Climate Change

Experts gauge fallout from G8 nations' nonbinding decision on global warming

At the G8 Summit in Scotland last week, world leaders opted for a nonbinding resolution about the need to combat global warming. Was the G8 effort on climate change a failure for British Prime Minister Tony Blair and other proponents of the Kyoto Protocol? Or was President Bush's acknowledgement of human-caused warming a step towards middle ground for the United States and other nations? Dan Lashof, deputy director of the climate center at the Natural Resources Defense Council and Myron Ebell, director of global warming programs at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, look ahead to the next stage of the international climate debate.


Darren Samuelsohn: Welcome to OnPoint. I'm Darren Samuelsohn. Joining us today in the E&ETV Studios is Dan Lashof of the Natural Resources Defense Council and Myron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Today we're going to be talking about global warming and last week's climate change debate in Scotland. Thank you gentlemen for being here.

Dan Lashof: Thank you.

Myron Ebell: Thank you.

Darren Samuelsohn: Let's get to your first initial reactions. There was a big communiqué that was written at the end of the G8 in Scotland. Dan what's your read on what it says?

Dan Lashof: Well I think the most important thing about the G8 is just that Tony Blair put global warming at the top of the agenda for the world's leaders. That fact alone made it significant. The communiqué itself doesn't say a whole lot. It's kind of a stalemate, I would say. It says that the countries must act with urgency to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. That's, I think, a step forward from where Bush has been. On the other hand, President Bush certainly hasn't embraced the mandatory limits on global warming pollution that the European Union has and that other world leaders had urged on him. So the European Union and the rest of the G8 remain committed to mandatory limits on global warming pollution. President Bush continues to oppose them, but the fact is that the world is moving forward and the president was unable to pull that back.

Darren Samuelsohn: Myron, your thoughts on what you saw?

Myron Ebell: Well I think it was a tremendous victory for President Bush and the forces of rationality and I think it was a tremendous disappointment for Prime Minister Blair and particularly for President Chirac of France. It seems to me that all the things that Tony Blair hoped to have in a communiqué, as we saw from the earlier drafts, which were leaked from time to time, did not appear. Most of the language in the communiqué is drawn from President Bush's statements and speeches from a year or two ago. In fact, what the communiqué now is, is not a statement so much about global warming and the Kyoto Protocol, but about sustainable development, including development of energy resources and the world's need for tremendously greater resources in the future.

Darren Samuelsohn: Dan, do you see the winners and losers that Myron sees here?

Dan Lashof: No, I don't. I think it's sort of a draw if you want to characterize it that way. I mean the statement says that we need to act with urgency to reduce global warming emissions. That's a very strong statement. The European Union and the other G8 members besides the U.S. reaffirmed their commitment to the Kyoto Protocol. They did not walk away from it in any sense. So they're where they were before the meeting. President Bush is, more or less, where he was before the meeting. I don't think you can say one side won or loss. Again, I think the most important thing is that they had a debate at the highest levels. That they agreed that this is an urgent problem and that they put it on the agenda for future G8 meetings. They've also engaged key leaders of developing countries. That's an important point that I think a lot of people have missed, that five leaders, China, India, Brazil, South Africa, were there and were part of this discussion. I think that's very important to the future negotiations that will lead to the agreement that will take effect after 2012.

Darren Samuelsohn: Let's put this into the bigger context of where the global warming debate is in Capitol Hill, in Washington, in the U.S. policy. I mean do you sense that this has moved anything really forward, bigger picture, outside of international negotiations, Myron?

Myron Ebell: Well, I think if you look at this in the context of what's been happening recently I think you can see now that Kyoto is a dead end. Mandatory emissions targets have been defeated by an overwhelming vote in the U.S. Senate, much larger than in 2003. Even a very, very minor bill that Senator Jeff Bingaman was talking about introducing was pulled when they realized they did not have enough votes to pass it. If it takes 30 Kyoto treaties to solve the problem it would take approximately 250 Bingaman's and they don't even have one, couldn't pass one from the Senate, let alone have it considered in the House. But if you look at what's happening in Europe I think it's even more significant. The House of Lords came out with a report right before the G8 Summit which calls into question a great deal of the British government's policy on Kyoto and global warming. The European Union's energy commissioner said we're not going to meet our targets. In fact, some countries are going to miss their targets by a long shot. If you look at the official projections from the European Environment Agency, the United States is actually doing better than some of the other European countries and it's doing better than Canada, all of which have ratified the protocol. And finally, the person in Brussels, I'm trying to remember his name --

Darren Samuelsohn: Sure.

Myron Ebell: Christian Egenhofer, who is a big adviser to Brussels, to the European Commission on global warming, has basically admitted, well, this isn't working and we can see why it's no longer working. So I think in Europe they have now seen that they can't make it and something else will have to be tried.

