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The Kyoto Protocol - The Emperor's new clothes

The Kyoto Protocol - The Emperor's new clothes

Thursday 31 Jan 2002 Ken Shirley Articles -- Environment & Conservation

Ken Shirley's chapter from the ACT Parliamentary team's forthcoming book.

Displaying messianic zeal, the Labour/Alliance government of New Zealand is determined to ratify the Kyoto Protocol in 2002 irrespective of the resulting economic damage and erosion of New Zealander's living standards.

For many within the international community climate change has become "flavour of the decade." It has dominated political agendas and captured a disproportionate share of publicly funded science.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was adopted and signed by over 170 countries at the United Nations Convention for Environment and Development held in Rio de Janeiro during June 1992. This "earth summit" was the biggest jamboree imaginable. When combined with the parallel global forum attended by non-governmental organisations it comprised over 10,000 delegates. Most world leaders and heads of state attended, together with a vast assortment of enthusiasts ranging from Jacques Cousteau, Jane Fonda, Al Gore and the Maori queen. It has hard to imagine a more eclectic bunch gathered in one place - all determined to save the planet from imminent disaster.

In the years following the earth summit numerous international forums involving the signatory parties toiled to develop a response involving preventative actions. This process culminated with the Kyoto Protocol adopted in December 1997 and refined by subsequent meetings.

As the Kyoto Protocol currently stands, the developed nations of the OECD, together with some former communist countries, will upon ratification undertake to reduce their respective greenhouse gas emissions either to a level prevailing in 1990, or to some agreed fraction of the 1990 level by 2012. This group of 34 nations with commitment obligations are referred to as the Annex 1 countries.

Although they are signatories to the Kyoto Protocol, the developing countries have no binding emission restraints in the first commitment period between 2008 and 2012. Instead it is anticipated that they will agree to such obligations in the subsequent commitment periods. If that does not occur a global curtailment in emissions will not be possible.

While the signing of the convention binds countries to its purpose, ratification of the Kyoto Protocol cannot be undertaken until countries have in place the legal means to fulfil their commitment. This will include such things as legislation for carbon charges and emission permits. The New Zealand government is moving to enact such legislation early in 2002.

There is a 55/55 trigger mechanism for the framework convention on climate change to become operative. At least 55 of the 186 signatory countries must ratify and at least 55 per cent of the C02 emissions for Annex 1 countries as identified in 1990 must be included. The USA has refused to ratify and accounts for 36.1 per cent of this total. Europe accounts for 24 per cent, the Russian Federation 17.4 per cent, Japan 8 per cent and New Zealand 0.2 per cent. At the last meetings of the parties in Marrakesh the Europeans placed considerable pressure and inducement on Russia and Japan to ratify in order to attain the 55 per cent trigger threshold. Initially Japan succumbed to this pressure but in January 2002 reversed its decision and now joins the USA in refusing to ratify the Kyoto Protocol in its present form.

To date Romania is the only Annex 1 country to have ratified the protocol but numerous other parties to the climate change convention, including New Zealand, have signalled their intention to ratify during 2002. In part this timetable is set to coincide with the Rio 10 Earth Summit 2 being held in South Africa.

Not surprisingly, the non-Annex 1 countries, which have no obligations whatsoever, have been more enthusiastic with 45 nations of this group already ratifying the Kyoto Convention. Undoubtedly these countries see windfall gains based on direct monetary and technological transfers. In addition they stand to gain as industries relocate away from Annex 1 countries to avoid carbon taxes and other compliance costs associated with the Kyoto Protocol.

What is the problem?

In all endeavours it is prudent to first define and attempt to understand the nature of a problem before attempting remedial action. It is equally prudent to proceed with any remedial action reasonably confident that the intended goal will likely be attained. Neither of these pre-conditions has been met with the Kyoto Protocol.

