U.S. Signing of Kyoto Accord Brings Jeers
The signing by the United States last week of the Kyoto
agreement limiting greenhouse gas emissions elicited jeers on
Capitol Hill and in some energy circles. The move was seen as "more
of a gesture of goodwill" to encourage commitments from developing
countries that are attending the conference now underway in
Argentina, according to Capitol Hill and gas industry sources. They
seriously doubt President Clinton will submit the controversial
accord to the Senate, which is sharply opposed to it.
The global climate accord, which is the target of ongoing
negotiations at the Fourth Conference of Parties underway in Buenos
Aires, Argentina, commits the United States to reduce overall
greenhouse emissions by 7% below 1990 levels within the 2008-2012
range. This would require the United States to reduce its energy
consumption by 30% by that time.
The U.S. signed the agreement over the strong warnings of Sen.
Robert C. Byrd (D-WVA) and other Capitol Hill lawmakers. In a
letter last Monday, Byrd urged President Clinton not to sign the
agreement, saying that it would be "contrary to the plain language"
of a resolution unanimously passed by the Senate in July 1997
vowing not to approve the accord unless there were meaningful
commitments from developing countries to cut emissions of
greenhouse gases. Signing the agreement, which requires two-thirds
ratification by the Senate to become law, now is nothing more than
an "empty gesture."
Senate Energy Chairman Frank Murkowski (R-AK) said the Clinton
administration's decision to sign the Kyoto Protocol doomed the
treaty. "I really believe that the treaty is dead - it just hasn't
been buried yet." He believes the solutions for limiting greenhouse
gas emissions will be found in technology and market-oriented
approaches rather than with diplomats and negotiators.
The Senate views the Kyoto accord as a "fundamentally flawed
document" that will never be ratified into law until the developing
countries agree to limit their greenhouse gas emissions in the same
fashion as the larger industrialized countries. But that's not
likely to happen - at least not anytime soon, said Derek Jumper,
press aide to the Senate Energy Committee.
"China's already told us for lack of a better word to stick it
in our ear," he noted. "And without the support of China and other
developing countries, such as India, Mexico and Indonesia, there's
no way the Senate would ratify" the agreement. The reason: total
carbon emissions from China and India combined are projected to
exceed U.S. carbon emissions by the year 2010, according to the
Energy Information Administration. Total carbon emissions from
developing countries in 1995 were 2,153 metric tons per year, of
which China accounted for about 37% and India 10%.
Although there's "no question" that a global warming accord
would be good for natural gas, "there's still quite a few of our
members [producers] that are uncertain as to the science behind
global warming," said John Sharp, vice president of federal and
state affairs and counsel for the Natural Gas Supply Association
(NGSA). "We don't necessarily endorse all initiatives that would
increase natural gas [usage] if they aren't cost effective and they
aren't based on good science."
At the talks underway in Buenos Aires, where about 110-120
countries are participating, "the U.S. delegation is trying...right
now to strengthen the agreement in those areas that are important
to members of the Senate," said Martin Edwards, director of
legislative affairs for the Interstate Natural Gas Association of
America (INGAA). Discussions on this issue suffered a major setback
earlier in the month when international negotiators soundly
rejected a proposal to discuss voluntary commitments by developing
The Buenos Aires conference is a "continuation" of the
negotiations that were held in Kyoto, Japan, at the end of last
year. "I think it's going to be an ongoing thing for the next few
years. It's kind of an evolutionary thing," Edwards said. He noted
that INGAA has an environmental representative at the talks, as do
several individual oil and gas companies - Enron, BP, El Paso
Energy and Shell.
This is a "huge issue" for natural gas, Edwards said. "I'm kind
of amazed that [gas] people don't pay as much attention to it as
they should..." In the United States alone, tougher emission
standards could lead to a greater number of power utilities
switching to gas-fired generation and backing away from coal as the
fuel of choice, he believes.