Darren Samuelsohn: Dan, I know you've been holding your breath --

Dan Lashof: Yeah, well you know, last year Myron was absolutely sure that the Kyoto Protocol would never enter into a force. He was wrong then and he's wrong now. The Kyoto Protocol has entered into force. The European Union and other countries that have ratified it are implementing it. The environment agency didn't say that they're all going to meet their targets. It said some additional policies are going to be needed to meet their targets. That's of course a very reasonable thing. That shows you the value of having mandatory limits, is they're looking, they're judging the progress against the requirements of the Kyoto Protocol, concluded that they needed to take some additional steps. Those steps are in progress and can be reasonably expected, under their scenarios, that they will meet those targets. So in fact, the rest of the world is moving forward very aggressively. The European Union in fact has a mandatory cap and trade program on global warming pollution in place as of the beginning of this year, this is very active trading. It's heating up their market. That's driving investment in new technology. It's ironic that this tool, which was really developed in the United States to control acid rain pollution, which the Clinton administration made a major effort to convince the rest of the world ought to be incorporated into the Kyoto Protocol, now the European Union is implementing it, is taking advantage of that market mechanism. And the U.S. is doing essentially nothing to the extent that the Bush administration has a policy that's kind of a socialistic policy. It says throw government money at R&D with no mechanism to move technology out of the research labs and into the marketplace. That's the key thing that's missing in the United States. One more key point, when Myron was talking about the Senate, and I think he just mischaracterized what's going on in the Senate, the critical thing that happened in the Senate is a majority, for the first time, voted in favor of the principle that we do need mandatory limits on global warming pollution. I think that is the first step in really changing U.S. policy. It's a clear rejection of the Bush administration approach which had said we'll only do voluntary measures.

Darren Samuelsohn: Let's put Capitol Hill off to the side for one second and just focus in on what came out of the G8 in Scotland and they mentioned Kyoto in one sentence in the communiqué and I'm just curious to get your thoughts, putting it in, in one sentence for you, is that -- you smile, you think that's a good thing. You probably would like to have seen Kyoto clearly mentioned more in the communiqué.

Dan Lashof: I don't think that the debate, at least in the U.S., is about Kyoto anymore. The debate in the U.S. is are we going to take real action to reduce emissions? So the communiqué reaffirmed Kyoto for the countries that have ratified it. We knew there was a disagreement among the parties. Nobody expected that to be really a bridge. The real question now is, OK, the U.S. is not going to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, isn't going to do anything meaningful about the problem and isn't going to rejoin in the national effort in the next phase, which really begins after 2012. So far the Bush administration has been saying no to all those questions. The G8 summit didn't really move him forward, but he didn't move anybody backwards.

Darren Samuelsohn: OK, Myron?

Myron Ebell: Well, the European Union would have to take additional steps to meet its commitments under the Kyoto Protocol, but it's clearly not doing that. Dan has said well yes, they have to take additional steps. Just in the last two weeks the European commission had a directive to have mandatory energy efficiency targets that was vetoed by the national governments. There was a directive on an aviation tax that was vetoed by the British government. So I don't see these additional policies coming down the pipeline and I think if you look at the communiqué the Kyoto Protocol was mentioned almost as an afterthought, near the very end of the two-and-a-half page communiqué, and all it said was that those of us who've ratified it, still are parties to it. I think if you look at the text of the communiqué and the attached action plan, which it's unusual to have an action plan from a G8 summit, you'll see it's all about building up the world's energy resources, including conventional fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas, renewables and nuclear power. All of those things are going to have to be part of the world's future energy mix if, and this is reiterated in the communiqué more than once --

Darren Samuelsohn: Right.

Myron Ebell: And it's in the action plan, if the world's developing nations that have close to 2 billion people who lack access to modern energy, such as electricity, are going to have it, the world is going to have to have a lot more energy. So I think the communiqué is actually now moving away from the global warming bandwagon and is trying to nudge -- I think some of this is not just President Bush. It's the world leaders from India, China, Brazil and so on that attended. I think they are moving in a different direction now, and I think that's pretty clear.

Darren Samuelsohn: Dan, last week Jim Connaughton came out speaking after the summit ended, Myron was at this event, I was there covering it and Jim Connaughton, the chairman of the White House Counsel on Environmental Quality, was talking about sort of the success that he felt came out of the G8. In terms of things Myron here is talking about, in terms of what was able to be incorporated into the document and these are things that President Bush, I guess, has been espousing for a long time in terms of bringing other countries to the table. I wanted to get your reaction. Should the Bush administration see this as a victory? Talking about everything that they were able to incorporate into the G8 plan and maybe these are things that Tony Blair was not able to fight off.

Dan Lashof: Well, I just don't see it as a victory for the Bush administration. I mean it's natural for every country that participated in the process to claim victory at the end. Tony Blair also claimed that he achieved what he was really expecting to achieve, although he would've liked it to go further, but he said it was a success. So President Bush said it was a success. That's what politicians do. You know the reality is that everyone agrees that we need investments in technology and that's what most of the communiqué and the action plan is it out. We need new technology to drive down emissions of global warming pollution. Where the split is, is the U.S. is taking this sort of odd position that says we're not going to really have a market. We're just going to put government money into technology and it's the European Union and Japan and Russia who are saying in addition to supporting research and development we need to create a real market so the people -- the private sector invests to bring this technology to the market with an emissions trading system. So that's where the split is, but the communiqué, being the consensus document and reflects the areas of agreement, it's mostly about technology. That's what you would expect it to say.

