Global warming not an issue Bush can ignore

Posted: Sunday, January 28, 2001

The following editorial appeared in Saturday's Los Angeles Times:

A decade ago, when global warming was still highly disputed, scientists predicted with alarm that temperatures might rise two or three degrees. A few foresaw great storms, flooded lowlands, the spread of malaria and drought. With the release of a well-grounded United Nations report this week predicting that global temperatures might rise up to 10.5 degrees in the next century, all those predictions of harm intensify. The message is solid: The planet is warming at a historically fast clip, at least partly because fossil fuel emissions are creating a greenhouse effect. Though global warming is not an issue President Bush relishes, he will have little choice but to confront it.

At a U.N. summit in Nairobi, Kenya, next month, environmental ministers are expected to have harsh words for the new Bush administration about U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, which make up one-quarter of the global total. Since 1997, when the Clinton administration promised in a treaty signed in Kyoto, Japan, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, U.S. emissions have soared. The Senate refused to ratify the treaty, and emissions are now expected to rise 35 percent by 2010.

It is not realistic to expect Bush, a former oilman, to do a flip and support the Kyoto treaty. As he said during the campaign, "I'm not going to let the U.S. carry the burden for cleaning up the world's air, like the Kyoto treaty would have done." Bush is right to reject the original terms of the Kyoto treaty as prohibitively expensive; because of the full-bore growth of the economy in recent years, the United States would have to slash its greenhouse gas emissions by one-third or more just to meet the 7 percent reductions the treaty required. Still, leaders of developed nations like Britain and Germany that have already met the Kyoto emissions reduction targets point out, correctly, that there's nothing inherently unfair about requiring the United States to assume its proportional share of greenhouse emissions reductions. The new administration faces a steep learning curve, especially in comparison with former Vice President Al Gore, whose signature cause was global warming. Earlier this month, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell asked for a delay in a global warming summit planned for May in Bonn, Germany, to give his chief global warming negotiator enough time "to read himself in." And Christine Todd Whitman, Bush's nominee for Environmental Protection Agency director, recently confused global warming with the hole in the ozone layer, which she said "was closing."

Bush himself seems much better versed. While he opposed the sharp cuts required in the Kyoto treaty during the campaign, he asserted that global warming was a scientifically established problem and that "reductions in global pollution through market-based mechanisms ... have worked in the past and can work in the future." Treaty supporters have come to include power suppliers who think its proposed emissions trading market would reward them for exporting energy-efficient technologies and farmers who hope it would reward them for using land to trap carbon dioxide.

Bush has ideas he can build on. But his administration, as it gets up to speed for the Bonn summit, should also respect the immense amount of work done by the Kyoto treaty participants and those who followed.



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