BUENOS AIRES - The big secret at the 10th Conference of the Parties of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change being keeps getting let out of the bag.
The Kyoto Protocol is a failure. Just ask the top environmental minister of a key European supporter of the pact and its call for cuts of greenhouse gas emissions in hopes of limiting global warming.
"The Kyoto Protocol is a test to see if it is possible to have a global treaty to regulate energy and the environment," Corrado Clini, director general of the Italian Ministry for the Environment and Territory, told reporters Tuesday at an event just outside the United Nations' climate change conference (COP 10), where Kyoto's implementation is being celebrated.
"I believe this test is now in process, and the test is suggesting that maybe the Kyoto Protocol is not the best mechanism for addressing global reductions (of greenhouse gas emissions) and economic development," Clini said.
Clini's views were echoed at a forum put on by the International Council for Capital Formation (ICCF), by ICCF Managing Director Margot Thorning and Alan Oxley, director of the Australian APEC Study Centre and host of TechCentralStation.com's Asia-Pacific page.
Clini was sympathetic to worries that runaway greenhouse gas emissions pose dire consequences for the world environment. He supports the U.N. goal of stabilizing the primary greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, now at 0.037% of the atmosphere, to a "safe" 0.055%. In the 19th Century, it was measured at 0.028%.
To do that, though, will require a 50 to 60% cut in emissions by 2040-60, according to a UN assessment report in 2000. Kyoto requires 5% -- and only from developed countries. It doesn't do anything about emissions from the countries where, as Clini noted, emissions are growing the fastest -- the developing world, including giants India and China. By 2030, they will be producing about 55% of all emissions.
"A much broader long-term strategy, and much more global effective measures, than those within the Kyoto Protocol, are needed to involve those countries," Clini said.
Rather than the caps, cuts and condemnation that have become a hallmark of Kyoto, Clini talked about the need for a "new model" based on cooperation to facilitate "de-carbonization" of the global economy.
That would include "promoting and disseminating technology innovation in the energy system and setting common standards and goals for different technologies, rather than setting absolute targets for countries" as was done with Kyoto, Clini concluded.
Thorning, who released a new book sponsored by ICCF Climate Change Policy and Economic Growth: A Way Forward for Both, pointed out that the dissemination of new and better technology to developing countries could have huge benefits.
Energy intensity -- the amount of energy needed to produce a dollar of income -- is two to three times higher in developing and Third World countries than it is in developed nations, such as Europe, Japan and the United States.
Reductions in energy intensity would lead to lower overall emissions as these economies grow than would otherwise occur. But thus far, the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) developed by the United Nations to try disseminating cleaner technology to these countries, hasn't worked. Why? Clini says bureaucratic red tape has strangled the initiative.
Indeed, the APEC Center's Oxley pointed out that the CDM has approved only one project, and meanwhile the global environment fund -- another mechanism for advancing technology in the developing world -- spends a meager $100 million annually on disseminating climate change technology to developing countries, compared with $63 billion in other aid.
According to a report by APEC, that leaves emerging Asian nations with their dependence of power extremely vulnerable if they were ever required to cut emissions as Kyoto is requiring those who have agreed to it.
Despite these obstacles, "there is another path forward," Thorning, said. "Promotion of economic freedom and higher living standards."
She noted that nations registering highest on the Economic Freedom Index, put out by the Heritage Foundation, tend to have both higher standards of living and lower energy intensities.
She wants the world to knock down barriers to economic freedom and technology transfer, such as:
- Pricing distortions, lack of markets, subsidies to state enterprises.
- Lack of property rights and protections for investment.
- Lack of infrastructure and education.
- Import restrictions that inhibit technology transfer.
Such actions would help developing countries take advantage of cleaner, more efficient energy technology, reducing the growth of their emissions even as they strive for higher living standards, according to Thorning. And such improvements would have the added benefit of making their economies more adaptable to the vagaries of climate, whatever its causes.
Since President George W. Bush decided not to submit the "fatally flawed" Kyoto for ratification to the Senate, proposals to create emission caps and tradable permits and all the other schemes in Kyoto continue to pop up. Doing something about climate change even it amounts to nothing still has some symbolic allure. They'd be wiser to look beyond Kyoto and put more faith in freedom and innovation and their spread than in failed regulation schemes that stifle both of them.