Monday, March 2, 2009

Can We at Least Get the Facts Straight?

It is becoming increasingly clear that despite the severe economic recession we are in, Congress will take up climate change legislation this year. In his address to Congress last Tuesday night, the president reiterated his support for a cap-and-trade program and asked Congress to send him “legislation that places a market-based cap on carbon pollution and drives the production of more renewable energy in America."

In order to have an informed debate, we need to have a firm factual foundation to start the discussion. However, much of the news coverage of this issue gets basic facts wrong. For example, an Associated Press article about the President’s speech says, "The United States is the world's largest emitter of carbon gases, blamed for global warming, yet the previous administration of president George W. Bush walked away from the 1997 Kyoto treaty aimed at battling climate change."

There are several things wrong or incomplete in that one sentence. First, there is no disagreement among people who follow this issue that China has surpassed the United States as the largest source of man-made greenhouse gas emissions. According to the World Resources Institute, in 2005 China contributed 7.249 billion metric tons (BMTs) – or 18.72% - of global man-made GHG emissions. The United States emitted 7.09 BMTs - or 18.33%.

Second, the Kyoto Protocol was rejected not only by President Bush, but also the United States Senate. On July 25, 1997, the United States Senate voted unanimously – 95-0 – for the Byrd-Hagel Resolution (S. Res. 98), which stated the sense of the Senate was that the United States should not be a signatory to any protocol or other agreement that did not include mandatory greenhouse gas emission reduction targets and timetables for developing nations as well as industrialized nations, or that would result in serious harm to the economy of the United States.

While the Clinton Administration signed the Kyoto Protocol in 1998, the Administration never submitted it to the Senate for ratification because it was clear that the Protocol would not be voted on until there was participation by developing nations.

In light of the recent and future projected growth of greenhouse gas emissions in “developing” countries like India and China, the sense of the Senate in 1997 is even more relevant today.

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