TCS Daily

A Change in Climate

By Carlo Stagnaro - July 12, 2005 12:00 AM

One of the key issues discussed at last week's G8 meeting in Gleneagles, Scotland, was global warming. Although the conclusions were largely overshadowed by the London terrorist attacks, they demonstrate a huge shift in the way world leaders are addressing climate change.

Before the meeting began, UK Prime Minister Tony Blair put US President George Bush under pressure. The US is the biggest emitter in the developed world, said Blair, so it should be responsible and join the European Union in its efforts to decrease and eventually eliminate greenhouse gases emissions. Indeed, the US was and still is the only member of the G8 that has not ratified the Kyoto Protocol. From the very beginning Bush had made it clear that he had no intention to ratify, because the economic impact of the climate treaty is too high if compared with the dubious environmental benefits that compliance with its targets would bring about.

So the expectation was that the meeting would produce a joint "agreement to disagree" on climate policies. In other words, the G8 was expected to result in no significant political change. Instead the group issued a joint statement on climate: the leaders of the eight most industrialized countries agreed (although they didn't put it this way) that seven of them were wrong and just one was right. The one was President Bush.

The extent to which the American position on Kyoto has been endorsed by the others doesn't lie just in the fact that the Kyoto Protocol is not even mentioned in the document -- as the White House negotiators had asked long before the meeting. The point is that Kyoto supporters -- especially European leaders -- rejected the very logic behind Kyoto.

True, Bush conceded that there is an anthropogenic component in global warming. But that is and was more than obvious: everybody agrees that CO2 and other greenhouse gases do warm the climate (otherwise we wouldn't call them "greenhouse" gases!) and everybody agrees that humans emit greenhouse gases through the combustion of fossil fuels. What everybody does not agree upon is how much man-made emissions affect the climate or, to put it otherwise, what portion of the observed warming is due to human emissions (the remaining part being due to natural causes that man has no power to control or mitigate). Indeed scientific uncertainty is explicitly recognized.

That said, the joint document claims that:

        * "Climate change is a serious and long-term challenge that has the potential 
        to affect every part of the globe" (emphasis added).
        * "Secure, reliable and affordable energy sources are fundamental to economic 
        stability and development."
        * "Reducing pollution protects public health and ecosystems. This is particularly 
        true in the developing world."
        * "Around 2 billion people lack modern energy services. We need to work 
        with our partners to increase access to energy if we are to support the 
        achievement of the goals agreed at the Millennium Summit in 2000."

So, climate change is no longer "public enemy number one"; poverty is and global warming is to be addressed in a way that doesn't prevent less developed societies from growing. Also, developing economies can't be left out of the process because that would cancel any efforts by the developed world. Thus, there is no trade off between economic growth and the environment: the two go together.

That results in a new way to address climate change:

        * "Promote innovation, energy efficiency, conservation, improve policy, 
        regulatory and financing frameworks; and accelerate deployment of cleaner 
        technologies, particularly lower-emitting technologies."
        * "Work with developing countries to enhance private investment and transfer 
        of technologies.".
        * "Adaptation to the effects of climate change due to both natural 
        and human factors is a high priority for all nations."

Do you see "cap & trade"? I don't. Do you see mandatory limits to emissions? I don't. What I rather see is the awareness that emerging economies are playing a key role in creating the problem -- so the problem can't be solved by developed countries alone, as is the fatal conceit behind Kyoto. Also I see a tendency to look beyond 2012 -- if the problem is in the long run, you can't address it just by cutting emissions in the next decade or so. Finally I see the acknowledgment that to pursue long-term reductions in GHGs emissions you need cleaner technologies -- not bureaucratic mechanisms -- and to have cleaner technologies you need societies that are wealthy enough to invest in research & development on the one hand, and to afford a widespread adoption of new technologies on the other hand.

The international community is slowly changing its mind with regard to climate change. The failure of the European Union to comply with the reduction targets may well be one reason. If that is the case, European leaders should openly un-ratify Kyoto and stop the process before it hurts the European economy too much -- with no benefit for the environment


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