Editor's Note: The PEGG solicited the following exchange on the Kyoto Accord and the science behind it, in an effort to provide two divergent views of the debate. The Point side is in favour of the science behind Kyoto and its implementation; the Counterpoint side disputes the science and doesn't agree that the accord, as it currently stands, is an acceptable way to address climate change. Each side received an advance copy of the other's argument, allowing them to write rebuttals, which also appear here.
BY MATT McCULLOCH, P.ENG.
and MATTHEW BRAMLEY, PhD
Atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases (GHGs) are
rising rapidly as a result of human activities, mainly the
burning of fossil fuels. Almost all leading climate scientists
agree that a profound transformation of the global environment
is likely to occur this century if this trend continues. Heeding
the scientific advice, the world's governments agreed more
than 10 years ago on the need to stabilize GHG concentrations.
They formalized this objective in the United Nations Framework
Convention on Climate Change, which has been ratified by virtually
every nation in the world (Canada and the U.S. included).
Carbon cycle modelling shows clearly that stabilizing GHG
concentrations will require global GHG emissions to be reduced
by more than half from today's levels. This is a very considerable
challenge, but it is one that we collectively need to surmount
within just a few decades if the most damaging of the expected
impacts are to be avoided. Yet GHG emissions are currently
growing almost everywhere in the world. This creates a real
urgency in beginning the job of slowing and then reversing
The world's governments quickly recognized that meeting the
objective of the Framework Convention would require legally
binding limits on GHG emissions. In 1997, as a first step
in that direction, they negotiated the Kyoto Protocol, which
sets emissions targets for industrialized countries for the
period 2008-2012. In most cases, these represent modest reductions
in emissions below 1990 levels - a six-per-cent reduction
in the case of Canada. The vast majority of cumulative GHG
emissions from human activities to date originated in industrialized
countries. If the latter are not willing to take the small
first step represented by Kyoto, developing countries - which
have vastly inferior resources on a per-capita basis - will
simply refuse to take on their own emissions constraints in
the subsequent steps needed to cut global emissions in half.
Most industrialized countries have already ratified the Kyoto
Protocol, and only Russia's ratification (expected within
a few months) is now needed for the protocol to have legal
force. Only the U.S. has refused outright to ratify. Canadians
generally believe strongly in participating in multilateral,
cooperative efforts to solve major global problems, which
explains why polls show large majorities in favour ratifying
the Kyoto Protocol. Canada has the second highest per-capita
level of GHG emissions in the world - over twice as high as
Western Europe or Japan. If Canada does not ratify the protocol,
the international community will see it - as the U.S. is already
seen - as selfishly resisting a reasonable solution to a problem
to which it is a leading contributor.
So why are some influential voices in Canada opposing Kyoto?
Most stress the potential effect of the protocol on the economy.
But the most credible and detailed economic modelling by federal
and provincial governments, taking account of U.S. non-participation,
shows that the most likely macroeconomic effect would be to
change Canada's projected GDP growth between 2000 and 2012
from 31 per cent growth to somewhere between 30 per cent and
31.5 per cent. For sure, economic modelling is an uncertain
art, but no studies suggest anything worse than a slight slowing
of strong underlying economic growth.
The real economic issue is not the overall impact, but how
any impact will be shared out. Alberta, with the highest per-capita
emissions in Canada, and the oil industry, often viewed as
the main culprit, understandably feel vulnerable in this regard.
It is therefore important to recall federal and provincial
governments' repeated joint affirmations that no region or
sector should bear an unreasonable burden as a result of the
Kyoto Protocol. Governments have powerful policy tools at
their disposal to ensure that that is the case - notably,
flexibility in the way emissions permits are allocated under
the domestic emissions trading system that is expected to
be at the centre of Canada's Kyoto implementation plan.
The Pembina Institute believes in fair sharing of responsibility
to reduce emissions between regions and economic sectors.
