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Dissolved nitrate in the Atlantic Ocean, along a section from Antarctica (left) to Iceland. High concentrations of this nutrient occur deep in the ocean, and in the Southern Ocean. Near the surface nitrate is almost absent, evidence of active ecosystem growth at the top of the ocean. The global ocean circulation must bring nitrate up to the surface, and controls the distribution of life (WOCE program).
CLIMATE POLICY-FROM RIO TO KYOTO: A POLITICAL ISSUE FOR 2000—AND BEYOND
Hoover Institution Essay by S. Fred Singer Executive Summary
Within the United States, global warming and related policy issues are becoming increasingly contentious, surfacing in the presidential contests of the year 2000 and beyond. They enter into controversies involving international trade agreements, questions of national sovereignty versus global governance, and ideological debates about the nature of future economic growth and development. On a more detailed level, determined efforts are under way by environmental groups and their sympathizers in foundations and in the federal government to restrict and phase out the use of fossil fuels (and even nuclear reactors) as sources of energy. Such measures would reduce greenhouse-gas emissions into the atmosphere but also effectively deindustrialize the United States.
International climate policy is based on the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which calls on industrialized nations to carry out, within one decade, drastic cuts in the emission of greenhouse gases (GHG) that stem mainly from the burning of fossil fuels. The Protocol is ultimately based on the 1996 Scientific Assessment Report issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a U.N. advisory body. The IPCC's main conclusion, featured in its Summary for Policymakers (SPM), states that “the balance of evidence suggests a discernible human influence on global climate.” This widely quoted, innocuous-sounding but ambiguous phrase has been misinterpreted by many to mean that climate disasters will befall the world unless strong action is taken immediately to cut GHG emissions.
This essay documents the inadequate science underlying the IPCC conclusions, traces how these conclusions were misinterpreted in 1996, and how this led to the Kyoto Protocol. I also discuss some fatal shortcomings of the Protocol and the political and ideological forces driving it.
The IPCC conclusion is in many ways a truism. There certainly must be a human influence on some features of the climate, locally if not globally. The important question—the focus of scientific debate—is whether the available evidence supports the results of calculations from the current General Circulation Models (GCMs). Unless validated by the climate record, the predictions of future warming based on theoretical models cannot be relied on. As demonstrated in this essay, GCMs are not able to account for observed climate variations, which are presumably of natural origin, for the following reasons: 1. To begin with, GCMs assume that the atmospheric level of carbon dioxide will
continue its increase (at a greater rate than is actually observed) and will more than double in the next century. Many experts doubt that this will ever happen, as the world proceeds on a path of ever-greater energy efficiency and as
low-cost fossil fuels become depleted and therefore more costly. 2. Next, one must assume that global temperatures will really rise to the extent
calculated by the conventional theoretical climate models used by the IPCC. Observations suggest that any warming will be minute, will occur ainly at night and in winter, and will therefore be inconsequential. The failure of the present climate models is likely due to their inadequate treatment of atmospheric processes, such as cloud formation and the distribution of water vapor
(which is the most important greenhouse gas in the atmosphere). 3. The putative warming has been labeled as greater and more rapid than any
thing experienced in human history. But a variety of historical data contradicts this apocalyptic statement. As recently as 1,000 years ago, during the “Medieval climate optimum,”. Vikings were able to settle Greenland. Even higher temperatures were experienced about 7,000 years ago during the much-studied
*climate optimum. The IPCC's Summary for Policymakers tries hard to minimize the inadequacy of the GCMs to model atmospheric processes and reproduce the observed climate variations. For example, the ŚPM does not reveal the fact that weather satellite data, the only truly global data we have, do not show the expected atmospheric warming trend; the existence of satellites is not even mentioned.
The scientific evidence for a presumed “human influence” is spurious and based mostly on the selective use of data and choice of particular time periods. Phrases that stress the uncertainties of identifying human influences were edited out of the approved final draft before the IPCC report was printed in May 1996.
A further misrepresentation occurred in July 1996 when politicians, intent on establishing a Kyoto-like regime of mandatory emission controls, took the deceptively worded phrase about “discernible human influence” and linked it to a catastrophic future warming-something the IPCC report itself specifically denies. The IPCC presents no evidence to support a substantial warming such as calculated from theoretical climate models.
