Clarity on global warming
WOODS HOLE, MASS.
Human understanding of climate change is subject to profound uncertainties about causes, effects, and rates of change.Skip to next paragraph
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The international community formed a groundbreaking framework for dealing with global warming in the 1992 Climate Change Convention, ratified by 184 countries, and the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, signed by 84 countries.
The Kyoto Protocol requires industrialized countries to cut six greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, to roughly 5 percent below 1990 levels.
The signatories have been negotiating for three years on how to implement the protocol, and are ending a two-week session this week in Lyon, France, in the lead-up to a meeting of world leaders in The Hague in November.
At issue is whether or not there should be sanctions against countries that fail to meet their commitments, and what kinds of flexibility there will be for countries who need it.
Curiously, recent statements from two leaders in the effort to combat global warming have confused the discussion and could work against the effort.
Eileen Claussen, head of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change and a former State Department official, has long championed countries adopting protocol measures before the Kyoto agreement enters into force.
In widely publicized comments, most recently in the British journal Nature, Ms. Claussen suggested that an honest and realistic foundation is required for any international protocol. True enough. But she went on to say that lack of progress toward the targets suggests we should relax those targets -instead of stepping up our efforts.
Currently, the UK is the only industrialized country that is likely to meet the Kyoto targets. The US, on the other hand, has increased emissions by about 11 percent from 1990 levels. Most other countries are between these two extremes.
This is not as hopeless as it sounds. If compliance with the protocol required only domestic action, the industrialized countries would never have agreed even to its modest goal. That's where "flexibility mechanisms" come in -means for industrialized nations to obtain "credits" from nations that are well within their targets and from developing countries.
Ignoring the "flexibility" built into the Kyoto agreement and renegotiating the emission-reduction commitments would be twice flawed.
It plays into the hands of entities - such as the Global Climate Coalition (GCC), an umbrella group representing heavy industry - that waged a $30 million campaign to discredit the science behind the Kyoto agreement, and questioned the wisdom of the protocol because of alleged economic losses to the private sector.
The GCC heartily endorsed Claussen's comments, of course. Renegotiating the targets would slow the pace of ratification and implementation. If the protocol never enters into force, there is no way to amend its language.
The suggestion that nations completely ignore the progress made so far, drop any further consideration of the Kyoto Protocol, and form a new agreement from scratch, is not truthful to the science of climate change, to the integrity of past agreements hard won among the nations, nor to the political realities of the world community.