Bali Who?

By | December 19, 2007

Bali Who?


[Illustrations, footnotes and references available in PDF version]

Under cover of fighting global warming, developing countries try to slow America’s economy.

Ten years ago, as the 1997 Kyoto Agreement was about to be signed, the Senate on a 95-0 vote passed a resolution stating that the United States should not be a signatory to any Climate Change or Kyoto negotiations that "mandate new commitments to limit or reduce greenhouse gas emissions for the Annex I Parties"–then 37 industrial nations–"unless the protocol or other agreement also mandates new specific scheduled commitments to limit or reduce greenhouse gas emissions for Developing Country Parties."

The senators understood that exempting developing countries like China, India and Brazil from mandates against global warming was a mistake, for warming was a global not just a Western matter. More important, the senators understood that the underlying argument was less about global warming than about economic growth. Developing nations don’t want to be limited in any way, and they do want to slow down the economic growth of developed nations so they can gain economically.

Fast forward to the just-concluded global environment conference in Bali, and the discussion had much the same theme. On the surface it was about global warming, but in reality it was as much about mandating an international agreement that would slow economic growth in developed nations.

The developing country parties still believe they must be exempted from a requirement to reduce global warming. The G77 Group (150 developing nations) said they were not ready to cut emissions from fossil fuels to fight climate change. India argued that it should receive compensation for protecting its forests rather than having to pledge to reduce emissions.

China is vastly expanding its factories and power plants–it is building another coal-fired power plant every seven to 10 days–and so opposed emission targets that would bind it. As the New York Times reported a year ago, China now "uses more coal than the United States, the European Union and Japan combined," and so "the increase in global warming gases from China’s coal use will probably exceed that for all industrialized countries combined over the next 25 years." China is already home to 20 of the world’s 30 most polluted cities, but Su Wei, China’s top climate expert in Bali, said the burden of reducing global warming pollution is one that belongs to the wealthy, not China.

Developing countries nevertheless signed on to the Bali Action Plan, agreeing that with financial and technical help from developed nations they would consider "nationally appropriate mitigation actions"–not "commitments or actions" as developed countries had to agree to–to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

What they did not get was the binding emission reductions for developed nations that the European and United Nations delegates sought: emission cuts 40% below 1990 levels by 2020, and 50% by 2050. That disappointed the anti-American Bali establishment–the Papua New Guinea climate change ambassador said, "If you cannot lead, leave it to the rest of us. Get out of the way." American environmentalists weren’t happy either. Hans Verlome of the World Wildlife Fund remarked that we had "lost substance" in removing the emission reduction requirements for developed nations.

But America’s Bali delegation, understanding that economic limitations were more significant to nations than environmental ones, succeeded in getting rid of the Bali-favored emission standards that would limit America’s–but not developing nations’–economic growth.

In light of all this criticism, what is the status of global emissions over the past few decades? Compared with other countries, how has America done? We generate about 25% of the world’s global warming emissions, which is not surprising since we are about 27% of the global economy.

From 1990 to 1995, America’s emissions increased 3.9% compared with 3.4% for other developed nations.

From 1995 to 2000, the emissions increased to 11.3%, compared with other developed nations’ decline of 1.4%.

From 2000 to 2005, our increase was 0.6% compared with other nations’ 2.7%.

So we are making progress. Comparing us with other nations over the 1990-2005, period we are doing better than Canada, Greece, Ireland, New Zealand, Portugal, Spain and Turkey, and not as well as Australia, France, Germany, Britain and the Scandinavian nations.

There is no question we must do the research to find ways to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, and that is going forward. As President Bush pointed out in last year’s State of the Union address: "Since 2001 we have spent nearly $10 billion to develop cleaner, cheaper and more reliable alternative energy sources." If the Congress fully funds the President’s 2008 budget it will total $15 billion.

Hopefully a technological solution will be forthcoming, but meanwhile we will need to continue expanding our energy generation to meet our nation’s economic needs. Today we generate one million megawatts of electricity, 52% of it from coal, 36% from gas and nuclear power, 11% from petroleum-fired and hydro-electric plants, and just 1% from wind and solar sources. According to future projections we will need another 100,000 megawatts–10% more energy–by 2020. Just a little of that will come from the congressional preference for "renewable energy," so we will need energy from all our existing sources for many decades.

Neither Kyoto nor Bali will solve our global energy emission problems. According to a Princeton University study a few year ago the world could hold its carbon dioxide emissions flat if 700 nuclear power plants were built around the globe, for they do not increase global warming. But they are not favored by the climate establishment, and so are not a part of the Bali solution.

Which makes one wonder whether the Kyoto/Bali emotion isn’t really energy ballyhoo. Progress can be made in reducing global emissions through technological breakthroughs, not by an economic equality effort by nations irritated by America’s economic success over the past decades.

Mr. du Pont, a former governor of Delaware, is chairman of the Dallas-based National Center for Policy Analysis. His column appears once a month.