TCS Daily


Green Taliban

By Philip Stott - April 5, 2002 12:00 AM

LONDON -- With the sad death of The Queen Mother, two contrasting news items relating to 'global warming,' the Kyoto Protocol and the United Kingdom have received far less coverage in the British press than they would normally have merited.

One marks the establishment of the first fully developed national scheme in the world for trading so-called greenhouse gas emissions, such as carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4). Pilot projects already exist in Denmark and the Netherlands, and similar schemes are under discussion elsewhere, such as in Canada and New Zealand. The British scheme, however, has now started (with only 36 companies, although it is open to all types of business).

But the second news item is even more interesting. Despite the British government's high moral rhetoric on curbing the emission of greenhouse gases, the emissions of carbon dioxide have risen in Britain for the second year running. In 1999, 150.8 m tons of CO2 were produced. That amount rose by 0.5% in 2000 and by 0.4% in 2001. And the trend continues upwards. Brian Wilson, the Energy Minister, admitted that Britain would have "a real and tough challenge to meet its environmental targets."

Clearly, UK companies wish to ensure that they have something to trade under the new scheme!

The False Agendas of Kyoto

But what we are really witnessing is the first evidence of the false political and economic agendas being set in Europe under the 'command-and-control' economics of the deeply flawed Kyoto Protocol.

The treaty sets severe restrictions on carbon emissions, and thus on energy use. But when crafting Kyoto, few international bureaucrats took into account the much-needed economic growth and the consequent rising demand for energy from those people around the globe that will be affected by the treaty.

Only this week, a report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration estimated that the world demand for energy would rise by as much as 60% over the next two decades. The agency also said that oil would be the dominant source of that energy and that it would be likely to augment releases of carbon dioxide by as much as 3.8 billion metric tons per year in 2020.

No wonder the United Kingdom is toiling. The Kyoto targets are utterly unrealistic for any thriving economy. Total world carbon dioxide emissions are projected to increase by 62% between 1999 and 2020.

Secondly, the implementation of Kyoto is shaping up to be a bureaucratic boondoggle. There are already complaints from 'Green' organizations -- the very ones demanding the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol -- to the effect that the new British trading scheme (and its accompanying greenhouse gas compensation payments) represents a serious misuse of public funds.

The government has been so keen to inaugurate the program that it has pledged some £215 m over five years to the companies prepared to participate. But critics claim that payments are being given to companies that are already shrinking their businesses, and which would thus have reduced their gas emissions anyway. Even worse, they argue, payments are being handed out to companies for emission reductions that have already been planned or even achieved. Environmental Data Services alleges that one company is benefiting by millions of pounds for a reduction achieved before it took over the industrial works concerned.

If all this is already happening in the small trading framework established in Britain, just think of the situation if ever carbon trading were to go worldwide (and London is very keen to promote -- and control -- this worldwide development, hence the rush). Billions of dollars would be lost to economies like those of Russia and the Ukraine, the greenhouse gas emissions of which are already way below their 1990 levels for reasons all too obvious and painful to note. The political and economic shenanigans in a global system would be horrendous.

Green Taliban

Despite these problems, another response to Kyoto in the United Kingdom is to push for renewable sources of energy, from waves to wind. But even this is beginning to backfire. As wind farms start to mar some of the most beautiful and historic landscapes of the British Isles, it is suddenly dawning on country folk that the Kyoto agenda may not be quite so benign after all.

One eminent bishop of the Church of England has recently described a proposal to place 39 wind turbines at Cefn Croes, below the nearly iconic Plynlimon mountain in mid-Wales, as an act of vandalism equivalent to the Taliban's destruction of the ancient Buddhist statues of Bamiyan in Afghanistan. (And guess from where the proposals for these particular monsters emanated? An Enron subsidiary, Enron Wind.) The Council for the Protection of Rural Wales has declared a different proposal to cover the Cambrian hills as a "declaration of war" on their mountains.

The British press is full of daily injunctions to the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, to lecture President Bush during his forthcoming Texas sojourn on everything from Israel to the Kyoto Protocol. Perhaps Mr. Bush should, in turn, remind Mr. Blair that the UK is slipping badly on its own Kyoto targets, that these are nonsense in economic terms, that the UK is subsidizing industries under a skewed environmental agenda, and that it is about to destroy some of the last truly 'Green' wildernesses remaining in the British Isles, all in the name of Kyoto. The Kyoto Protocol is increasingly dangerous; it must not be ratified.

Philip Stott is Emeritus Professor of Biogeography in the University of London. His latest book, with Dr. Sian Sullivan, is Political Ecology: Science, Myth and Power (Arnold and OUP, 2000).
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