But Canada's Kyoto implementation plan must also initiate
a shift in the economy away from the most GHG-intensive resources,
like oilsands and coal, towards less GHG-intensive ones like
natural gas, renewable energy, and the enormous "resource"
that is energy efficiency. This is a shift that Alberta can
lead and benefit from if it so chooses.
Opponents of Kyoto often focus on risks to our competitiveness
if Canada ratifies while the U.S. does not. But several studies
indicate that the U.S. withdrawal has actually lowered the
protocol's cost in Canada by reducing the expected price of
international emissions credits. This is a result of the protocol's
flexibility in allowing countries to meet their emissions
targets partly by purchasing such credits. The Pembina Institute
wants Canada to maximize the amount of domestic emissions
reductions, and reap the associated benefits (mentioned later
in this article), but the safety valve of international emissions
trading refutes Kyoto opponents' claim that our target is
Emissions trades occurring today are confirming the low price
of credits. It is also important to understand that governments
in the U.S. have taken far more significant action to date
to reduce GHG emissions than governments in Canada - as detailed
in a recent Pembina Institute report. By implementing Kyoto,
Canada will initially be catching up with the U.S., not getting
Perhaps what most undermines Kyoto opponents' forecasts of
economic damage is the fact that major Canadian GHG emitters
such as Suncor and TransAlta have voluntarily taken on Kyoto-level
targets for their net corporate emissions. They would hardly
have done so if they believed the protocol would seriously
harm their economic prospects. BP's CEO recently described
how his company had met its global 10 per cent GHG reduction
target seven years ahead of schedule and "at no net economic
Indeed, implementing the Kyoto Protocol will have several
important benefits for Canada. It will result in a more energy-efficient
economy and create major new business opportunities in low-GHG
technologies, benefiting rapidly growing, innovative Canadian
companies like Vision Quest (windpower), Ballard (fuel cells),
Iogen (ethanol fuel) and many others. Far from harming our
economic competitiveness, these things will enhance it and
position Canada advantageously for the future and inevitable
tightening of international restrictions on GHGs. A reduction
in fossil fuel use will mean a reduction in the several thousand
premature deaths that the medical community estimates occur
annually in Canada as a result of urban air pollution.
Last but not least, concerted international action to reduce
GHG emissions will make a start towards avoiding the enormously
costly storms, droughts, coastal flooding and other impacts
that climate models tell us to expect if emissions continue
to rise unchecked.
If these benefits are there for the taking, why not pursue
them with a "made in Canada" plan instead of tying
ourselves to Kyoto? The answer is that despite the good initiatives
of a few far-sighted companies, formidable vested interests
and inertia prevent Canada from controlling its GHG emissions
in the absence of strong government leadership in the form
of regulations and economic instruments. During the 1990s,
when governments relied instead on voluntary and educational
initiatives, Canada's GHG emissions rose by 20 per cent, a
gross violation of our commitment, enshrined in the Framework
Convention on Climate Change, to bring our emissions back
to the 1990 level by 2000.
The problem was that this commitment was not legally binding,
and so governments failed to muster the political will to
implement the policies needed to meet it. This situation will
certainly continue if Canada pursues a unilateral approach
to climate change. By ratifying Kyoto, on the other hand,
we will be held to our emissions target by the international
community and face sanctions in case of non-compliance. That
is essential to create the political will to implement the
strong policies that Canada needs to reduce our emissions.
The notion that the federal government has no idea how to
implement the Kyoto Protocol, or, alternatively, that the
government has a plan but has not consulted industry and the
provinces about it, is nonsense. The two-year National Climate
Change Process, established in 1998, entailed exhaustive consultations
with industry associations, provinces and environmental groups
and identified more than 300 individual measures that governments
could implement to reduce GHG emissions. The federal government
then put forward four different packages of such measures
in a May 2002 discussion paper that was subject to further
The government will publish its chosen Kyoto implementation
plan prior to putting Kyoto ratification to a vote in Parliament
before the end of this year. Canadians' true interests demand
that our elected representatives choose the cooperative, international
approach to addressing this major global challenge, rather
than a path of isolation and inaction that shirks our global
Matt McCulloch, P.Eng., is with the
Calgary office of the Pembina Institute for Appropriate Development,
in a lead technical role in the institute's Eco-Solutions
Dr. Matt Bramley is the Pembina Institute's
director of climate change.
