocal” impact of global warming – which proponents now call climate change. He’s laying the verbal groundwork in order to call for a new global climate treaty to reduce greenhouse gases by. 2015.

It’s hard to imagine a bigger policy failure than the first global climate change treaty, known as the Kyoto Protocol.

In December of 1997, more than 150 nations meeting in Kyoto, Japan, adopted the first international treaty to control and reduce greenhouse gases, primarily by imposing limits on industrialized nations. But while lots of countries are willing to squawk the carbon-reduction squawk, very few have been willing to walk the walk.

The Clinton administration supported the treaty, but Congress never ratified it and President George W. Bush later rejected it.

Kyoto went into effect in February 2005 with the goal by 2012 of reducing overall greenhouse gas emissions by a minimum of 5.2 percent below 1990 levels. That goal can be relegated to the “if you like your health insurance policy, you can kept it” recycling bin. Global emissions have grown steadily, from 24.4 billion tons of CO2 in 1997 to 33.9 billion tons in 2011.

One reason for the failure has to be a result of the way the treaty was structured. Industrialized countries were required to cut their emissions, while developing countries were asked to do so voluntarily, essentially exempting some of the biggest greenhouse gas emitters, such as China and India.

When delegates met in Rio de Janeiro in December of 2012, only 37 countries were willing to back a Kyoto extension to 2020. Canada, Japan, Russia and New Zealand said no thanks.

So far Kerry has been vague about what his proposed new treaty would do or how it would achieve a greenhouse-gas reduction goal when Kyoto failed so miserably. And he faces more hurdles than Kyoto.

In 1997 most of the developed economies, and especially the U.S., were doing very well. And so the notion of burdening them with extra costs for emission-control failures seemed like less of an obstacle. Today, many of the European Union countries are barely past a years-long recession, and some may be sinking back into one.

In addition, global temperatures have remained level for some 16 years, raising questions about whether the earth is on a permanent warming trend.

And even if it is, politicians must react to the public, and at least the U.S. public increasingly puts global warming toward the bottom of the priorities list.

Finally, one of the key vehicles intended to reduce greenhouse gases was a carbon trading scheme, pushed by then-Vice President Al Gore as a way to claim the treaty would bring the free market to environmentalism. Companies that release more than their allotment of carbon would have to buy carbon credits from those that had extra.

But the price of carbon permits in the EU's Emission Trading System has tanked, and almost everyone recognizes the program has flopped. Australia just gave its left-leaning Labor Party the boot for imposing a carbon tax on the country.

In other words, every leg of a global greenhouse-gas reduction stool is wobbly – if it hasn't completely collapsed. How John Kerry would take this defeat and develop a new treaty in a year is a mystery.

Ironically, the market is already reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. – without an international treaty. The U.S. Energy Information Administration says that carbon emissions from power generation have dropped to early-1990 levels because so many power plants have switched from coal to abundant, and therefore cheap and much cleaner-burning natural gas.

The natural gas explosion didn’t happen because of an international climate treaty. It was the result of innovative drilling techniques, such as “fracking” and horizontal drilling that have made the U.S. the top producer of natural gas in the world.

If the Obama administration really wants to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions without hamstringing the world economy with costly energy restrictions, it would stop its perpetual slow-walk of drilling permits on federal lands and offshore and give a full-speed-ahead to natural gas exports. That solution would be a lot less challenging, and, unlike Kyoto, it would succeed.


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