Wednesday, May 20, 2009


An email from James Rust []

Another angle to the "Persistent Doomsterism Syndrome" was reported in an article in the May 18 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "In the U. S., teen suicide is the second leading cause of death for college-age kids, the third leading cause for those between 10 and 24, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention."

For more than a decade, the United States media has been almost unanimous in spreading the story that carbon dioxide from human activity causes uncontrollable global warming with all sorts of catastrophic events. This story has been picked up by the education community to give a sense of urgency to young minds that the Earth is doomed. Thus our young people develop a sense of pessimism about their future instead of the optimism I had fifty years earlier. Could one of the reasons for this senseless increase in suicides be due to media hype?


On Friday, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Beverly Hills) released the closely-held details of his bill rationing energy use in the name of global warming, the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (ACES).

The details had been kept secret for two reasons. First, Waxman had been working desperately to buy off key Democrats on his own committee -- such as Virginia's Rick Boucher and Michigan's John Dingell -- whose states would suffer hugely under the "cap and tax" scheme, plus others with energy-intensive employers in their districts. He succeeded by, in short, giving energy use ration coupons to select employers for resale to some poor saps without Washington lobbyists.

And before those lawmakers were bought off with targeted limitations of the bill's effects, it was impossible to assess the bill's cost, leaving us only with the president's guidance uttered when he let on to this agenda item: "Under my plan of a cap and trade system, electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket."

That was an uncharacteristic expression of modesty because cap-and-trade actually will cause the cost of gasoline to skyrocket, too, and increase the cost of everything that uses energy in its production. Which is everything. And the only difference between Obama's plan and Waxman's is that Waxman bought votes by giving away many of the ration coupons; either way, Obama's budget director Peter Orszag has serially admitted, it is you the consumer and ratepayer who will pay.



Russia's new climate doctrine hints at Moscow's growing willingness to engage with the international community in fighting climate change, but EU observers are not pinning their hopes on ambitious commitments from their Eastern neighbour to aid the passage of a post-Kyoto climate treaty. Last month, the Russian government endorsed a draft climate plan, ending the long silence of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's government. Until now, Russia's official line on climate change has centred on arguments against halting Russia's economic growth.

Russian Minister of Natural Resources Yuri Trutnev said the document predicted both how global warming would impact upon Russia and how the government's climate policies should facilitate adaptation when he presented the new plan to the Cabinet on 23 April. Trutnev stressed that climate mitigation policies could in fact benefit the Russian economy. "The economy will develop in different climatic conditions in the future. That's why climate changes need to be taken into account," he told a press conference, according to the Moscow Times. The policy paper calls for structural changes to the country's economy to adapt to new extreme weather conditions and help mitigate climate change.

Incentives for sustainable use of natural resources and a shift to energy-efficient technologies and renewable sources are among these new priorities, according to environmental organisation Bellona. Moreover, Trutnev said that fines for air pollution could increase as much as twenty-fold, the Moscow Times wrote.

Following Cabinet discussions, Prime Minister Putin called for a domestic climate action plan which would focus on resource and energy efficiency. He went on to stress that the problem needed to be solved at international level, and Russia would "take a responsible approach to its domestic policies and measures," according to Anna Korppoo, a researcher at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs (FIIA).

The emergence of the Russian plan was interpreted as an encouraging sign that the country might be ready to take action to cut emissions. At present, climate change maintains a low profile in public discussions and people are generally unaware of its impacts. "In the past, many good initiatives have got caught in the heavy Russian bureaucracy and been deterred by the lack of attention at the highest political level. In this rare case, with the issue having attracted the attention of Prime Minister Putin, new developments could be triggered in the Russian debate if other G8 countries, especially the US, as well as the international media, recognise these positive signs from Russia," Korppoo said.

Nevertheless, environmental NGOs are concerned that the Kremlin's plan focuses on adaptation rather than efforts to reduce emissions. "The document is by and large taken up by how Russia should adapt to climate change, not the fight against climate change that the rest of the world is occupied with," said Kristin Jørgensen, the leader of Bellona's Russia group.