REBUTTAL OF POINT
(BY COUNTERPOINT AUTHORS)
The Pembina Institute's authors have chosen to avoid
the science topic, perhaps because there is no credible
scientific basis for the Kyoto Protocol.
Advocates of Kyoto mistakenly cite the United Nations
IPCC 2001 report and the U.S. National Academy of Sciences
2001 report as authoritative scientific sources. Dr.
Richard Lindzen, Sloan professor of meteorology at MIT
and a co-author of both reports, wrote in 2001:
"We are not in a position to confidently attribute
past climate change to carbon dioxide or to forecast
what the climate will be in the future...
"Science, in the public arena, is commonly used
as a source of authority with which to bludgeon political
opponents and propagandize uninformed citizens. This
is what has been done with both the reports of the IPCC
and the NAS. It is a reprehensible practice that corrodes
our ability to make rational decisions. A fairer view
of the science will show that there is still a vast
amount of uncertainty - far more than advocates of Kyoto
would like to acknowledge..."
Kyoto has many fatal flaws, any one of which should
cause this treaty to be scrapped.
Climate science does not support the theory of catastrophic
human-made global warming - the alleged warming crisis
does not exist.
Kyoto focuses primarily on reducing CO2,
a relatively harmless gas, and does nothing to control
real air pollution like NOx,
and particulates, or serious pollutants in water and
Kyoto wastes enormous resources that are urgently needed
to solve real environmental and social problems that
exist today. For example, the money spent on Kyoto in
one year would provide clean drinking water and sanitation
for all the people of the developing world in perpetuity.
Kyoto will destroy hundreds of thousands of jobs and
damage the Canadian economy - the U.S., Canada's biggest
trading partner, will not ratify Kyoto, and developing
countries are exempt.
Kyoto will actually hurt the global environment - it
will cause energy-intensive industries to move to exempted
developing countries that do not control even the worst
forms of pollution.
Kyoto's CO2 credit trading scheme punishes the most energy efficient
countries and rewards the most wasteful. Due to the
strange rules of Kyoto, Canada will pay the former Soviet
Union billions of dollars per year for CO2 credits.
Kyoto will be ineffective - even assuming the overstated
pro-Kyoto science is correct, Kyoto will reduce projected
warming insignificantly, and it would take as many as
40 such treaties to stop alleged global warming.
The ultimate agenda of pro-Kyoto advocates is to eliminate
fossil fuels, but this would result in a catastrophic
shortfall in global energy supply - the wasteful, inefficient
energy solutions proposed by Kyoto advocates simply
cannot replace fossil fuels.
BY DR. SALLIE BALIUNAS
DR. TIM PATTERSON
and ALLAN MacRAE, P.ENG.
Climate Is Always Changing
The only constant about climate is change. For as long
as Earth has existed, natural climate changes have occurred
and will continue. Change occurs at many scales, from gradual
variation over millions of years, to rapid climate shifts
in a decade or less. The question is how to distinguish between
natural climate variation and possible change caused by human
During the past two million years, the Earth has been as ice-age
cold as it has ever been, experiencing more than 30 glaciations.
In the past 800,000 years, the pattern has been approximately
100,000 years of extensive glaciation, interspersed with warmer
interglacials of around 15,000 years. By studying climate
changes through these previous cycles, we surmise that the
next ice age is less than 5,000 years ahead. At that time,
large portions of North America will be buried under kilometres
Greenhouse Gases & Climate
The greenhouse effect has an important influence on the climate
of the Earth. The temperature of the Earth is primarily maintained
by the transport of energy by atmospheric circulation and
ocean currents and the balance between the flux of incoming
solar radiation and the amount of outgoing infrared radiation
back to space. Greenhouse gases, clouds and aerosols in the
atmosphere trap some of the reflected radiation from the surface,
causing a natural greenhouse effect that makes the planet
habitable. Without this natural greenhouse effect, the global
ambient temperature would be substantially colder.
