Much ado has been made of global warming in recent years and the stubborn refusal by the Bush Administration to sign the Kyoto Protocol that would impose limits on greenhouse gas emissions.

It was expected that global warming/Kyoto would be a hot topic at the Group of Eight summit in Scotland last week, but the discussions by leaders from the world's major powers were overshadowed by the horror of the terrorist bombings in London.

The international response to the then relatively new theory of global warming was launched in 1992 with the signing of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. In addition to establishing a long term objective of stabilizing the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, it set a voluntary goal of reducing emissions by developed countries to 1990 levels by the turn of the century — a goal the majority didn't meet.

In 1997, in a move toward stronger action, the Kyoto Protocol was established, setting a binding target of reducing emissions 5.2 percent below 1990 levels by 2012. More than 100 nations ratified the treaty, which legally took effect Feb. 15 this year.

The U.S., the world leader in greenhouse gas emissions, has been a noticeably determined holdout, with Mr. Bush contending that the protocol exempts too many developing nations that are significant polluters (China, for example, ranks No. 2 in emissions but is exempt). He has been derided by environmentalists and rebuked by other world leaders for refusing to sign.

Whether or not greenhouse gas emissions are having (or will have) adverse effects on world climate is a contentious issue. Some scientists say there's just not enough evidence and that the global warming of recent years, melting glaciers/polar ice caps, holes in the ozone layer, and increasing desertification are just part of the ongoing weather variations that have occurred for thousands of years.

Equally reputable scientists counter that all those changes are indeed being influenced by developed nations spewing carbon dioxide from fossil fuels into the atmosphere, along with a witches' brew of chlorofluorocarbons and other man-made gases.

A United Nations intergovernmental study on climate change projected that unless steps are taken to curb emissions, global temperatures could rise by nearly 10 degrees F. in this century. This could, the study says, significantly reduce land suited to crops in many developing areas of the world (while increasing crop production in the northern hemisphere).

Mr. Bush, who at the G8 Summit declared that U.S. participation in the Kyoto Protocol “would have destroyed the American economy,” nonetheless seemed to be somewhat moderating his hardline stance.

“I recognize that the surface of the Earth is warmer, and that an increase in greenhouse gases caused by humans is contributing to the problem,” he said. But, “I think there is a better way forward…getting beyond Kyoto” to agreements between major nations to cut emissions without restrictions that could adversely affect their economies or those of developing nations.

It remains to be seen whether Mr. Bush's semi-agreement that there is a problem will result in any concrete action toward “a better way forward,” or whether that, too, is just hot air.


e-mail: hbrandon@primediabusiness.com