Good Bye, Kyoto


The 1997 Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012, after surviving 15 years, mostly spent on life support. It reached its peak in Bali in 2007 at the annual UN gabfest, had a sudden unexpected collapse in Copenhagen in 2009, and has been in a coma since.

Kyoto had its real beginning at the 1992 Global Climate Summit in Rio de Janeiro. I missed that great party, but George Bush the elder went and signed up for the United States. The language of the Global Climate Treaty, the Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC), was vague enough to not be completely objectionable—although we should have known better than to let the camel’s nose enter the tent. It has prejudiced the subsequent discussion by focusing only on anthropogenic global warming (AGW).

The 1997 Protocol, negotiated in Kyoto, Japan, tried to put teeth into the FCCC. And its bite was strong enough so that the United States never ratified it—even during the Clinton-Gore years in the White House. The US Senate, bless their hearts, had voted unanimously, 95 to 0, for the 1997 Byrd-Hagel Resolution against imposing any kind of restrictions on energy use mandated by the United Nations. And during the Obama administration, with the most pro-AGW people in the White House, the Democrat-controlled Senate refused to consider the Cap-and-Trade bill (to restrict emissions of C02) that the House had passed in 2009.

The origin of Kyoto and its demise is a thrilling tale, full of heroes and villains, which has never been fully told. It produced some household words like “Hockeystick,” “Climategate,” “Mike’s trick” and “hide the decline.” I was fortunate, if that is the right word, to have been involved continuously in all aspects of Kyoto. Much of it is published in a Hoover Institution booklet “From Rio to Kyoto”—and I am now working on the sequel “From Kyoto to Copenhagen.”

The Rise of Kyoto

I trace the main actor behind Kyoto as the UN-sponsored IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). Its first full assessment report in 1990 provided the basis for the Rio Summit and its doctored second assessment report of 1996 provided the scientific underpinning for the Kyoto Protocol.

What exactly did the IPCC have to say in 1996, when its printed report became available? Those of us present in Madrid in 1995, when a final draft was approved by the scientists, became aware that the crucial language was changed after its approval and before it was printed. While this has been hotly denied by the perpetrators, the evidence is quite clear; one only has to compare the two documents. Dr. Frederick Seitz, one of America’s most distinguished scientists and President Emeritus of the Rockefeller University, had this to say in an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal on June 12, 1996:

“In my more than 60 years as a member of the American scientific community, including service as president of both the National Academy of Sciences and the American Physical Society, I have never witnessed a more disturbing corruption of the peer-review process than the events that led to this IPCC report.”

And he had good reason to be upset because here are the phrases that were deleted from the final draft:

  • “None of the studies cited above has shown clear evidence that we can attribute the observed [climate] changes to the specific cause of increases in greenhouse gases.”
  • “While some of the pattern-base studies discussed here have claimed detection of a significant climate change, no study to date has positively attributed all or part [of the climate change observed] to [man-made] causes. Nor has any study quantified the magnitude of a greenhouse gas effect or aerosol effect in the observed data—an issue of primary relevance to policy makers.”
  • “Any claims of positive detection and attribution of significant climate change are likely to remain controversial until uncertainties in the total natural variability of the climate system are reduced.”
  • “While none of these studies has specifically considered the attribution issue, they often draw some attribution conclusions, for which there is little justification.”
  • “When will an anthropogenic effect on climate be identified? It is not surprising that the best answer to this question is, ‘We do not know. “

But the following sentence was added in the “revision”:

The body of statistical evidence in chapter 8, when examined in the context of our physical understanding of the climate system, now points to a discernible human influence on the global climate. [IPCC chapter 8, p.439]

The memorable phrase “the balance of evidence” used in the IPCC Summary for Policymakers is essentially meaningless, and certainly not backed by any scientific evidence. It turns out that the two main pieces of evidence, two crucial graphs in the IPCC report , were based on bad information or had actually been doctored [see my Hoover report].

Kyoto: A Money Machine—for Some

The Kyoto Protocol was a fraud right from Day One. Even if it had been punctiliously followed by all of the nations who ratified it, it would have achieved essentially nothing—a measly reduction in the calculated temperature half a century hence of 0.02 degrees C—an amount too small to even measure.

Kyoto was all about politics and money. The terms of the Kyoto Protocol demanded a 5.2% overall reduction from the emission levels of 1990 for industrialized nations. The choice of 1990, however, favored Europe, Britain, Germany, and Russia at the expense of the United States.

Around 1990, Britain switched from primarily coal to natural gas, thus reducing C02 emissions. And at about the same time, the Soviet Union collapsed and Germany took over its Eastern part, closing down much of its inefficient coal-fired electricity production.

The most pernicious provisions of the Kyoto Protocol were permits for emissions trading within the European Union and the so-called Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). CDM permitted industries and others to keep emitting C02 while buying unused credits from other Kyoto nations or by sponsoring projects in developing nations that would reduce emissions.

What a racket this turned out to be. It has made Al Gore a “climate billionaire” who emits C02 copiously from his four residences, jet planes and yachts, but then buys “carbon offsets,” emission credits from his own company, set up to trade C02 permits.

The other big money item has been the drive for so-called “clean energy”—with its huge subsidies for wind power and solar energy, widely abused in Europe—but especially in the United States where the subsidies are among the highest.