Climate change is an undeniable fact. From its inception Planet Earth has experienced dynamic and often dramatic climatic change. The real question is not "climate change" but rather to what extent human activity is contributing to global warming through accumulated greenhouse gas emissions. What are the likely consequences of these accumulated emissions and what, if anything, can sensibly be done to ameliorate any adverse impact?

Let's put climate change in context. The last 2 million years are referred to as the Ice Age because of cool fluctuating global climates and the formation of massive ice sheets in higher latitudes. There have been about 30 major oscillations between cold "glacial" and warm "inter glacials" over the past 2 million years. The peak of the last glaciation was 20,000 years ago when sea levels were 130 metres lower than at present because of the volume of ocean water locked up in the massive ice sheets. In New Zealand this meant that forest growth was restricted to what is now the north of the North Island with Taranaki and Nelson being joined in one land mass.

In the Northern Hemisphere a 2 kilometre thick ice sheet extended as far south as London and Paris. Today 6 metres of sea level equivalent are locked away in the Greenland ice sheet, 6 metres in the relatively small and unstable West Antarctic ice sheet, and a massive 60 metres in the huge East Antarctic ice sheet.

The present inter glacial period has so far lasted 16,000 years with sea levels reaching their present level about 6,000 years ago and since then remaining at a relatively constant level. Given this regular oscillation it would arguably be more sensible to be preparing for what will inevitably be the next Ice Age.

On a shortened time cycle we similarly see a regular pattern of fluctuating climate. Oxygen isotope ratios in the skeletons of small organisms measured in both the Sargasso Sea and peat bogs in north east China both show a period significantly warmer than present between 3,000 and 1,000 BC.

The medieval period 7th to 14th century was a period of milder weather and more benign climate than today. During these times grapes grew on the Scottish border, the Danes settled and farmed Greenland, where today we see perma-frost. The Polynesian migrations to Aotearoa occurred in this period.

During the 17th and 18th centuries the world experienced a mini ice age with rivers such as the Thames freezing every winter. For the past 300 years the world has experienced warmer climates with short term fluctuations throughout this period closely paralleling the 11 year solar cycle.

This century

The third assessment report of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was issued in March 2001. This report claimed that the Earth's surface has warmed by 0.6 degrees centigrade and is likely to have been the largest rise of any century during the past 4,000 years. The IPCC also reports that the planet has lost 10 per cent of its snow cover between 1960, while arctic sea ice has not only thinned by some 40 per cent since the 1950's, the surface area that it covers during the spring and summer is also down by 10 - 15 per cent. IPCC reports claimed that this was unprecedented in recorded history.

This claim is clearly refuted by a letter written in 1817, by the President of the Royal Society addressed to the British Admiralty, recommending they send a ship to the artic to investigate the dramatic changes in sea ice.

The following is an extract from that letter (Refer Royal Society London Nov 20, 1817. Minutes of Council Vol 8 pp149-153) "A considerable change of climate inexplicable at present to us must have taken place in the Circumpolar Regions, by which the severity of the cold that has for centuries past enclosed the seas in the high northern latitudes in an impenetrable barrier of ice has been, during the last two years, greatly abated."

"2000 square leagues of ice which the Greenland Seas between the latitudes of 74o and 80oN have been hitherto covered, has in the last two years entirely disappeared."

"The floods which have the whole summer inundated all those parts of Germany where rivers have their sources in snowy mountains, afford ample proof that new sources of warmth have been opened." The latest IPCC report concludes that there is now "even stronger evidence that most of the warming observed over the past 50 years is attributable to human activity."

Unfortunately IPCC reports are highly political documents produced by a very large committee of bureaucrats. They are notorious for misinterpreting and misreporting scientific evidence. In 1996 a chapter of the final report officially approved by the full IPCC in Rome was subsequently radically altered by a working group chairman.

Several statements in the approved report which said there was no indication of any human influence on climate were removed. The substituted text read: "The balance of the evidence suggests that there is a discernible human influence on climate change."

