Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Bush Plan Could Reduce Global Warming As Much as Kyoto

Gregg Easterbrook, no patsy for the Bush Administration, has a terrific column in this week's New Republic Online ($) pointing out that amid all the hoopla tomorrow over the entry into force of the Kyoto Protocol, the Bush EPA has quietly stitched together an international plan to reduce potential global warming gases in roughly the same amounts as Kyoto.

According to Easterbrook, the Bush "Methane to Markets" plan aims to reduce global methane emissions by 50 million metric tons of "carbon equivalent", which he says would result in about a 1% reduction in greenhouse gases (about the same as Kyoto). Even better, 16 leading industrialized countries, including China, have joined the initiative as well. Methane emissions are much more cheaply reduced and yet contribute much more to global warming (if it is happening) then regular CO2 emissions.

Easterbrook may be overstating the benefits of reducing methane, and he himself points out that if global warming is really happening, eventually CO2 gases like those targeted by Kyoto will have to be reduced. But reducing methane is still worth doing and could buy the world several decades while it figures out a cheaper and more effective way to solve the global warming problem. (He defends Kyoto on the same grounds).

From an international lawyer's perspective, the Bush methane plan is also interesting because it takes the form of an informal, voluntary international agreement between EPA Chief Michael Leavitt and the environmental ministers of the other countries. As such, the agreement probably doesn't have the status of a treaty under international law or even binding force under domestic law. But, as Dean Anne Marie Slaughter of Princeton has pointed out (in zillions of publications, here is just one example), such informal government networks constitute an important, and in some cases, primary form of international cooperation.

As Easterbrook notes, the utter and complete lack of coverage of this plan by the major media since it was announced last year is shocking, but not exactly surprising because it undercuts the easy story the media wants to tell: Bush Administration - Bad, European Union - Good. (To bloggers like Daniel Drezner, however, this is all very old news.)

I would simply add that the international lawyers often uncritically accept the same narrative about international relations. They then reflexively support of grand, fancy, global treaties like the Kyoto Protocol while overlooking the policy goals that are the whole point of the treaty in the first place (a point I was trying to make last week). If an informal voluntary agreement between administrative agencies can achieve just as much reduction in greenhouse gases as Kyoto at much lower cost, then it deserves our attention and (perhaps) our support as well.


Blogger Johnathon said...

Throughly enjoyed your post. -JM

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