December 16, 2007

The Bali Compromise

The US has agreed to a policy statement in Bali that commits the nation to funding emissions-control efforts in developing nations while leaving targets ambiguous for our own reductions. The agreement came after our previous allies on emissions-control negotiations left the US isolated when developing nations agreed to enter the strictures of the policy:

The landmark global warming document agreed to on Saturday at a United Nations climate conference here was weakened in furious last-minute negotiations, but still made important progress in two key areas.

Under pressure from the United States, the document abandoned setting any firm goal for worldwide emissions reductions and left open the possibility that industrialized countries could avoid individual caps on their emissions.

Nonetheless, for the first time, it enrolled the developing world in efforts to reduce global emissions and pushed those nations to consider ways to limit their output of greenhouse gases.

More important, the agreement kept the United States -- long considered the biggest roadblock to unified action in curbing global warming -- at the negotiating table and offered hints that the country might finally be willing to join international efforts.

At least the LA Times got Kyoto history correct -- something the AP still hasn't done. They noted that the previous international effort never got ratified because Bill Clinton never submitted it to the Senate. They emphasize that the Senate was controlled by Republicans and fail to mention that the Senate unanimously passed a resolution opposing Kyoto, but at least they didn't blame its failure on George Bush, who wouldn't be president for another three years.

This agreement will likely have more support for ratification. The unanimity in opposition to Kyoto came from the lack of mandates on India and China, who have rapidly expanded their own emissions in their attempt to grow their economies, at the expense of our own in the case of China. If Bali forces all nations to reduce emissions at the same rate with the same restrictions, it will have overcome the one point on which all Americans agreed with Kyoto.

Will it win ratification? It depends on the overall cost of the package. While anthropogenic global warming still remains a theory in search of definitive proof, and a handy sock puppet for statist economic policies, no one can seriously doubt the wisdom of reducing emissions. Even if it has no effect on temperature, hydrocarbon emissions create health issues, especially in urban areas like Los Angeles, where the brown blanket of smog has covered the megalopolis for decades.

The question will be how these emission reductions will take place. If Bali requires us to effectively nationalize the energy-production industry and to fund nationalization in other countries, it has no chance of passage in the US. If it requires us to force our economy into recession for the next several years, it won't have a prayer. If it forces the government to start licensing nuclear reactors, clean-coal refineries, and invest in long-term energy independence, it might be worth it.


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