A report on climate change was released by the US Environmental
Protection Agency in early June, prompting criticism from the US energy
industry and a hasty disavowal of the document by George W. Bush.
The US Climate Action Report - produced by the EPA as a “national communication” under the UN Framework - states that climate change is occurring, that part of that change is caused by human activity, and that carbon dioxide released to the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels is a main cause of that change.
The report disappointed climate activists, however, in that it did not commit the US to any action. Instead, the authors call for more research into climate change and a continuation of business-friendly policies such as the Administration’s voluntary national “greenhouse gas intensity” target and non-mandatory corporate reporting of emissions.
Patrick Mazza, Research Director of the Earth Island project Climate Solutions, describes the EPA report as an attempt to subsidize the energy industry. “What this report says in essence is global warming is coming, it’s going to be serious, but just lay back and take it,” Mazza told EIJ. “It lets the fossil fuel industry interests go scot-free and asks the rest of us to absorb the costs, which it acknowledges will be huge.”
Still, the report prompted protest from the US energy industry, culminating in the Bush Administration’s distancing itself from the report. Within hours of the report’s release, President Bush reacted in a manner characterized by the Associated Press as dismissive. “I read the report put out by the bureaucracy,” Bush said.
At the same time, Japan and the member nations of the European Union ratified the 1997 Kyoto Protocol to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, while Australia’s Prime Minister pledged that nation would follow the US in continuing to reject the Kyoto accord.
Among other requirements, the Kyoto Protocol binds signing industrialized nations to reduce emissions of “greenhouse gases” to 95 percent of 1990 emission levels by 2012. The United States’ CO2 emissions are now about 112 percent of their 1990 levels. The US, which accounts for a quarter of the world’s CO2 emissions, has rejected the protocol, claiming until the publication of the EPA report that the jury was still out on human contributions to global climate change, and that Kyoto would damage the US economy.
On the heels of Bush’s affirmation of the US climate policy status quo, the Prime Minister of Australia - a net energy exporting nation - blasted the Protocol. In a speech to Parliament on World Environment Day (June 5), John Howard said “[F]or us to ratify the protocol would cost us jobs and damage our industry.”
Despite Australia’s taking the US’ side in the dispute, some long-time Kyoto Protocol observers have ventured that Bush’s dropping out of the Protocol may actually speed the creation of effective climate change policies elsewhere in the world. In a February article in The American Spectator, Ross Gelbspan predicted that “Despite [Kyoto’s] loopholes, minimal goals, and lack of an enforcement mechanism, it does at last provide an international framework for diminishing the climate crisis. And with the absence of recalcitrant, foot-dragging US delegates, other countries may find it easier to promote more aggressive approaches to reversing climate change.”
In fact, despite recent observations of US pundits that US stonewalling on Kyoto spelled the death of the treaty, the Kyoto Protocol may become binding on the 186 nations that have signed on to the UN Framework. With Japan and the 15 EU nations having ratified the Kyoto Protocol, and with Canada and Russia expected to follow suit sometime this year, only two more nations would need to sign on to make Kyoto a reality, with 55 percent of signatories having ratified the protocol.
Meanwhile, the global climate seems not to be waiting for the world’s nations to make up their minds. The US National Climatic Data Center reports that each of the first four months of 2002 were either the warmest or second-warmest on record for the US. The Larsen B ice shelf collapsed during Antarctica’s summer this year, and a giant iceberg calved from the southern continent’s Ross Ice Shelf. Scientists with the British Antarctic Survey speculate that massive Antarctic bergs could disrupt the flow of the Gulf Stream, further altering the world’s climate.
Climate Action Report 2002: www.epa.gov/globalwarming/publications/car
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