Atmospheric greenhouse gases comprise less than 0.1 per cent
of the air. These gases include carbon dioxide (CO2),
nitrous oxide (N20),
as well as the most important one, water vapour (H2O).
Water vapour is the principal greenhouse gas, comprising 99
per cent of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The amount
of water vapour has the most significant influence on global
temperature of any greenhouse gas, followed by the warming
effect of water in all its phases in clouds.
Despite the rhetoric of the Kyoto Protocol, CO2 is at most a minor contributor to global climate change. The
proportion of CO2 in the atmosphere has varied significantly over geologic time.
Through most of the last 500 million years atmospheric CO2 content has been higher - up to 18 times higher - than at
present. Strikingly, the atmospheric concentration of CO2 was more than 10 times higher than today's value during the
Ordovician glaciation, around 440 million years ago. CO2 is simply a minor driver in the many factors that influence
The percentages of CO2 in the atmosphere above the Antarctic Ice Cap for the last
150,000 years have been measured in air bubbles enclosed in
ice cores. Over this interval, CO2 levels
have closely paralleled temperatures. However, detailed analysis
of CO2 concentrations indicates that
CO2 levels often rose and peaked several
hundred years after temperature. These results further emphasize
that climate change drives major changes in CO2,
not the reverse. Temperature change affects the carbon cycle,
which then produces fluctuations in atmospheric CO2 concentration.
During the last 300 years, atmospheric CO2 concentrations have risen from 275 parts per million to around
360 parts per million, a 30-per-cent increase. Most of the
increase has been recent, caused by fossil fuel burning and
deforestation. As discussed below, the increase in atmospheric
CO2 content, while clearly linked to post-Second World War industrialization,
cannot be closely linked to global surface warming trends.
Computer models that predict catastrophic human-induced global
warming have consistently failed to accurately reproduce past
and present climate changes, so their predictions of future
climate changes are highly suspect. These models incorrectly
assume that increased CO2 concentration is a major driver of atmospheric warming, and
also assume large positive feedbacks arising from increased
CO2 concentration, for which there is no scientific evidence.
Without these speculated positive feedbacks, even a doubling
of CO2 concentration would lead to a theoretical warming of only
approximately 1º C.
Kyoto is Ineffective
Computer simulations of climate have yielded wide-ranging
forecasts of future temperature increases from rising atmospheric
CO2 concentrations, based on projections of future energy use.
The United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
has compiled these simulations. The middle range forecast
of future warming, based on expected growth in fossil fuel
use without any curbs, is for a 1º C increase between
now and 2050. The Kyoto Protocol would reduce that increase
by an insignificant 0.06º C. If increased atmospheric
concentrations of CO2 were a major problem, then as many as 40 Kyoto-type emission
cuts would be required to stop the predicted human-made warming.
To prove the reliability of future forecasts, computer simulations
need verification by testing past, well-documented temperature
fluctuations. New investment in technology, especially that
of space-based instrumentation, has helped address the issue
of observed response of the climate to increased greenhouse
gas concentrations. Two tests of the reliability of the computer
simulations are the past decades of surface temperature and
lower troposphere change.
Record of Surface Temperature
The Earth has been much warmer and colder in the past, before
we started burning fossil fuels. From about 900 to 1300 AD,
during the Medieval Warm Period, the Earth was warmer than
it is today. In the 20th century the global average surface
temperature rose about 0.6º C, as measured by thermometry,
after a 500-year cool period called the Little Ice Age. Only
the 20th century warming trend may have a human component
attributable to fossil fuel use, which increased sharply after
A closer look at the 20th century temperature record shows
three distinct trends: First, a warming trend of about 0.5º
C began in the late 19th century and peaked around 1940. Next,
temperature decreased from 1940 until the late 1970s. Then
a third warming trend occurred from 1976 to 1986, after which
the trend flattens.
