July 2001

Japan is Far From Kyoto Target

The Japanese Environment Ministry has reported that Japans efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions have not gone well. Japan agreed to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 6 percent below 1990 levels, but emissions rose a whopping six-plus percent in 1999 alone, putting total emissions at 6.8 percent above 1990 levels.

Japans greenhouse gas emissions fell in 1997 and 1998 due to an economic slump, according to Ministry officials, but 1999 saw an explosion, with private households increasing emissions by 5.3 percent, from industry by 4.2 percent, from office buildings by 3.3 percent and by 23 percent from the transportation sector (Asahi News Service, July 11, 2001).

Hurricane Damage Unchanged

It has been claimed repeatedly that global warming is causing increases in hurricane damages in the United States. Such claims were made frequently in the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew, which global warming alarmists said was the most costly storm of the 20th century.

Once again, however, environmentalist claims have been invalidated by actual research. A study by Tillinghast Tower Perrin, a risk-management consulting firm, is the first-ever comprehensive study of “insured hurricane damages from all hurricanes that affected the continental U.S. in the 20th century” (http://www.towers.com/towers/default_till.asp).

The studies key findings include:

  • “When actual insured hurricane damages are adjusted to reflect current property values and the increase in the number of people living toward the coast, insured damages in the 1990s were not unusually high compared to other decades in the 20th century.

  • “Hurricane Andrew did not produce the highest adjusted damages from a single storm; the September 1926 Miami hurricane led the way with $50 billion in insured damages. Andrew actually ran a distant second with $25 billion in insured damages.

  • “While Atlantic hurricane frequency did increase in the second half of the 1990s, the number of such storms striking the U.S. in the decade was actually the second- lowest of the 20th century.”

The analysis refutes global warming claims, according to Tillinghast Principal, Doug Collins. “Our study put historical hurricane costs on a comparable level,” he said. “No one had ever measured the whole 20th century before or considered the explosive growth of residences and vacation homes near the coast.”

Economics 101: Price Caps Dont Work

Anyone familiar with supply and demand knew it was bound to happen. President Bush warned against it. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, however, still plowed ahead with its plan of imposing floating price caps on wholesale electric power in the 11 western states. Now it is time to pay the price. The New York Times reported on July 4 that the price caps are worsening the energy crisis in California.

The price caps, which went into effect June 19, have contributed to further rolling blackouts in California and rolling blackouts for the first time ever in Nevada, according to the Times story. The price caps caused generators to withhold about 600 megawatts of power (enough power for about 600,000 homes).

The power companies are withholding power because of the confusion surrounding the price caps. The price caps change depending on conditions, such as the cost of fuel and operating and maintenance expenses. The caps are set to the cost for the least efficient power plant to produce electricity, which can also change. Adding to the turmoil is the fact that the caps are only reset when there is a Stage 1 alertwhen demand is 7 percent higher than supply.

Not only has the confusion caused companies to lower output, but the prospect of not receiving fair market value for their power has also contributed. “A lot of generators were telling us that they were uncertain what they would be paid, and so they didnt want to take the risk,” said Oscar Hidalgo, spokesman for the California Department of Water Resources. Gary Ackerman of the Western Power Trading Forum agreed. “No ones going to pay for transmission if the cost is near the caps,” he said.

The blackouts in Nevada have come a time when temperatures were close to 120 degrees. Don Soderberg of the Nevada Public Utilities Commission noted that the price caps have had unintended consequences. “Were going to see how the caps might have played into this,” he said. Until then Nevadans can only hope the price caps do not bring more blackouts and the days do not get much warmer.

Uncertainty Abounds Before Bonn

As negotiations resume in Bonn next week, it is not clear what will become of the Kyoto Protocol. Although the U.S. will send a delegation to the talks headed by Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs Paula Dobriansky, the State Department has confirmed that President Bush remains opposed to the treaty. According to State Department spokesman Richard Boucher, “The United States takes climate change very seriously and will work constructively within the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.”

“The United States is working with our allies to develop an effective and science-based approach to addressing global climate change,” he said (Greenwire, June 11, 2001).

Japan has become the key player in the negotiations. For the Kyoto Protocol to become international law a sufficient number of Annex I countries those required to make cuts in greenhouse gas emissions representing 55 percent of Annex I 1990 emissions, must ratify it. That threshold cannot be met without either Japan or the U.S.

Japans Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has been pressured by the EU to ratify Kyoto without the U.S. He has made it clear, however, that he has no plans to do so, but in the meantime will work to persuade the U.S. to ratify Kyoto. He also urged the EU to take a more flexible stance on the issue (Asia Pulse, July 11, 2001).

A possible concession to placate Japan would be to postpone the Kyoto timetables, even though the protocol states that targets and timetables cannot be changed until after the protocol goes into effect. Currently, Kyoto requires that during the period of 2008 to 2012 a countrys average emissions should be at the target level. The Chairman of the Sixth Conference of the Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, Jan Pronk said, “I can imagine that it would be possible to postpone the date of 2008 by two years, to 2010” (New York Times, July 6, 2001).

Canadas Environment Minister, David Anderson believes that efforts by the EU to proceed with Kyoto are a waste of time. “The EU may be right. It may be theoretically possible to proceed with Kyoto. But what is the victory worth?” he said. “Kyoto is only a means to an end. Effective climate change action cannot operate effectively without the United States” (Ottawa Citizen, July 11, 2001).

