Going back in history, Earth Summits were held in Sweden in 1972 and Kenya (unofficial) in 1982, but got nowhere. The 1992 2nd Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro created the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. President George Bush, the father, negotiated an agreement to allow developing countries like China to be exempted, and approved ratification. The third Conference of Parties, more than 160 nations, adopted the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, in large part concerned that the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change predicted that an average global climate rise in temperature of up to 5.8°C (10.4°F) was possible by 2100.
Contrary to popular knowledge, the United States did sign the Protocol. So did Australia and India. The problem is that the U.S. and Australia did not ratify it. Plus, China and India, being developing nations, were exempted from the strictures. This all occurred during the Clinton-Gore White House.
In general, developed countries were ordered to reduce their greenhouse gases (GHG) to 5% below 1990 levels, with a vague penalty if they didn’t of 1.3 times higher reductions in the 2008-2012 period, when the Protocol would expire. Some countries which had already conserved, such as Japan, were clearly in trouble, so, in addition to a capping of emissions, allowance was made to permit trading, that is, buying extra pollution rights from those countries who had that luxury. Both Russia and Germany were in “good” shape, because their combined economies suffered from the fall of the Soviet Union after 1990. Then, there were large countries capable of planting trees at a distinct advantage.
Not only carbon dioxide, but methane, nitrous oxide, sulfur hexafluoride and fluoro carbons were included. Developed countries agreed to supply technology to the less able and pay for climate-related studies. Various cap and trade systems were established, but the onus fell to individual companies, not countries. Plus, there are at least a half dozen stock market type options, all different in serious ways.
When Bush the Younger, a Republican like his father, came into office, he declared that scientific uncertainty was too great to justify Kyoto’s targets and it was unfair that China and India were not included, so he called for ten more years of research, and proposed only voluntary measures to mitigate climate change until 2012. He also had the support of a Republican-controlled Congress. Not all, but most Republicans are assisted into office by industry, and Democrats like to think they are more environmentally responsible, and they generally are. The prospects of spending tens of trillions of dollars and wrecking the economy seemed logical. Yet, California, led by Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, nine other northeastern states and 187 mayors have pledged to adopt Kyoto-style legal limits, for economists have reported that not only will the Gross Domestic Product be depressed by only as much as 0.5%, but that the increased investment in new technologies might boost the GDP by 1.7%.
At around the same time in August of 2006, former President Bill Clinton, signed up 22 of the largest cities to join his international consortium to cut greenhouse gas pollution and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, fresh from yet another fete at the White House, flew on to California, to sign an agreement with California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to bypass the Bush Administration on their global climate change policy. What is a Republican President to do when his closest international ally and a Republican Governor thumb their noses at him? What about admitting he was wrong and re-think the whole thing? No, that did not happen.
A couple years earlier in 2004, Vladimir Putin approved the Kyoto treaty, making the Accord official on February 19, 2005. The Protocol limits emissions to a percentage increase or decrease from 1990 levels. It is said that part of the Russian motivation was that the fall of the Berlin Wall collapsed their economy, allowing for the opportunity to benefit by selling emission credits. Such is international politics, but the European Union also was affected by the demise of the Soviet Union, and, like Russia, would have no problem meeting the requirements.
The U.S. (largest polluter) and Australia (largest polluter per capita) remain as the two major impediments to progress. The Cook Islands, Niue and Nauru, islands in the Pacific, also have not signed, but only because the Protocol is not strong enough for them. China is bringing on line one major coal fired powerplant each week, and whether it is in a few years, or certainly by 2030, China will overtake the United States in GHG emissions. Oh, the population of India is expected to surpass China’s around 2050, if not earlier.
So, will the Kyoto Protocol work? In my mind, NO! It’s the only show in town and the international spirit of cooperation has been gratifying. It’s admirable and nice that individual states and townships have declared their sincere intentions. But, the fact of the matter is that if the U.S., China and India don’t participate, the whole thing will crash, for the responsible nations will at some point begin listening to companies being saddled with a huge financial competitive disadvantage. Already, in 2006, the German government exempted its coal industry from Kyoto requirements. The UK has refused to pass legally binding legislature.