Because about 80 per cent of the CO2 from human activities was added to the air after 1940, the
early 20th century warming trend should be largely natural.
The cooling from 1940 to the late 1970s, when CO2 concentrations were rapidly increasing, also tends to contradict
the theory that CO2 is a major driver of global temperature.
Even if one arbitrarily assumed that all of the late 20th
century warming was caused by increased concentrations of
industrially produced greenhouse gases, this would amount
to at most 0.1ºC warming per decade - the maximum amount
of the surface-warming trend seen since the late 1970s. This
surface warming would suggest a temperature trend of about
1º C per century, which is less than that predicted by
the computer simulations, but it is unlikely that even this
recent trend in surface warming is primarily attributable
to human-made greenhouse gases.
Record of Lower Troposphere
Computer simulations of climate, in which atmospheric greenhouse
gas concentrations increase due to human activities, predict
detectable warming not only near the surface but also in the
layer of air above the surface, the lower troposphere, which
rises in altitude from roughly two to eight kilometres. Records
from NASA's Microwave Sounder Units aboard satellites extend
back 22 years and cover most of the globe (Figure 1). The
satellite-derived record is validated independently by measurements
from NOAA balloon radiosonde instruments, and those records
extend back 45 years. Both records show that the temperature
of the lower troposphere does vary as a result of natural
factors, e.g., the strong El Niño warming pulse of
1997-98 is obvious. However, no meaningful human warming trend,
as forecast by the computer simulations, can be found.
Although the radiosonde record lacks the dense spatial coverage
from satellites, it does extend back to 1957, a period that
includes the recent rapid rise in atmospheric CO2 concentration. The radiosonde record shows no linear warming
trend in global average temperature prior or subsequent to
a dramatic shift in 1976-77. That warming, known as the Great
Pacific Climate Shift of 1976-1977, is not attributable to
human causes but is a natural shift in the Pacific that occurs
every 20 to 30 years.
When compared to the observed response of the climate system,
the computer simulations all have forecast warming trends
much steeper over the last several decades than measured.
The forecasts exaggerate to some degree the warming at the
surface, and profoundly in the lower troposphere.
Natural Climate Variability:
Given the lack of a meaningful observed warming trend in the
lower troposphere, computer model results say that most of
the surface warming in recent decades is not caused by a human-made
enhanced greenhouse effect. However, the 20th century temperature
pattern does show a strong correlation to energy output of
the sun (Figure 2). Although the causes of the changing sun's
particle, magnetic and energy outputs are uncertain, as are
the responses of the climate to the sun's various changes,
the correlation is pronounced. It explains especially well
the warming trend up to 1940, which cannot have much human
contribution, and the cooling trend from 1940 to the late
1970s. Increased solar activity, not increased atmospheric
can also be the primary cause of the warming trend since the
Based on analysis of ancient and recent temperature and atmospheric
data, increased atmospheric concentrations of CO2 are not a cause of significant global warming. Contrary to
forecasts by computer simulations, there is no evidence of
catastrophic global warming due to burning of fossil fuels.
The magnitude of human-caused warming is especially constrained
by the observed temperature trends of the lower troposphere.
There is strong evidence that natural variation in the sun's
activity is a much more significant driver of temperature
than human-made greenhouse gases.
Figure 1 - Monthly averaged temperatures sampled nearly
globally for the lower troposphere (roughly two to eight
kilometres altitude) from microwave sounder unit instruments
onboard NASA satellites. The large spike of warmth resulted
from the temporary natural warming of the Pacific Ocean
by the 1997-1998 El Niño event.
Figure 2 - Changes in the sun's magnetism (as evidenced by the
changing length of the 22-year, or Hale Polarity Cycle,
dotted line) and changes in smoothed Northern Hemisphere
land temperature through 1986 (solid line) are closely
correlated. The sun's shorter magnetic cycles are more
intense, suggesting periods of a brighter sun, then a
fainter sun during longer cycles. The record of reconstructed
Northern Hemisphere land temperature substitutes for global
temperature, which is unavailable back to 1700 (S. Baliunas
and W. Soon, 1995, Astrophysical Journal, 450
Dr. Sallie Baliunas is deputy
director at Mount Wilson Observatory and an astrophysicist
at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.
