|The Week That Was
November 6, 1999
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NEW ON THE SEPP WEB:
A critique of the article in Eos (Sept 28, 1999) that backs up the "Position Statement on Climate Change" adopted by the Council of the American Geophysical Union. (NOTE: The Statement was never submitted to the AGU membership for comment or approval.)
The Week That Was November 6, 1999 brought to you by SEPP
SPECIAL REPORT FROM BONN AND COP-5 (The fifth Conference of the Parties to the global climate treaty)
The posh Hotel Maritim in the former German capital of Bonn has been swamped with "global warmers." First came the security people who insisted on identification from all the guests. Then came the UN-FCCC staff, which is now headquartered in Bonn. And finally the 5000 or so delegates, NGOs and media people, all here to witness what turned out to be a major "non-event."
The day before the meeting started, workmen put up a grandiose wind turbine (non operating, of course) in front of the hotel to advertise the promise of renewable energy sources. But wind energy sustains itself only because of huge subsides (at about 5 times the average cost of fossil fuel power). These subsidies are now endangered because of the deregulation of electric-power generation in Germany.
The conference is providing much-desired business for Bonn, now that the Bundestag and government ministries are moving to Berlin. Germany is most anxious to get more UN activities to fill the empty Bonn buildings. Aside from that, COP-5 is not expected to accomplish much, except to prepare the ground for the crucial COP-6 in The Hague, Netherlands, next November. (For political reasons, and against much international opposition, the White House tried (but failed) to shift this date to the spring of 2001, after the US presidential elections.) Negotiations for the Kyoto Protocol were supposed to end at COP-6, triggering the ratification process for major industrialized nations; but that may not happen. There'll be lots of interim meetings, however, to glue together a negotiating text. It's a delightful prospect for the thousands of professionals and hangers-on that live off international climate pow-wows.
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder opened COP-5 on October 25 with an unexpected call for ratification of the Kyoto Protocol by 2002, the 10th anniversary of the Rio de Janeiro conference that produced the Climate Treaty. Only 14 nations, all developing countries, have ratified Kyoto so far. It must be adopted by 55 nations, encompassing at least 55% of the greenhouse gas emissions from industrialized nations, before it can become legally binding. (Developing nations can ratify the Protocol but are not held to any binding targets.)
Ever the optimist and "wishful thinker," the executive secretary of the FCCC (UN Framework Convention on Climate Change), Michael Zammit Cutajar, called the proposed 2002 deadline "an encouraging goal." The U.S. Senate, which recently failed to ratify an international nuclear test ban treaty, has said it won't consider the Kyoto Protocol until there is measurable participation by developing nations and until costs of implementation are addressed.
Sharp lines of disagreement were forming as representatives of 168 nations convened for the two-week conference. European and U.S. officials differ over Washington's desire to allow the unlimited purchase of pollution "credits" from other nations as part of the Kyoto agreement of 1997. "What we're trying to do is to try to benefit our environment, but at the same time we don't want to damage our economy," U.S. special global-warming negotiator Mark Hambley admitted to reporters in defending unlimited purchase of credits. (Under the credit system, heavily-emitting nations such as the United States can buy flexibility in reaching their emissions targets from those that fulfill their targets.)
Washington's unlikely ally in the dispute is Russia, which received a high limit in earlier talks and has lots of pollution credits to sell. Jos. Delbeke, head of the European Union's climate-change unit, estimated that without caps on the sale of pollution credits, as much as half of the targeted emissions reductions over the next decade could come from surplus Russian and Ukrainian credits, which would not benefit the environment. "We are facing an agenda full of difficult political issues," said Jan Szyszko, the conference president. "It is quite difficult to get consensus." He's not kidding either.
To learn more about opposition to the proceedings in Bonn, you should consult the web page of the Climate Action Network. It lists the most obstreperous countries day by day and gives them a special "Fossil-of the-Day" award. A quick glance at their scoreboard shows the United States and Saudi Arabia neck-on-neck for the top position. We were ready to bet on good old-fashioned America-bashing and put our money on the United States as getting the most blame for any failure of COP-5. But darn it! Saudi Arabia walked off with the trophy.
The German Meteorological Society has issued a quite sensible position statement on Global Warming: "Viel Wirbel um den anthropogenen Treibhauseffekt," which translates to "Much Ado about the Anthropogenic Greenhouse Effect." (See http://www.spektrum.de/themen/treibhauseffekt-text.ht )
The statement is a scientific evaluation of the current state of affairs that could well serve as a basis for other organizations. Its author is Prof. H. Fischer (Karlsruhe), in collaboration with others, including the well-known global warming enthusiast Dr. H. Grassl. The statement replies to some of the critics of GH warming who have used obviously physically suspect arguments. While eliminating these "red herrings", the statement does not deal with the more serious shortcomings of climate models in the treatment of clouds and of upper tropospheric water vapor. Nevertheless, it concludes with the following paragraph, here translated:
"It is therefore scientifically proven without a doubt that radiation fluxes in the system Earth/Atmosphere are changed through the increase in climate-relevant trace gases. Without consideration of feedback effects in the complicated climate system, this would certainly lead to a warming of the surface and troposphere. The real, scientifically challenging debate deals with the question to what extent the different feedback processes strengthen or diminish the warming from radiative forcing."
In other words: Current climate models cannot tell us whether future warming will be substantial or insignificant. We can certainly agree with this conclusion and would like to see it more widely adopted. We believe, however, that the empirical evidence points to only minor temperature increases.