The paper has been kept under a veil of secrecy throughout its drafting and is yet to be made public. Moreover, it was drawn up without consulting any environmental or civil society organisations. As such, the climate plan does not give away much of what Russia might offer in terms of greenhouse gas emission reductions in Copenhagen, where a post-Kyoto climate deal is set to be agreed in December. It does not suggest any targets, nor does it commit to any concrete obligations or deadlines. "They haven't adopted any firm position. They've only got some conceptual ideas down, so they are still keeping their cards close to their chest," said Fraser Cameron, director of the EU-Russia Centre.

The EU will hold talks with Russia at the end of the week (21-22 May), and international climate negotiations will feature high on the agenda. But Vladimir Chizhov, Russia's EU ambassador in Brussels, told EurActiv that he did not expect any tangible results from the EU-Russia summit. "So far we haven't noticed a great deal of international consensus emerging, beyond the overall general recognition that something needs to be done," Chizhov said. The EU is currently the only region with a firm commitment to a 20% emissions reduction by 2020, but different targets are currently being discussed in many parts of the world.

Russia might, however, be reluctant to adopt a target as it views emissions increases as a natural part of economic growth, argued a new report published by the Finnish Institute of International Affairs (FIIA) on 4 May. According to the research institute, Russia could seek to reclassify itself as an emerging economy under the new climate regime in order to secure its government's priority objectives. Russia might nevertheless agree to a reduction target if it is allowed to use surplus allowances from the 1990s when its economy plummeted, bringing emissions down, FIIA said.

Stefan Singer, WWF director of global energy policy, was more pessimistic. He said he is worried about last-minute demands from Russia at the Copenhagen climate conference in December. "Experience tells us that Russia always comes in at the eleventh hour with some kind of ridiculous demand," he told EurActiv in a recent interview (EurActiv 07/04/09). "We had this a couple of times - in Kyoto, in Montreal, in India - always. And not just on climate, on all issues, because Russia has an understanding of the UN as a self-service shop: everyone goes in and picks what he or she wants." "Unfortunately nobody takes Russia too seriously. No one knows what is going on in Russia, because it is a big black box," he lamented.



Investing time into lengthy deliberations in order to construct a broad consensus is an inescapable step in Japanese decision-making. Yet it is also true that in the case of a deadlock concerned parties, rather than engaging in open confrontation, settle their differences in backstage negotiations. This is why the current public meetings on the country's mid-term commitments for greenhouse gas emissions reductions are such an unusual phenomenon in Japanese domestic politics.

The Cabinet had announced that it would release its final position on Japan's mid-term emission reduction targets for the Copenhagen climate negotiations based on the outcome of the five meetings organized throughout Japan, during which public support for each of the six options lying before the Prime Minister was supposed to be evaluated. Audiences however, consisting largely of climate NGOs and representatives of business interests instead of average citizens, predictably clashed over seemingly irreconcilable differences.

With the Bonn meeting prior to Copenhagen lying weeks away, this impasse is fast coming to a head. Citing "overbooking of previous events", a new, sixth meeting was hastily organized in Tokyo. A nation-wide public survey on the matter is also underway - with results to be published at some point at the end of May. Meanwhile, the big players are sticking to their guns. The Japan Iron and Steel Association, a key member of the Japan Business Federation Nippon Keidanren, has on April 28 called all possible targets other than the least ambitious one (a 4% increase relative to 1990) "unrealistic". Conversely, WWF Japan is calling for 15 to 30% reductions.

The Japanese government finds itself in the unenviable position of having to lend its weight to a compromise unlikely to gain any backing from any of the stakeholders. Amid the fog of war, some support seems to be crystallizing around the figure of 7% reductions relative to 1990, which is what a study by the Ministry of Economics, Trade and Industry deems achievable in a scenario featuring maximum induction of best-available technologies. Japanese NGOs, though disappointed, believe the target to be realistic, should the government finally support more credible domestic policies and measures: a capped emissions trading system, absolute instead of intensity-based reduction targets for industries, housing insulation, etc.