Meanwhile, a cryptic statement from the head of the U.N. Environment Program, Klaus Toepfer, suggests that the G-8 meeting in Genoa, Italy next week will play a role in forcing the issue. “Theres more than good reason to think there will be a signal coming from Genoa to Bonn to finalize it,” he said (Greenwire, July 11, 2001).

Australia attempts to salvage Kyoto

In an interview with Reuters (July 11, 2001), Australian Environment Minister Robert Hill outlined his plan to woo the U.S. back in to the Kyoto Protocol. Australia has been trying to get major developing countries, like China and India, to participate in a greenhouse gas reduction program. This would address one of the U.S.s primary concerns about the Kyoto pact. However, Hill has not found eager participants. “they cant see why they should accept legal constraints on burning carbon which could constrain their economic growth.”

Without a plan to include developing countries in Kyoto and with other concerns left unaddressed, the U.S. is unlikely to change its position at the upcoming talks in Bonn. Hill said that no deal should be reached at Bonn if it does not include the U.S. “We will continue to negotiate the Kyoto rulesbut we would argue it would be better if that process wasnt completed at this meeting in order that the door might be left open for the United States.”

Natural Cycle Confounds Global Warming

One of the most important scientific questions that remains unanswered is the role of natural variability in the climate. As noted by Dr. Richard Lindzen in the Wall Street Journal (June 11, 2001), “Distinguishing the small recent changes in global mean temperature from the natural variability, which is unknown, is not a trivial task.”

A new study in the July 6 issue of Science adds another piece to the natural variability puzzle. The North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) is a climate pattern of winds that blow counterclockwise around the Arctic. In its “high-index phase” it does so at latitude even with the Great Lakes and eastern Europe. In its “low-index phase,” it extends south to the Ohio Valley and westward into France. It is an important climatic cycle that exerts “a strong influence on wintertime climate, not only over the Euro-Atlantic half of the hemisphere as documented in previous studies, but over the Pacific half as well.”

The study found that “High-index days are, on average, ~5 degrees C warmer over much of the Midwestern United States, central Canada, and Europe.” Low-index days exhibit colder conditions. “The NAO,” according to the study, “has exhibited a pronounced trend towards its high-index polarity since the late 1960s that is evident in its time series and is also reflected in the relative numbers of low- and high-index days in different decades,” leading to “warmer wintertime-mean temperatures across much of the NH [Northern Hemisphere] high-latitude continents.”

One of the authors of the study, Dr. David Thompson, of Colorado State University, noted in a July 5 Canadian Broadcasting Company article, “Public perceptions that winters are becoming less wintry appear to be as much or more due to the change in the Arctic Oscillation as to global warming.”

Where has all the Carbon Gone?

As environmentalists continue to harp on the evils of carbon dioxide, they may want to notice the lack of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Although carbon dioxide emissions are up almost 40 percent in the past 20 years, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has decreased or remained the same, according to an article in Science (July 6, 2001). The author of the article Steven C. Wofsy with the Atmospheric Sciences Program, Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Harvard University, notes, “The reason for this discrepancy is that increasing amounts of anthropogenic CO2 are being removed by forests and other components of the biosphere.”

About 25 percent of carbon dioxide emitted by fossil fuels is sequestered according to the Wofsys estimates. “But,” said Wofsy, “analyses of forest inventories (which measure forest areas and timber volume) seem to indicate that forests sequester much smaller amounts of carbon. Thus we have a mystery: If our forests are sequestering billions of tons of carbon annually, why cant we find it? Evidently, we have not been looking in the right places.”

Right now, scientists are not entirely sure where the extra carbon dioxide is hiding, but they have some thoughts. Many organic materials, such as woody debris, soil, wood products and woody plants, are not reported in forest inventories because they are not economically valuable. All of these things can absorb carbon dioxide. Professor S. Pacala of Princeton University, et al. estimates that more than 75 percent of carbon sequestration takes place in organic matter that is not inventoried (Science, June 22, 2001). Indeed, Pacala et al. estimates that carbon uptake in the U.S. equals 20 to 40 percent of worldwide CO2 emissions.

According to S. Fang et al., the carbon might be holed up in Asia (Science, June 22, 2001). Forests in China have absorbed substantial amounts of carbon dioxide thanks to reforestation and afforestation projects. When China planned its reforestation policy, it was not for carbon sequestration, but to restore ecosystems and produce wood for fuel. Wofsey points out that carbon sequestration will not stop the increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, but it could significantly slow it.

Fossilized Leaves Challenge Climate Models

A new study of fossilized leaves cast further doubt on the reliability of climate models. An international team of scientists gathered Cretaceous era leaf fossils from Europe, Asia, and North America in an effort to calculate the temperatures at ancient sites. The leaf temperature calculations matched ocean bed oxygen isotope measurements. The surprise came when the scientists tested modern climate models, ability to predict ancient temperatures.

The results from the different models varied greatly. At most of the sites, the results of the models did not match the actual temperature data. “Were talking about an error on the order of 20oC, so its not small-not by any means” says modeler Paul Valdes from the University of Reading. What could cause such large errors in the climate models? Researchers think the answer lies in the way that climate models simulate the effects of clouds. “Its a generic problem with all climate models,” says Valdes.

The discrepancies between climate models predictions and actual temperatures leads to troubling conclusions about their ability to predict the future (New Scientist, July 9, 2001).