Global Warming Treaty is a Foreign Policy Goose Egg for a Lame Duck PresidentCommentary by Pete du Pont
December 16, 1999
In recent weeks, with the World Trade Organization meetings in Seattle serving as a backdrop, much has been made of President Clinton's desire to leave a foreign policy legacy. Two factors add urgency to Clinton's quest for lasting international glory. Serving his last year in office and facing a hostile Congress, Clinton is the classic lame duck - his major domestic policy goals are dead in the water. In addition, whatever domestic successes Clinton has are almost certain to be overshadowed in history books by his legal, fundraising and sexual peccadillos and the resulting impeachment and contempt of court conviction.
Unfortunately for Clinton's place in history, in the past year the two initiatives that he declared his most important international efforts, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the WTO negotiations, have gone down to very visible defeats. Lost in the protests surrounding the WTO, the Clinton administration suffered another foreign policy setback in Bonn, Germany where international negotiators were meeting to clarify and expand the Kyoto Protocol.
The Protocol is an accord which the administration signed in 1998 that would require most industrialized countries, including the United States, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in an effort to avert catastrophic human-caused global warming. The U.S. committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by more than 30 percent- to 7 percent below their 1990 levels - between 2008 and 2012. At the Bonn negotiations the administration hoped to accomplish many changes to the protocol. Most importantly, the President hoped to get developing countries to agree to voluntary emission reductions. The administration's efforts failed.
This is a serious problem since, as written, the treaty imposes high economic costs, threatens U.S. sovereignty and provides for no environmental gain.
The National Center for Policy Analysis released a study by Stephen Brown of the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank that estimated benefits in terms of reduced human and environmental harm caused by global warming if the U.S. met its Kyoto accord commitments with the economic costs that meeting those terms would impose on the U.S. Dr. Brown's analysis found that the Kyoto accord requires between two and six times more CO2 reduction by the United States than is cost-justified even under the assumptions most favorable to the Kyoto accord.
Indeed, under the accord the U.S. would have to reduce energy use by more than 30 percent below projections for 2010, which is equivalent to the total amount of energy used for transportation in 1996 -- so reducing energy use to meet the accord would be tantamount to permanently stopping virtually all highway, rail and air-traffic. Brown also determined that under a best case scenario compliance with Kyoto would reduce U.S. GDP by 3 percent to 4.3 percent in 2010, representing a loss of $275.2 billion to $394.4 billion, or $921 to $1,320 per person.
In addition, the treaty has a clause which allows the treaty to be amended by a three-quarter vote of the signatories, with the amendment being binding even on dissenting participants. Developing nations make up approximately three-quarter's of the treaty participants but they face no emission restrictions. Thus, the cost imposed on the U.S. and other developed nations could be much higher if developing should decide that even greater emission reductions are needed in the future.
And greater calls for greater emission reductions seem likely since, the treaty's current emissions reductions will not do the job. First, because of a prior agreement, developing countries will not have to make cuts in their greenhouse gas emissions. Yet according to the International Energy Agency, as much as 85 percent of the projected increase in carbon-dioxide emissions will come from developing countries. By 2025 China, already the second largest emitter of CO2, will produce more CO2 than the U.S., Japan, and Canada combined.
Additionally, climate change experts argue that the required under the treaty will be far too small to have any appreciable effect on the global climate. Indeed, more than 70 percent of state climatologists agreed that CO2 levels would continue to rise regardless of human actions to curb emissions. Only 28 percent of them thought that reducing C02 levels 15 percent below 1990 levels - more than double the cuts agreed to by President Clinton - in developed countries would prevent global warming if were occurring.
Clinton has counted the votes and knows that even his democratic allies in the Senate disagree with the thrust of the treaty, so he has decided not to submit it to them during his Presidency. But because the U.S. signed on to the Protocol under Clinton, if it ever comes up for a vote and is defeated, it will be listed as another in a string of his foreign policy failures. In this case, his failure would be America's success.
The National Center for Policy Analysis is a public policy research institute founded in 1983 and internationally known for its studies on public policy issues. The NCPA is headquartered in Dallas, Texas, with an office in Washington, D.C.