Climate Change

Sen. Kerry Warns: Everybody Must Participate in New Climate Treaty

Second climate change conference dispatch


Nusa Dua, Bali, Monday, December 10—Another side show, er, side event, orchestrated by the U.S. Climate Action Network (USCAN) on Monday featured former Democratic presidential candidate and current Massachusetts Senator, John Kerry. (Incidentally Kerry flew in on the same flight that I did from Singapore, although he was seated in a different section of the aircraft.) The venue at the Grand Hyatt was packed with people eager to get a look at the anti-George W. Bush, or at least the best stand-in until newly minted Nobel Peace Laureate Al Gore arrives later this week. Just before the Eagle of Boston Commons showed up, USCAN representatives passed out as souvenirs adorable white teddy bears wearing green T-shirts with the slogan "Save the homeless." Get it? Polar bears are about to be homeless as the Arctic melts away.

Kerry gravely told the group that he was delighted to be in Bali at this "transformational moment." He thanked the nations that persevered to push the Kyoto Protocol without the participation and leadership of the United States. Kerry assured the audience that all of us are here because for the past 20 years, the world's best scientists have gathered evidence showing that humanity is on a dangerous path. "There is no more serious issue than climate change," said Kerry. Since the USCAN session was devoted to updating action to address climate change in the U.S., Kerry happily could describe the new Lieberman-Warner Climate bill which had just been reported out of the Senate's Environment and Public Works Committee on December 5.

The bill calls for the U.S. to cut its CO2 emissions by 70 percent by 2050 using cap-and-trade auctions. Initially, carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions must be cut to 2005 levels by 2012 and thereafter reduced by 2 percent per year until 2020 which would result in a 15 percent reduction below 2005 levels. The bill initially allocates 12 percent of the emissions permits free to industries such as gas, utility, and oil refiners. Free permits are gradually phased out completely by 2035. Other permits are given to states and localities which can sell them to raise money for mass transit or low income fuel assistance projects and the like. Finally, the largest share of permits is auctioned directly to emitters, eventually rising to 73 percent of the total by 2035.

Auctioning permits is a lot like imposing a carbon tax, except with less price certainty. In this case, the government sets an overall emissions limit and emitters have to buy most of their allowances from the government every year. The political beauty of the Lieberman-Warner bill's permit allocations is that it allows Congress to buy off some parts of industry, states and local governments, and still raise substantial amounts of money through an annual auction to spend on other projects, all without using the taboo "tax" word.

"I can't guarantee that this bill will pass," admitted Kerry. However, he did promise that a climate change bill with mandatory emissions reductions would be adopted after the 2008 elections. Kerry endorsed setting a target date for a final post-Kyoto deal in 2009. However, he reminded the audience that the Senate had voted 95 to 0 in 1997 against submitting the Kyoto Protocol for a vote of ratification because it did not impose obligations on developing countries. Kerry warned that all countries must participate in any post-Kyoto climate agreement, or "we're not going to be able to pass it."

Ronald Bailey is Reason's science correspondent. His most recent book, Liberation Biology: The Scientific and Moral Case for the Biotech Revolution, is available from Prometheus Books.