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There's no going back to Kyoto now

January has not been Al Gore's best month. Last week, Gore gave a speech on global warming _ on what turned out to be a record-cold day in New York. Then, Howard Dean tanked in Iowa after Gore's endorsement was supposed to coronate the former Vermont governor as the Democratic nominee. On Tuesday, President Bush delivered a strong State of the Union address that didn't so much as mention global warming.

But wait, as the TV ads say, there's more. Some top Democratic contenders for the White House are distancing themselves from the Kyoto international global-warming treaty that Gore negotiated in 1997.

Sens. John Kerry and Joe Lieberman were among the 95 senators who voted in favor of a pre-Kyoto resolution that directed the administration not to agree to a treaty that would hurt the U.S. economy by exempting developing nations. (Not to his credit, Gore chose to ignore the resolution and agree to a treaty that exempted developing nations like China.)

Lieberman says he now supports Kyoto as is, despite his support for the 1997 resolution. But candidate Kerry told the Sustainable Energy Coalition that he would not sign the treaty because it can't be met now. "Because of the Bush administration's inaction, the binding targets in the Kyoto Protocol are no longer achievable," Kerry explained to the Greenwire news service.

I'm sure Kerry's Bush dig plays well among partisan Democrats, but allow me to note that the Clinton administration never once tried to get the Senate to ratify Kyoto. So while Gore and Kerry trash Bush for dumping Kyoto, the real difference between Clinton/Gore and Bush/Cheney is that Bush was honest on Kyoto, but Clinton was not.

Guess under which administration America emitted the most noxious air.

The (unratified) global-warming pact required that the United States reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 7 percent below 1990 levels by 2012. Yet, according to the Energy Information Administration, greenhouse emissions grew 3.1 percent in 2000 alone; when Clinton left office, emissions were 14 percent higher than 1990 levels.

The latest figures from the Energy Information Administration are for 2002; they show that, under the Bush administration, greenhouse gas emissions are lower _ they're 11.5 percent higher than 1990 levels. I won't credit Bush for the reduction, because the post-Sept. 11 economy was the big factor here, as the Sierra Club's Dan Becker pointed out. But if Bush were Satan on the environment, the numbers would be different.

In his speech, Gore had the cheek to call Bush a "moral coward." No, Bush generally has been true to his beliefs. He didn't write, as Gore did, that per capita emissions could be cut in half and it wouldn't be enough to stop global warming. It's Gore who didn't live up to his moral beliefs.

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean said he would renegotiate Kyoto because it exempted developing nations. "President Bush used the same rationale in defending his decision to pull out of the Kyoto agreement in 2001," wrote Greenwire.

Ditto 95 senators.

Kyoto is dead. It's all but official. The world of serious politicians understands that draconian regulations would kill the economy by sending industry overseas to Kyoto-exempt countries.

Kyoto was a beard that allowed Clintonia to appear environmentally sensitive without having to be environmentally sensitive. As Glenn Kelly of the industry-based Alliance for Climate Strategies noted, Kyoto was "a cynical agreement, and all parties recognized that the targets were not achievable."

Thus, Clinton/Gore could point to Kyoto to establish its green bona fides, while failing to raise automobile fuel-efficiency standards by more than a token amount. Kyoto could never be met without massive changes in America's automobile fuel efficiency.

The Sierra Club's Becker called Kyoto "a red herring" that distracted Washington from viable measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Becker agreed that Clinton/Gore failed on the mileage issue _ which is the biggie _ but argued that Clintonia was better on lesser issues.

I remain an agnostic on the question of whether global warming is human induced. Still, I'd like to see Bush get tougher with Detroit because I do believe in clean air and energy independence. I'd like to see him surpass the token Clinton/Gore gestures.

Those of you who believe in global warming, meanwhile, should consider how Kyoto was used to mask a lack of progress. People, you were duped.

+ Debra J. Saunders is a Creators Syndicate columnist. +

Creators Syndicate