The poster child for clean energy is probably ethanol—a huge sink for government subsidies, essentially a wasteful scheme to transfer money from consumers to corn growers and refiners. Even environmentalists admit that ethanol does not lead to C02 reductions overall—and has many other undesirable environmental consequences.

Among the worst of the consequences of this “bio-fuel craze” has been the rise in the world price of corn—doubling to $7 a bushel in the past six months—wheat, and other agricultural commodities. It has led to food riots in many developing nations and served to perpetuate poverty throughout the world.

The general restrictions on C02 emissions have also slowed down economic growth by making energy more expensive. All in all, the Kyoto Protocol has caused nothing but disasters.

The Fall of Kyoto

Just as Rio marked the beginning of the Kyoto misadventure, the end became really evident in 2009 in Copenhagen. Even desperate efforts by scientist-alarmists (that went well beyond the IPCC) failed to make an impact. Who still remembers the “Copenhagen Diagnosis” or UNEP’s rehash of the IPCC, churned out at the last minute? Ultimately, China and major developing nations rejected all efforts to impose limits on the use of fossil fuels; economic growth proved to be more important than hypothetical climate disasters.

The Climategate revelations may have played a decisive role in shaking the public’s faith in the climate science of the IPCC. Not only did a clique of key IPCC scientists hide their raw temperature data and the methodology of their selection and adjustments, but they conspired to delete incriminating e-mails and fought hard against all attempts by independent outside scientists to replicate their results. They also undermined the peer-review system and tried to make it impossible for skeptical scientists to publish their work in scientific journals. In the process, they damaged the whole science enterprise, based on full publication of data and methods, replication of results, and open debate.

No Sequel to Kyoto—We Hope

And what about the future? There is not likely to be an extension of the Protocol or any similar international demand for emission restrictions. The 2010 gab fest, held in Cancun, Mexico, was not even a holding action and the 2011 conference in Durban, South Africa, will surely be an even greater waste of time and money.

But the financial subsidies have established politically important stakeholders who will continue to fight for programs of “clean energy,” “renewable energy,” and other such programs—all in the name of “saving the earth’s climate for our children and grand-children.”

One only has to look at the current situation in the United States to realize how bad things have become. Western states, under the leadership of California, have established the Western Climate Initiative. Eastern states have established a similar regime. One of the worst ideas is the so-called Renewable Electricity Standard (RES), which would force electric utilities to generate a certain percentage of their power from “renewable energy.” Many of these groups demand a 20% “feed-in” quota by 2020, although politicians are playing all kinds of games with numbers. President Obama is calling for an 80% reduction by 2050. As he promised during the 2008 campaign, under his plan “electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket.”

Probably the worst of all of the proposals may be the scheme to capture and sequester the emissions of C02 from power plants. Fortunately, carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) may never come to pass because of technological reasons. In the US, a little more than 50% of electric power is produced from coal burning plants, with the cheapest and most secure fuel we have.

The George W. Bush administration was not much better in this respect than the Obama White House. Remember the “hydrogen economy”? Bush is responsible also for feeding the various interest groups with subsidies—even while he refused to consider C02 as a pollutant.

Unfortunately also, his EPA and his Justice Department did not mount an adequate scientific defense before the Supreme Court in 2007. By a 5–4 decision, the Court called C02 a pollutant under the Clean Air Act, but left it up to the EPA to demonstrate that it would constitute a hazard to “human health and welfare.” The EPA has now issued an Endangerment Finding based only on the flimsy evidence of the IPCC. But without waiting for the legal challenge to the EF to be settled in court, the EPA is trying to proceed energetically to impose C02 restrictions under the Clean Air Act. It would be interesting to see how the EPA will set the national ambient air quality standard for C02, which is globally determined now by the emissions of China and other developing nations—and no longer under the control of the United States.

The battle against the unreasonable efforts of the EPA has to be fought on several fronts. The Congress, with a Republican majority in the House, is trying to cut off funding for EPA programs that involve dubious efforts to control climate change. In the House, the “Energy Tax Prevention Act of 2011” is sure to pass. The US Senate may finally pass the “Murkowski Resolution,” which would nullify the Endangerment Finding of the EPA.

On the scientific front, it behooves us to demonstrate to all concerned that the conclusion of the IPCC about anthropogenic global warming is not based on any credible evidence. Future generations will thank us for this service: “skeptics” now labeled “deniers,” “traitors,” “criminals,” and worse, will become the “realists” who correctly recognized Global Warming as a non-problem and saved our economy from going down the drain.

Atmospheric physicist S. Fred Singer is a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute, Professor Emeritus of Environmental Sciences at the University of Virginia, and former founding Director of the U.S. Weather Satellite Service. He is author of Hot Talk, Cold Science: Global Warming’s Unfinished Debate (The Independent Institute).

  From S. Fred Singer
HOT TALK, COLD SCIENCE: Global Warming’s Unfinished Debate
Distinguished astrophysicist S. Fred Singer explores the inaccuracies in historical climate data, the limitations of attempting to computer climate models, solar variability, the effects of clouds, ocean currents, and sea levels on global climate, and factors that could mitigate any human impacts on world climate.