TCS Daily


Blair's Blunder

By Hans H.J. Labohm - September 2, 2002 12:00 AM

British PM Tony Blair, speaking at the World Summit for Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, pushed aggressively for ratification of the Kyoto Treaty. 'The whole world must face up to the challenge of climate change,' he said. 'Kyoto is right and it should be ratified by all of us.'

Supporters of the Kyoto Treaty, which aims at a reduction of man-made greenhouse gas emissions, especially CO2, assert that the cost of its implementation will be modest. But it is likely that Kyoto will have serious repercussions for the European economy.

According to a study by the American Institute DRI-WEFA (Data Resources, Inc. and Wharton Econometric Forecasting Associates) the adverse impact of Kyoto on economic growth for Germany and Great Britain will be on the order of 5% of GDP in 2010 compared with the baseline scenario. The loss of jobs is estimated to be 1.8 million and 1 million respectively. The corresponding figures for The Netherlands and Spain amount to 3.8% and 240,000 jobs, and 5% and 1 million jobs respectively. Kyoto will lead to a drastic rise of energy prices. That applies to heating oil, natural gas, petrol, diesel and electricity.

The Third World has been excluded from the obligations of Kyoto, while the US has decided to opt out with Australia in its wake, while Japan and Canada are still having qualms. If the European Union will be the only party that will implement Kyoto, the result will be a (relative) loss of economic activity in Europe. It will adversely affect Europe's competitiveness and will lead to a massive outflow of industries - particularly energy-intensive ones - such as steel and chemicals, to countries that do not ratify Kyoto or are exempt from its obligations. Those include the US, the Asian tigers and other countries in the Third World.

It is also likely that Kyoto will put strain on the external trade relationships of Europe, especially in the transatlantic context. In the Washington Times recently, Christopher Horner alluded to the risk of a serious trade conflict. He recalled an interview with Eurocommissioner Margot Wallström, who is responsible for the environment within the European Commission. In response to the announcement by President Bush that the US would not ratify Kyoto, Wallström bluntly asserted that Kyoto was 'not about whether a bunch of scientists can agree. [Kyoto] is about economy. This is about leveling the playing field for big businesses worldwide.' According to Horner this statement indicates that Europe intends to counter the 'unfair competition' of the US with trade sanctions.

The question arises whether the game is worth the candle for Europe. The Kyoto Treaty aims at reducing the man-made emissions of greenhouse gasses, including CO2, because these would putatively lead to extra warming of the earth, with all kinds of harmful implications. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is responsible for the scientific basis of Kyoto. It explicitly recognises - though in technical language that is hardly accessible for the layman - that this scientific basis is (still) extremely flawed. However, this is not the message that it conveys to the media. This message is one of alarmism and scare-mongering in order to mobilise and strengthen political support for Kyoto. The difference should be attributed to spindoctoring and outright deceit by the spokespersons of the IPCC. Detailed records of various examples of these practices can be found in the open literature about the IPCC process. In many developed countries such practices would have been examined and exposed in parliamentary inquiries. Apparently we have not (yet?) reached that level of maturity and integrity on an international level.

The IPCC equally acknowledges that Kyoto will hardly be effective. Therefore, we need many more Kyotos in the future. Of course, the price of economic depression or trade conflicts would not be too high if we could thereby stave off a man-made climate Apocalypse. But there is nothing that indicates that this will occur. A recent report of the European Science and Environment Forum, to which many prominent scientists have contributed, shows that there is simply no consensus about the question whether mankind is responsible for the modest warming which presumably has taken place so far. Moreover, the report asserts that the harmful effects - if any - are minimal. Other sceptics believe that a modest warming offers net benefits on balance.

In the mean time, Eurocommissioner Wallström has resolutely solved the problem of cognitive dissonance by hermetically secluding herself from the uncertainties and contradictions that are so characteristic of the current state of climate science. As a true believer she does not have any doubts. Not hampered by excessive knowledge of the subject matter, she continues to lecture and patronize other countries about the righteousness of the EU position on global warming and Kyoto.

Blair's unfortunate comments come on the heels of a summer when it looked like Europe might change tack by allowing a modicum of rationality into its thinking on Kyoto. German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder has stated that the protection of the environment and the reduction of greenhouse gasses are important objectives, but that Europe should not take measures that are harmful for its competitiveness and are a threat to Europe's prosperity and jobs. According to Schröder, we need a balanced approach.

It's plausible to assume that European politicians do not want to risk to committing political suicide by deliberately creating havoc in the European economy on the basis of highly dubious climate theories. There is little doubt that a major part of the electorate will punish them for that. Therefore, let's hope that Blair's comments are a momentary lapse in judgment and that Schröder's statements were indeed the first step in a long-term development whereby common sense will prevail upon green dogmatism.

 

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