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<b>Point-Counterpoint:</b> Bush Environment Policy - 2001-06-12


Before departing for Europe Monday, President Bush said he was serious about the problem of global warming. He said the United States would focus its efforts on research into the causes of global warming and technology to reduce it.

In his speech at the White House, the president reiterated his view that the Kyoto Protocol, the global treaty that the United States has signed but never ratified, is a fatally flawed agreement. He said Kyoto was a threat to the U.S. economy and unfair because it does not require developing nations to make a commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

In the first of two interviews on the President's statement on U.S. policy on global warming, VOA's Rosanne Skirble spoke with David Hawkins, Director of the Climate Center for the National Resources Defense Council, one of the largest environmental groups in the United States. She also spoke with Jerry Taylor, Director, Natural Resource Studies, Cato Instititue. Mr. Hawkins says President Bush is stalling instead of acting to cut global warming pollution, and that the United States, rather than reject the Kyoto Treaty, should embrace it.

Hawkins: "The developed countries of the world are responsible for 75 percent of the accumulated global warming pollution in the atmosphere. The developed countries have built their wealth over the last 100 years on practices that have polluted the planet, and they are responsible for 75 percent of the atmosphere that is in the air today. They also have the greatest amount of wealth in the world and the Kyoto agreement builds on the treaty that the president's father signed in 1992. That treaty said that there are different responsibilities recognized in the Climate Treaty between poor countries and wealth countries. The Kyoto Protocol is consistent with the treaty that his father signed and it is the right way to make progress and take first steps. If we stand back as the wealthiest country in the world and insist that countries like India and China have to make the same commitments that we do, that is a recipe for years of gridlock and the planet cannot afford that."

Skirble: "What message does the rejection of Kyoto send to the European community and to the rest of the world?"

Hawkins: "His rejection sends the message that the United States is not serious about the global warming problem. He says he is going to ask for more research to be done. He provides no details about even the timing or amount of that research. And, he refuses to take action that could be taken right away. There are things that he has done in the first one hundred days of his presidency that go in the opposite direction. (For example, he recommended) overturning strong efficiency standards for air conditioners, such as cutting the research and development program in the (United States) Department of Energy for energy efficiency and renewable energy. He could have simply said those decisions need to be revisited in light of (his) understanding of the global warming problem. But he didn't do so."

Skirble: "What from the point of view of the United States environmental community should a U.S. global warming policy look like? What would be a plan?"

Hawkins: "We're (Natural Resources Defense Council) saying there are five things that (President Bush) could announce today.

One, he could announce to limit global warming pollution from electric power plants in the United States.

Two, he could announce an improvement of fuel economy standards for automobiles and other vehicles in the United States.

Three, he could announce a commitment to make renewable energy 20 percent of our nation's energy supplies over the next 20 years.

Four, he could announce increases in energy efficiency programs and support bipartisan legislation that is pending in our Congress that would establish efficiency programs for the building sector, which is one of the biggest consumers of energy in our economy.

And, fifth he could send his negotiators back to the table to participate seriously in the Kyoto agreement and see whether something couldn't be negotiated that would be acceptable to the United States and the other countries of the world."

Skirble: "Thank you very much."

In a second interview on the Bush administration's position on climate change, Rosanne Skirble spoke with Jerry Taylor, Director of Natural Resource Studies for the Cato Institute, a public policy research group in Washington.

Skirble: "President Bush in his remarks rejected the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change. He said the treaty is flawed because it is a threat to the U.S. economy and it is unfair because developing countries are not required to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The move angered Europeans who support the treaty. What does the President have to do on this trip to convince Europeans that he is serious about the problem of global warming?"

Taylor: "I'm not sure he has to convince the Europeans of anything at this point. After all European public opinion doesn't matter to a U.S. president. He has to worry about domestic constituents. In fact most European governments are more concerned with posturing to their green voters than they are in actually forwarding any of these issues in meetings with the President. My suspicion is that despite all you hear in the press about global warming, it probably won't come up for more than a few minutes in his discussions with European ministers."

Skirble: "But, how can the United States command a leadership role on global warming while at the same time rejecting the Kyoto Protocol which the European and other nations, while they have not ratified the treaty, they subscribe to it?"

Taylor: "The United States needs to play the role of global adult. Afterall, according to the computer models which are used by the alarmist camp themselves, if every nation which had signed the Kyoto Protocol had actually adopted it and lived up to its stipulations, by the year 2050 global temperatures would only have been 0.07 degrees Celsius cooler than they otherwise would have been without the treaty.

President Bush needs to play the adult and say that under any sort of scenario, the Kyoto Protocol, even if complied with, would have a virtual indistinguishable effect on temperature. That to do something about global warming would require about 30 or 40 different Kyoto(s)(climate change agreements). It would essentially mean turning back the clock about 100 years on industrial civilization. And that's something this president is not about to do. Any serious cost-benefit analysis of the Kyoto Protocol would show that reducing energy consumption by about seven or eight percent below 1990 levels would be very expensive and the benefits gained this 0.07 degrees Celsius cooling over the next 50 years will have no effect at all.

You probably couldn't even measure that sort of thing given the variability and seasonal temperatures anyway. So, the Kyoto Protocol was nothing but a big political symbol. It's a convenient symbol for politicians because it signifies their interest in doing something. But it's a damaging symbol because if it were ever adopted it would be all cost and no benefit."

Skirble: "The Bush Administration says it will attend the Kyoto climate meeting next month in Bonn, Germany. What role do you expect the United States to play in the on-going debate over climate change?"

Taylor: "Oddly, it will play simultaneously two very opposite roles. It will play a minor role in that the United States does not have a negotiating program that they are looking to (put) forward yet. So, that means that the (United States) will not be driving the discussion.

On the other hand the (United States) will play a major role in the meeting because without United States participation no international treaty is really viable. So, the United States will play the role of the 800 pound gorilla observer."

Skirble: Thank you.

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