The present level of carbon dioxide, the main heat trapping or greenhouse gas generated from the burning of fossil fuels is up 31 per cent from the level prevailing in 1750. The IPCC points out that the present level has not been exceed in the past 420,000 years and likely not during the past 20 million years.

On the other side of the ledger many scientists take the view that the extremely small global warming of only 0.6 degrees centigrade in the past 140 years is fallacious and is caused by small long term changes in the thermal properties around the measuring equipment and not by changes in the ambient climate. Thus the fall in recorded surface temperatures from 1940 to 1975 was due to the removal of weather stations from inner city locations to out of town sites, particularly exposed airports. The rise recorded between 1975 to 2000 can be explained by heat generated from airport development and the closing of many rural stations.

In support of the conclusion that "global warming" is an artefact of closeness to humans is the fact that all measurements of global temperature that are made far from human habitation show no signs of any warming.

Global temperature measurements which show no warming include: * Measurement of the thickness of tree rings and other proxies for the past 600 years * Measurements made by weather balloons for the past 52 years * Measurements made by Nasa satellites (the only true global measurement) for the past 21 years * Many remote surface weather stations including records from such New Zealand stations as the Chatham Islands and Hokitika

All of these measurements, both on the surface and in the lower atmosphere, record temperature fluctuations due to volcanic eruptions and oceanic weather patterns such as El Nino and La Nina but do not show a steady warming of the combined surface record.

Sea levels

Moreover recent satellite measurements of mean ocean sea level show that the sea level is not currently rising. Satellite measurements since 1992 have proved that mean sea levels have hardly changed. Dire predictions of submerged island nations such as Tuvalu and Kiribati, together with the inundation of the Ganges Delta have been shown to be nothing but sensationalised nonsense. Not surprisingly those developing nations who have no commitment or obligation under the Kyoto Protocol but stand to gain considerably from transfer payments and relocated industries are more than happy to perpetuate the myths.

The Permanent Service for Mean Sea Levels operated by Proudman Oceanic Laboratory gives comprehensive sea level records for the globe (see their website hhtp:// There is no discernible increase in sea levels in the Pacific Islands in the past 20 years of records. * Funu Futi, Tuvalu - no change for the past 24 years * Tarawa - Kiribati - no change for the past 12 years * Nauru - no change for 26 years * Honiara - Solomons - no change for 26 years * Johnston Atoll - no change for 50 years

Based on records over the last 50 years the general belief that sea levels are rising had been proven to be completely without foundation.

While there has been a considerable recorded increase in atmospheric CO2 concentrations we have not seen a commensurate increase in global temperatures. This can be explained in part by the fact that atmospheric CO2, along with the other greenhouse gases - water vapour and methane, absorbs outgoing radiation only in specific wave bands. Scientists have reported that these particular wave bands are already at saturation point.

Therefore no more infra-red radiation can be absorbed even if we double or treble atmospheric CO2 concentrations. In any event CO2, the completely oxidised form of carbon, cannot be regarded as a pollutant. It is after all the essential element in the photosynthesis of all plant growth.

The oceans of the world play a critical part in the carbon cycle. Atmospheric CO2 readily dissolves in seawater with the soluble CO2 concentration in the oceans being 50 times greater than in the atmosphere. The insoluble carbonates in oceans account for 50,000 times the quantity of CO2 in the atmosphere. The absorption or release of CO2 from the oceans is temperature dependent. It is estimated that eight hundred billion tonnes of carbon is recycled naturally each year. Since 1850 24 billion tonnes has been generated annually from human activity, with over half being absorbed by the oceans.

The IPCC models have always and continue to assume that atmospheric CO2 levels are increasing exponentially at 1% per annum. This stance is retained in the 2001 Report despite all evidence demonstrating that the rate of increase is 0.3% per annum.

Scientifically the greenhouse scare and hype has been substantially rebutted but the global bureaucratic machine created to respond to it is self perpetuating and feeding on its own myths. In all probability future generations will look back with considerable amusement at the nonsense surrounding the present day debate.