Dr. Tim Patterson is professor of
geology (paleoclimatology) in the Department of Earth Sciences
at Carleton University.
Allan M.R. MacRae, P.Eng., is a Calgary
investment banker and environmentalist.
Views expressed are not necessarily
those of any institution with which they are affiliated.
REBUTTAL OF counterPOINT
(BY POINT AUTHORS)
The connection between greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions
from human activities and climate change is a complex
scientific issue. How should policymakers and other
interested non-experts, such as APEGGA members, make
good judgments as to whether or not these emissions
pose a major threat?
The only reliable approach is a review of the full body
of research published in the peer-reviewed international
scientific literature. Only such a process can allow
each individual study and opinion to be placed in context,
and a fully balanced picture of the current state of
scientific knowledge to be arrived at. The Intergovernmental
Panel on Climate Change, comprising the world's most
respected climate researchers, was set up by the world's
governments precisely for this purpose. In 2001, the
work of the IPCC was endorsed by the U.S. National Academy
of Science plus 17 other national science academies.
The latter, in a joint statement in the journal Science,
went further and urged governments to implement the
What does the IPCC1 have to say about the three most
significant claims made by Counter-point authors Baliunas,
Patterson and MacRae?
"CO2 is at most a minor contributor to climate change." According to the IPCC, in its Third Assessment Report
Summary for Policymakers, Working Group I (available
at www.ipcc.ch): "In the light of new evidence
and taking into account the remaining uncertainties,
most of the observed warming over the last 50 years
is likely to have been due to the increase in greenhouse
gas concentrations." Also: "The globally averaged
surface temperature is projected [in business-as-usual
scenarios] to increase by 1.4 to 5.8º C over the
period 1990 to 2100." It should be noted that the
difference in global average temperature between an
ice age and the present day is only about 5º C,
so this projected warming represents a profound transformation
of the global environment.
"Computer models that predict catastrophic human-induced
global warming have consistently failed to accurately
reproduce past and present climate changes." The
IPCC, however, finds good agreement between model simulations
and observed temperature over the past 140 years, including
the temperature increase up to 1940, if the simulations
include solar variation and volcanic activity along
with emissions of GHGs and particulates. Relative to
the pre-industrial era, the IPCC estimates that the
radiative forcing (i.e., the contribution to warming)
by GHGs from human activities is currently over nine
times the forcing from increased solar radiation.
"Recent temperature trends in the lower troposphere
do not support meaningful human-induced warming." According to the IPCC, overall global temperature increases
since the late 1950s (the beginning of adequate weather
balloon data) in the lower troposphere have been similar
to those at the surface. Since 1979 (the beginning of
the satellite record), there has been a significant
difference in warming rates, but "it is physically
plausible to expect that over a short time period (e.g.,
20 years) there may be differences in temperature trends.
In addition, spatial sampling techniques can also explain
some of the differences in trends, but these differences
are not fully resolved."
The authors barely mention the IPCC. Readers should
be very suspicious of scientific arguments about climate
change that fail to give space to the findings of the
world's dominant scientific authority on the subject.
APEGGA members would also be well advised to avoid basing
their views on climate science on arguments advanced
by individuals who are specialists in only very narrow
portions of that broad field (Baliunas is an expert
in solar radiation; Patterson is a paleoclimatologist).
In our opening article, we did not spend much time on
the science of climate change because the IPCC picture
of the subject is almost universally accepted, not just
among professional climate scientists but among the
broader community engaged in the climate change issue,
including most of the largest GHG-emitting corporations.
The climate change debate has now moved on to economic
and political issues. In this area, the authors did
make one important point, with which we agree: Kyoto
is only a small first step and many further ones will
be needed. Let's get on with the job.