Alibris Secondhand Books Standard

Thursday, July 28, 2005

a lot of hot air

Global temperatures are getting warmer. That much is beyond dispute. It is also beyond dispute that human activities, particularly the emission of greenhouse gases resulting from the burning of fossil fuels, are contributing to the warming trend.

In 1997 representatives of the United Nations met in Kyoto, Japan to discuss the issue of global warming and to plan a course of action to reduce the human impact on climate change. The resulting agreement, known as the Kyoto Protocol, requires industrialized nations to reduce their aggregate emissions rate to 5% less than their level of emissions from 1990. They must reach this target by the year 2012. Nations that reduce emissions below the targets receive credits for the balance, which they can sell to other nations that cannot meet their goals.

The agreement had its weaknesses; the most significant was that developing nations were not bound by the restrictions. These include China and India, two nations with rapidly expanding economies. Increases in their use of fossil fuels could potentially offset any savings by the industrial world.

Some critics of the Kyoto Protocol have also claimed that meeting its requirements would cause economic hardships.

For these reasons, the United States -- the world's most prolific polluter -- has refused to sign the Kyoto Protocol, promising since 2001 to provide an alternative. European leaders have criticized the U.S. for this stance, however, many European nations are not on target to meet their reduction goals. What we hear from both sides sounds like nothing more than a lot of hot air.

But we may finally be reaching a turning point.

This week the U.S. joined with five other nations to announce a new initiative to promote cleaner fuels and more efficient use of existing fuels. The good news is that this initiative includes China and India (the other three nations are Australia, Japan and South Korea). The bad news is that it is nonbinding -- none of the six nations are required to take any action to meet the goals of this agreement.

Seven and a half years after the Kyoto Protocol was first drafted, we have the beginning of a dialog. But while the politicians argue about how to deal with the problem, the world continues to get warmer. I only hope we can reverse the trend before it is too late.


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