Is A Symbolic Pact Just Hot Air? By Debra J. Saunders, San Francisco Chronicle February 20, 2005 How important to the world's future is the Kyoto global-warming pact that went into effect last Wednesday? It can't be that important since Eileen Claussen, president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, told The Washington Post, "The greatest value is symbolic." Symbolic is the word. The Kyoto treaty won't reduce emissions in America because this country never ratified it. What's more, negotiators at Kyoto in 1997 had to know the United States never would ratify the pact. Before Vice President Al Gore left to attend the Kyoto summit, the Senate voted 95-0 in favor of a resolution warning that the Senate would not support a global-warming pact that exempted developing nations such as China and India. Kyoto won't make a difference in those developing nations because they don't have to reduce emissions or even agree to curb how much their pollution grows. While 141 countries ratified the pact, Kyoto's emission caps only apply to some 35 countries. Kyoto won't result in big greenhouse-gas reductions in Europe. The Kyoto pact required Europe to reduce its emissions to 8 percent below its 1990 levels by 2012, and the United States to cut its emissions to 7 percent below 1990 levels. That makes it seem as if Europe has a tougher mandate, except the baseline year chosen, 1990, was rigged to help Europe. The year 1990 preceded the shutdown of coal-spewing smokestacks in the wake of the fall of the Soviet Union. By 1997, many European countries already had met their Kyoto target. When the race started, some European nations were already at the finish line. Claussen noted on the phone Thursday that some European countries are now exceeding their goals and will have to work to meet them. Allow me to interject that they'll be struggling despite their humongous head start. President Clinton clearly understood that Kyoto was poison. He never asked the Senate to ratify it. More important, Clinton never pushed for meaningful legislation to reduce emissions. When Clinton left office, emissions were on the rise they had reached a whopping 14 percent above 1990 levels. As Claussen noted, Team Clinton was "no different in substance than the current administration." Claussen explained that she believes Kyoto is important because it establishes a global "statement of will" to reduce greenhouse gases. But Kyoto is "symbolic," she added, because it doesn't begin to address by how much emissions would need to be reduced to stop global warming. Greenhouse-gas emissions would need to be as low as 50 percent of 1990 levels to address human-induced global warming, albeit in 50 to 75 years. Other environmentalists have argued that much steeper reductions are needed one science biggie said that "40 successful Kyotos" are needed. The Bush administration estimates Kyoto would cost the United States 5 million jobs and $400 billion annually. Even if that figure is inflated, I don't know many Americans who want to lose their job for a symbol or a first step. And it doesn't help that the global-warming debate has been distorted by politics. I am a global-warming agnostic. I think that warming may well be human induced, but I am skeptical of the doomsday scenarios, and I don't trust people who use the issue as a club against America itself (and George W. Bush). I don't trust the zealots (like Gore) to pick the best remedies, after they misrepresent the science. Claussen rightly notes one reason for Bush to make nice with Europe on Kyoto is that he owes British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Note, I concentrate on Europe because it is Europe that bellyaches the loudest about Bush's unilateralism on Kyoto. And Bush could boost his environmental agenda in ways that not only would address global warming but also would promote national security and cleaner air. (As Brookings Institution scholar Gregg Easterbrook noted on the New York Times' op-ed page last week, Bush's Clear Skies measure would go a long way by reducing some greenhouse-gas pollution from power plants by 70 percent.) The Kyoto crowd has to get real, however. Be honest with the American people about how much change is involved. Admit that the science is not clear and that even scientists who recognize global warming as human- induced vary widely in what they see as the remedy. While Europe blames President Bush for the demise of Kyoto, I blame Kyoto negotiators for passing a document that wasn't a pact to spread the pain universally, but a pitchfork aimed at the U.S. economy. They call themselves sophisticates, but they negotiated like Madame Defarge.