The essay also demonstrates that global warming (GW), if it were to take place, is generally beneficial for the following reasons: 1. One of the most feared consequences of global warming is a rise in sea level
that could flood low-lying areas and damage the economy of coastal nations. But actual evidence suggests just the opposite: a modest warming will reduce somewhat the steady rise of sea level, which has been ongoing since the end of the last Ice Age-and will continue no matter what we do as long as the
millennia-old melting of Antarctic ice continues. 2. A detailed reevaluation of the impact of climate warming on the national econ
omy was published in 1999 by a prestigious group of specialists, led by a Yale University resource economist. They conclude that agriculture and timber resources would benefit greatly from a warmer climate and higher levels of carbon dioxide and would not be negatively affected as had previously been thought. Contrary to the general wisdom expressed in the IPCC report, higher CO2 levels and temperatures would increase the GNP of the United States and
put more money in the pockets of the average family. But even if the consequences of a GW were harmful, there is little that can be done to stop it. “No-regrets” policies of conservation and adaptation to change are the most effective measures available. Despite its huge cost to the economy and consumers, the emission cuts envisioned by the Kyoto Protocol would be quite ineffective. Even if it were observed punctiliously, its impact on future temperatures would be negligible, only 0.05°C by 2050 according to IPCC data. It is generally agreed that achieving a stable level of GHGs would require much more drastic emission reductions, including also by developing nations. To stabilize at the 1990 level, the IPCC report calls for a 60 to 80 percent reduction—about twelve Kyotos on a worldwide basis!
Finally, the essay attempts to trace the various motivations that led to the Kyoto Protocol. It concludes that U.S. domestic politics rather than science or economics will decide the fate of the Protocol; in particular, the presidential elections of 2000 will determine whether the United States ultimately ratifies the Protocol, which would be essential for its global enactment. Conversely, informed debate about the Protocol can influence the outcome of the elections.
YALE UNIVERSITY, SCHOOL OF FORESTRY AND ENVIRONMENTAL STUDIES,
New Haven, Connecticut, July 12, 2000.
Senator JOHN MCCAIN
Dear Senator McCain:
In response to your invitation to speak to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, I would like to submit the following material as part of the written record. Over the last five years, I have been working with a distinguished group of researchers from across the United States measuring the impacts of climate change on the U.S. economy. The initial study, edited by Robert Mendelsohn and James Neumann and published in 1999 by Cambridge University Press, was entitled “The Impact of Climate Change on the United States Economy.” A subsequent book entitled “Global Warming and the American Economy: A Regional Assessment Clima Change” is being prepared for publication at present. Following is the introduction and the synthesis of results of this new book.*
The critical insight of both of these new books is that adaptation matters. Empirical research indicates that households and firms will respond to climate change and reduce damages and enhance benefits. Coupled with more careful modeling of dynamic effects, carbon fertilization, and ecosystem change, the new results are far more optimistic than the old studies. These estimates do not include nonmarket effects in health, ecosystem change, and aesthetics, but it is not clear that these nonmarket effects will be large in the United States.
* The information referred to has been retained in the Committee files.
Climate change is likely to result in small net benefits for the United States over the next century. The primary sector that will benefit is agriculture. The large gains in this sector will more than compensate for damages expected in the coastal, energy, and water sectors, unless warming is unexpectedly severe. Forestry is also expected to enjoy small gains. Added together, the United States will likely enjoy small benefits of between $14 and $23 billion a year and will only suffer damages in the neighborhood of $13 billion if warming reaches 5C over the next century. Recent predictions of warming by 2100 suggest temperature increases of between 1.5 and 4C, suggesting that impacts are likely to be beneficial in the U.S.
The impact of warming depends upon the initial temperature of each region. With mild warming of 1.5 C, every region benefits from warming. The average American would enjoy benefits of about $100/yr. However, with 2.5C warming, the cooler northern regions of the country benefit far more than the warmer southern regions. The average citizen in the north would enjoy benefits of about $80/yr whereas southern citizens would enjoy average benefits of only about $6/yr. If warming rises to 5C, the benefits in the north shrink to about $40 per person, but citizens in the south may
suffer damages from $120 to $370 per person. In summary, climate change does not appear to be a major threat to the United States for the century to come. There is little motivation for expensive crash programs to curb short term emissions of greenhouse gases. The focus of mitigation policy should remain on inexpensive ways to control global emissions over the next century. Sincerely,
ROBERT MENDELSOHN, Edwin Weyerhaeuser Davis Professor.
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