Darren Samuelsohn: Does it put President Bush out on a limb in any place? And Myron, I guess I'm curious in terms of your feedback on this, I mean President Bush is signing off a document that says that humans are contributing to global warming, to increased greenhouse gas concentrations, does that put President Bush further out there than you'd like to see him go and Dan your reaction too.

Myron Ebell: No, I think actually if you compare this to previous communiqués from the G8 summit, this is moving away from things like supporting mandatory emissions. There is support in the communiqué for the Kyoto Protocol for those nations that have already ratified it. There is nothing in the communiqué that suggests that there will be a second round, that there will be a larger pool of nations participating in mandatory emissions cuts. So I think this is really a very substantial step away from the brink and a step forward towards an abundant energy future, rather than putting the world on energy diet, as Jim Connaughton said at that excellent briefing he gave.

Darren Samuelsohn: Do you see President Bush going further out?

Dan Lashof: I think he moved a little bit further on agreeing to this sentence that said that we need to act with urgency to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. That's pushing him a little bit further than he's been, but I think that the key thing is that this continues to be on the agenda for future G8 meetings. That you also have these developing country leaders involved and they are going to be discussing the framework to bring the rest of the world together and what steps are going to take place after Kyoto, whether that's written in the communiqué are not, that's clearly the agenda that's been set forth coming out of the G8. In fact, there's a meeting in November in the U.K. that Tony Blair will host, which will start that process looking forward to future negotiations, which will take place not really in the G8. That's not the right place to negotiate these agreements -- that the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which the U.S. is a party to is the primary forum where these negotiations will take place that will involve the US and developing country's and industrialized countries.

Darren Samuelsohn: That's a very interesting point. In terms of, I mean the negotiations on establishing new caps or whatever, what have you, is in the United Nations. So how much weight does the G8 and what they're doing really affect what would happen in a much bigger context?

Dan Lashof: Well I think it's politically important. The signal from the leaders that it's on their agenda gives impetus to the negotiations that officials will carry out within the context of the framework convention on climate change. But then I think the other really critical forum is back in each country where countries are moving forward with domestic policies to reduce their emissions or not. And therefore, you know, you get back to the debate in the Senate saying we need those policies here in the U.S. We need to move beyond what the Bush administration has been willing to support so far.

Darren Samuelsohn: Myron, on the bigger picture?

Myron Ebell: Well I think, again, the whole tenor of this debate has changed. It's now moving away from Kyoto. It's moving away from putting the world on an energy diet and in particular, if you look at the Senate votes, the Senate, which is more likely to pass some of this stuff than the House is, has said no. And contrary to what Dan said earlier about this resolution putting senators on record for being in support of some kind in mandatory controls, in fact, the Byrd-Hagel resolution in '97 says we will support mandatory controls if there is significant Third World participation and it does not damage the U.S. economy.

Darren Samuelsohn: Aren't you seeing --

Myron Ebell: The Bingaman resolution says we would support, at some point, considering mandatory controls if it doesn't have quote "significant" economic costs.

Darren Samuelsohn: But by having China and India at the table at the G8 isn't that a pretty strong sign though that the Third World countries and the developing countries are actively moving toward the table and President Bush is pulling them to the table, as are all the other industrialized nations.

Myron Ebell: But not for mandatory controls. India made it very clear that they're interested in benefiting from the Kyoto Protocol if it involves technology transfer or if it involves closing down heavy industries in one of the industrialized nations and moving it to India. China would like to see Japanese industry move to China and have big Japanese steel mills in China. So they're for that, but they've made it very clear that they are not interested in a second round of Kyoto targets that includes them, because, as China says, we are a developing nation and we cannot afford the kinds of things that they're considering in Europe, which is slow growth, low economic growth and stagnant population growth. Whereas China is booming and they have a lot of poor people who want material goods.

Darren Samuelsohn: Dan, do you have any response to that?

Dan Lashof: Well, first of all on the resolution, I think in the Senate that the Bingaman-Specter resolution really supplants the 1997 resolution and it is clearly a new direction and that's why the White House opposed it so strongly and I think this is after the fact spin from Myron, quite frankly, trying to say it's not that significant. It's very significant in terms of moving U.S. policy. Internationally I think it is important that the developing countries were there. Of course their negotiating position is that they want technology transfer, but the fact that they recognize the seriousness of this issue and that they have to participate in the process of negotiating agreements that will take place in the post 2012 period, is significant. I agree with Myron that the nature of the kind of commitments that China and India should be expected to take is going to be different from the kinds of commitments that the U.S. and the E.U. and Japan should take. So I think there's broad agreement on that point. They need to take on new commitments, but they're going to be different than ours.

Darren Samuelsohn: I think I'm going to stop you guys right there. I've got an agreement between Myron Ebell and Dan Lashof from NRDC and CEI. Gentlemen thank you very much for being here. This is Darren Samuelsohn for another edition of OnPoint. We'll see you again next time.

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