The remedy

The Kyoto Protocol purports to be a market based mechanism to manage the environment risk of human induced global warming. The introduction of greenhouse gas emission charges is intended as a means of changing the behaviour of businesses and society generally. The need to cut emissions can be offset by carbon sinks that lock up atmospheric carbon.

Afforestation is the main sequester of carbon.

In New Zealand the burning of fossil fuels accounts for 45 per cent of our greenhouse gas emissions with agriculture accounting for 55 per cent, principally methane and nitrous oxides.

Initially it was thought that New Zealand stood to benefit from windfall gains under the framework convention of climate change with our extensive areas of newly planted pine forests. These early hopes have been dashed. 75 per cent of our commercial forests were planted prior to 1990 and consequently generate no carbon credits. The subsidy to post 1990 forests in the form of a carbon credit will increase plantings and log supplies from non Annex 1 countries with pricing distortions that will place the bulk of New Zealand's commercial forests at a disadvantage.

This problem has been greatly exacerbated by the "sweetheart" deal used to entice Russia's ratification of the protocol. Russia has an estimated 51 per cent of the world's standing stock of softwoods (pine, spruce, fir). At the Marrakesh meeting in late 2001 a regime of enhanced carbon credits for Russia's vast natural forests was agreed to. This concession can only further depress the international price of wood fibre and erode New Zealand's comparative advantage.

The story is even gloomier when we consider wood processing. Here the Kyoto Protocol results in higher transport and energy costs.

On the one hand government champions more added-value processing in New Zealand utilising the wall of wood to create growth in the regions and new jobs. Under the Kyoto protocol the competitiveness of New Zealand's wood products and pulp and paper sections will be reduced. There will be no incentive to invest in new processing plants here. Rather investment will occur in the non Annex 1 countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, China, India, Chile, Brazil, Argentina etc. We will continue to export large quantities of raw logs but even here we will be at a disadvantage.

The situation for aluminium, cement, steel and methanol production is even worse. New Zealand's ratification of the Kyoto Protocol will inevitably result in the closure of our two cement works in Whangarei and Westport. Jobs will be lost, product will be imported and global emissions of CO2 will be unchanged.

Undoubtedly the biggest impact on the New Zealand economy will be in the pastoral farming sector and its associated processing industries. Under the Kyoto Protocol one tonne of methane, the chief agriculture greenhouse gas has the global warming potential of 23 tonnes of carbon dioxide. A single dairy cow produces about 75 kilograms of methane a year, equivalent to over 1.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide.

Atmospheric concentration of methane increased by 150 per cent globally over the past 250 years while carbon dioxide concentrations increased by 31 per cent. Obviously it is more politically expedient for the champions of climate change to concentrate their propaganda on the developed world's use of fossil fuels rather than methane emissions.

The New Zealand Institute of Economic Research published a report in November 2001 providing a quantitative evaluation on the economic effects of greenhouse gas emission policies. The NZIER concludes that the economic effects of ratifying the Kyoto Protocol are likely to be substantial. New Zealander's livelihoods and living standards will be adversely affected. An accumulating 1 per cent p a reduction in GDP growth is predicted. This results in GDP being 18 per cent lower after 15 years.

Overall the analysis shows that the New Zealand economy will adjust to climate change policies primarily through the shutting down or reducing production in the emitting sectors rather than by substituting inputs. Since both New Zealand and the world will continue to demand the outputs, the overall global emissions are unlikely to be reduced. Developing country suppliers will be able to step up production to substitute for the output lost in New Zealand.


There is no reliable evidence that global temperatures have increased either naturally or because of human activity. The predicted sea level rises have not occurred.

The Kyoto Protocol as an intended remedy is fundamentally flawed. It will damage the economies of the developed world. It is unfair and it does not achieve the stated purpose of reducing global CO2 emissions.

The Kyoto Protocol is driven by fraudulent science, voodoo economics and political chicanery.

Why would New Zealand want to ratify it?

For more information visit ACT online at or contact the ACT Parliamentary Office at

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