-7%, it should be noted, represents what the government believes to be Japan's maximum achievable domestic emission cuts from sectors other than forest sinks, and thus also excludes the Kyoto mechanisms. While discussions about the latter may influence the final number during the Copenhagen meeting itself, outside negotiators should interpret this figure as a sign from Japanese industries re-enforcing their dissatisfaction with the perceived unfairness of the current Japanese target under the Kyoto Protocol.

Even though it may come as a disappointment to those hoping for a more substantial Japanese commitment, one should consider oneself lucky if even this figure holds. Given startlingly low approval rates, it remains to be seen if Prime Minister Aso has enough political clout left to force this target down the collective throats of Japan's industries. While the opposition party, who had introduced a tough climate bill to the Diet in late April, reels from a debilitating corruption scandal that question its prospects for the upcoming September elections, raising approval for this target rests solely on Aso's shoulders.



Jim Prentice, the Minister of the Environment, yesterday warned U. S. lawmakers to drop proposed trade sanctions on imports from countries with higher levels of greenhouse gas emissions, saying the measure would be a "prescription for disaster" for the global economy.

In the Harper government's toughest critique yet of draft U. S. climate legislation, Mr. Prentice told a Washington audience a proposal to slap a "carbon-border adjustment" fee on foreign manufacturers violates the core principles of international trade.

In addition, any U. S. decision to impose such a trade tariff threatens the chances of reaching an international climate change deal later this year in Copenhagen, Mr. Prentice said. "Trade protectionism in the name of environmental protection would be a prescription for disaster for both the global economy and the global environment," the Minister said in remarks at the State Department to the Conference of the Americas.

"Border carbon adjustments would be a thinly disguised restriction on trade and an impediment both to wealth creation and to the attainment of our collective objective, which is to address greenhouse gas emissions and to reduce them. They would constitute arbitrary discrimination. They won't work and they threaten constructive negotiations." Mr. Prentice was referring to sweeping climate legislation proposed by Democratic lawmakers Henry Waxman and Edward Markey, which is being debated in the House energy and commerce committee.



Whether a climate change bill emerges from the US Congress this year is much in doubt. Most Republicans still oppose the very idea of reducing emissions of greenhouse gases. Democrats are less than united in their commitment to it, once forced to consider the implications. The signs are that if a bill does somehow pass, it will be ugly.

A subcommittee of the House of Representatives has taken the lead in drafting a cap-and-trade plan - the approach promised by Barack Obama - but its initial efforts give one pause.

Under cap and trade, emitters require permits and the supply of these allowances is capped at a level that reduces total emissions. So long as the cap binds, the permits have a value and the system creates a market to trade them. This ensures that cuts in emissions happen where they can be made at least cost. As a result, cap and trade is much more efficient than decreeing a uniform cut regardless of the source of emission.

The problem is not with the basic idea. A well-designed cap-and-trade scheme, though lacking the simplicity and transparency of an outright carbon tax, can do the job nearly as well. Unfortunately, Congress seems keen to take the opportunities for gaming that cap and trade presents, and increase them tenfold.

During the campaign for the presidency, Mr Obama promised that all permits would be auctioned. His first budget counts on revenues from that source to finance his "Make Work Pay" tax credits for the low-paid - to the tune of more than $600bn over 10 years. The House committee's current proposal chooses to give 85 per cent of the permits away. The hole in Mr Obama's long-term fiscal arithmetic just got bigger.

That is not all. Predictably, in the disbursement of this enormous windfall gain, the House proposes to reward favourites, such as regulated utilities, and punish villains, notably the oil companies. Some emitters will receive more permits in relation to their needs than others. This would create a perpetual struggle for political advantage. If you wanted to promote corruption, this would be a good way.

Still not content, the House wants to set conditions on its gifts of permits - including commitments to shield consumers from higher energy costs. Yet the whole point of this exercise is to make high-carbon energy dearer. On the drawing board is a vast and unfathomably complex new system, which fosters corruption, raises little revenue and tries to suppress the incentives that are its entire purpose. Otherwise, it all looks quite promising.



For more postings from me, see DISSECTING LEFTISM, TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.


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