In my semi-retirement, I tried to catalyze two attempts to influence the international decision-making process regarding global climate warming, targeting the June 2007 Heiligendamm G8 Summit held in Germany. The Hydrogen Romantics, led by Jochen Winter and Nejat Veziroglu (mentioned in my chapter on hydrogen) crafted a Centennial Memorandum to the leaders of the G8 Nations. I was one of the signers. In parallel, I worked with Peter Hoffman, long time editor of The Hydrogen Newsletter (again mentioned in the hydrogen chapter), to orchestrate the equivalent of the letters Albert Einstein sent to President Franklin D. Roosevelt to build the Atomic-Bomb. This time it was not to build a better bomb, but, rather, to invoke something like a severe carbon tax.
The CM merely suggested that the world leaders consider hydrogen as a future option. But, at least, they did send that missive, and received several responses indicating follow-up. However, having worked in the U.S. Senate, it was clear that this feedback was standard protocol. I kept reminding the group that sending our memorandum was only an initial step. They needed to personally contact key staffers from all eight participating countries (among the people signing the document were citizens of all eight G8 nations). As the meeting was held in Germany, Jochen did a valiant job of getting involved, but never quite made it to the highest level of decision-making. According to him, the only reportage of hydrogen was of George W. Bush sitting around a round table with eight youngsters from the G8 nations, predicting that they would be driving hydrogen fueled vehicles when they reached his age. Inappropriately enough, a lady reporter confused the hydrogen vehicle by mentioning something called an oxygen vehicle! She was not too far off base, however, as the car would need to take oxygen from the air to combine with the hydrogen gas to produce water and energy.
The Einstein-FDR project never really got going, for we could not determine who was the ideal Einstein. A futile effort was made to have the CEO’s of the major global firms do so, as this is the group that President George Bush might actually have listened to, but the trail ended at a low corporate office in General Motors.
The target then became the next G8 gathering scheduled in 2008 on Hokkaido in Japan, and, according to Prime Minister Abe, this meeting was to focus on global climate change. My Nokodai colleague, VP Tadashi Matsunaga, mentioned to me that he had been asked to assist in the process. Both hydrogen teams did not bother to do much. You might recall that my father’s father more than a century ago left Japan for the USA. He came from Hokkaido, so maybe there was almost a karmic symbolism returning me to the scene from where my genes came. But, the Japan G8 gathering came and went, and, if anything, the world leaders backtracked a bit on their German declaration. In 2012 they will meet in the USA, so, perhaps something can be orchestrated for that year. Alas, the Venus Syndrome is scheduled for August of 2012. What is the Venus Syndrome? That comes a later part of this series.
So what is the simple solution? There was the “non-binding” Washington Declaration of 2007, when the Presidents or Prime Ministers from the major nations, including the United States, agreed in principle on a successor to the Kyoto Protocol. This was mostly talk. I’m uncomfortable being an alarmist, but millions will need to die one hot summer or trillion dollar devastation must occur during an extraordinary hurricane/typhoon season. Only then will the malingerers, like the USA, truly fall in line. Or, short of these calamities, an Al Gore, or equivalent, White House might work, for the world will then find a way to penalize China and India for not cooperating. Only then will a severe carbon tax be enacted and GHG cap and trade become as credible as the stock market.
This is a terrible chicken or the egg dilemma, for global climate change will need to become truly real before society will take any concerted effort, but by then it will be too late. As in the lack of will for renewable energy in Chapter Two, there is a similar attitudinal deficiency in this phenomenon. Distressingly, in the 2007 G8 summit in Germany, for example, the greatest stimulus for global warming was for more nuclear power plants. But, as scientific attitudes changed so dramatically from 2005 to 2008, perhaps political viewpoints can similarly transform concern by 2012, albeit too late if the Venus Syndrome occurs.