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Jewish World Review Dec. 9, 2003 / 14 Kislev, 5764

Debra J. Saunders

Debra J. Saunders
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Global lip service | Last week, after a prominent Russian economic adviser announced that the Putin government might not ratify the 1997 Kyoto global warming treaty, environmentalists blamed President George W. Bush, not Russian President Vladimir Putin (even though Russia's failure to ratify likely would scotch the global warming pact, and Russia was probably just angling for a better deal anyway).

When the news came out that the Europeans are expected to fall far short of their Kyoto commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 8 percent below 1990 levels by 2010, the blame fell to President Bush again. (The Europeans will have reduced emissions by only 0.5 percent even though they cherry-picked a favorable baseline year, 1990. Some countries had all but reached their goals before negotiations began.)

As Dan Becker, a lawyer for the Sierra Club, told me Monday, "Because President Bush revoked America's signature to the treaty, it's given some other countries license to renege on their commitment (to the pact) because they know that the world's biggest polluter, the United States, isn't doing anything to reduce its emissions."

A few facts are in order.

First, the casual reader might think that "revoked America's signature" means that Bush revoked a ratified treaty. Not true. An official in the Clinton administration signed a Kyoto document. But Clinton never even bothered to ask the Senate to ratify the Kyoto treaty.

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Why? For good reason: The Senate had voted 95-0 to reject any treaty that exempted developing nations — such as China — before then-Vice President Al Gore flew to Japan to negotiate for the United States. When Gore agreed to the exemption in defiance of that unanimous vote, he knew he was signing onto a meaningless piece of paper, not a viable pact.

Yet the Democrats blame Bush for Kyoto's failure.

It should be noted that White House wannabes Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., voted in favor of the 1997 Senate resolution rejecting the global warming treaty.

Kerry authored a resolution in 2001 that urged the president to return to the Kyoto bargaining table. The New York Times quoted a serious Kerry intoning "that the Bush administration's current posture of sitting on the sidelines is unacceptable." In the fine print, however, the resolution warned that a new pact should not exempt large developing nations and must not "result in serious harm to the United States economy."

And still they blame Bush for Kyoto's woes.

This might be a good place to mention that when Clinton left office, U.S. greenhouse gas emissions were 10 percent higher than 1990 levels.

Not to worry: Kyoto always was destined to be a toothless document. In 2001, Japan negotiated a removal of language that made Kyoto legally binding. A Kyoto spokesman explained to me that the penalties never were expected to be serious. As the Sierra Club's Becker noted, when it comes to penalties, "There is no such thing as international law in realistic terms."

To summarize, in the immortal words of energy industry lobbyist Frank Maisano: "Kyoto was never going to work."

Bush's big mistake, it turns out, was telling the truth.

If Bush had followed the example of Bill Clinton — of giving the pact lip service, without trying to follow its guidelines — the Europeans might hail the Texan as a great internationalist.

If Bush had lobbed the hot potato to the Senate — and let that august body reject it — U.S. senators could be branded as the Satans of the environment. Instead, the buck stopped with Bush — and the blame, too.

If Bush had talked up the treaty, knowing he wouldn't meet its goals, he'd be acting oh-so-European.

Instead, Bush was so reckless as to say out loud what Europeans already knew (you can tell by their actions) and what Democrats and Republicans knew (you can tell by their votes). No wonder critics call him unilateral.

Recent events suggest — and The Washington Post has opined — that this might be an opportune time for all parties to renegotiate a greenhouse gas treaty that, unlike Kyoto, actually can work. Even global warming agnostics like me see the health and national security interests in an agreement that would reduce pollution and petroleum usage worldwide. The key would be to work for modest, achievable reductions in the near future — not fantasy projections for far-off years.

Of course, such an effort could succeed only if the real purpose of a global warming treaty is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions — not to enhance the (all bow) international community's already generous supply of hot air.

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© 2003, Creators Syndicate