Kyoto Treaty Said Powerless To Stop Global Warming

December 15, 2003, WASHINGTON – U.S. scientists on Friday defended the position of President George W. Bush’s administration not to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, saying the protocol would not stop global warming because it targets only one of the many causes for change in temperatures worldwide.

The protocol, drawn up in 1997, seeks to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 8 percent below 1990 levels by 2012. But according to the scientists who attended “Global Warming: The State of the Debate,” sponsored by the Libertarian-affiliated Cato Institute in Washington, the scientific community still knows too little about all the factors that influence climate change. The scientists said that each year experts find more factors, beyond greenhouse gas emissions, that contribute to global warming. And because there is little consensus around climate change and how much of it is caused by humans, the scientists said there is not much they can do to reverse the situation.

“As you can see in this conference today, the broad spectrum of opinion is that you can’t affect warming,” said Patrick Michaels, a professor at University of Virginia and member of the U.N.-established Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Nonetheless, Michaels said, people must understand that climate change is not as worrisome as they believe. In a recent paper posted on the University of Virginia’s Web site, Michaels questions numbers presented by the IPCC on future temperature ranges worldwide, saying that predictions of a world with high temperatures and major floods from melting ice are exaggerated.

In the future, “The rate of warming will not be much different than it was over the last 30 years,” Michaels said, adding that the world in the next 100 years “looks more like the same world as today.”

Other scientists at the conference agreed with Michaels. According to them, many scientists, politicians and the media have exaggerated predictions on global warming. For instance, reports that extreme weather events have been on the rise and that those events are related to climate change are simply not true, they said.

For example, said Robert Balling, director of the office of climatology at Arizona State University and a member of IPCC, “The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for more than 10 years has been writing the same thing: there is no reason to believe that has been any change in hurricane activity. Yet news outlets have been making the link” between more hurricanes and climate change, Balling added.

Michaels and others attributed much of the exaggeration over climate change and human culpability in the matter to a 1988 statement by James Hansen, a climate modeler with NASA, who said at the time that humans were mostly responsible for global warming.

As Michaels pointed, however, Hansen himself corrected his statement in 1998, saying that the factors driving long-term climate change are not sufficiently known to predict the future.

Another point scientists in the conference agreed on is that instead of trying to stop global warming, the scientific community should think about how humans can adapt to the changes. In that sense, said Michaels, the United Nations itself has been lacking some perspective, spending too much money on proposals to revert the situation instead of urging people to respond and defend themselves from climate change.

“The United Nations ought to be a little bit more straightforward about the need to adapt rather than an attempt to try and change the world’s temperature,” he said.

At the end of his presentation, Michaels forecast the “death” of the U.N.-backed Kyoto Protocol, defending his opinion that no mechanism can stop climate change. Chief among the protocol’s failings, he said, was that it tackled no issue other than greenhouse gas emissions.

“International agreements such as the Kyoto Protocol would have no detectable effect on average temperature within any reasonable policy time frame of 50 years or so – even with full compliance,” Michaels wrote in the paper The Way of Warming.

“Beyond 50 years, we have little, if any, idea what the energy infrastructure of our society will be. … We simply cannot predict the future. Rather, the more serious question provoked by the facts on global warming is this one: Is the way the planet warms something that we should even try to stop?”

Friday’s conference happened the same day the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change meeting ended in Milan. During the meeting U.S. officials reaffirmed their position on the protocol, calling it “an unrealistic and ever-tightening regulatory straitjacket curtailing energy consumption.”

Meanwhile the Russian delegation continued to raise doubts that Moscow – which must ratify if the protocol is to enter into force – will join.

U.N. Wire