TCS Daily

Asian Eyes on Gleneagles

By Alan Oxley - July 12, 2005 12:00 AM

Mainstream media reporting from the Gleneagles Summit is that George Bush gave ground on climate change. He did give a little on what doesn't matter much -- the politics. On the substance, he had a win. The G8 Leaders endorsed technology, not controls on emissions of carbon dioxide, as the long term approach to climate change. This is the Bush Administration strategy.

The Kyoto Protocol has been in real trouble since the UN conference on climate change in Buenos Aires last November. The Kyoto strategy is to regulate of emissions of carbon dioxide. It mandates cuts until 2012. The US, China, India and other developing countries rejected EU proposals at the conference to negotiate new, tougher targets to replace Kyoto after 2012.

Incredulously, the response of Green groups and the British Government was to advocate even deeper cuts in emissions. Tony Blair assumed the role of global greenhouse leader. Britain and the European Commission embarked on a global public affairs offensive to win support for Kyoto and longer term commitments to deeper cuts.

Asia was a particular target with diplomatic demarches and lobbying in most East Asian capitals and especially South Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. How could this succeed when the US and developing countries would not accept the relatively mild cuts mandated in Kyoto? Blair declared he would get a result at the forthcoming G8 Summit which he would chair.

Environmental movements in these wealthier Asian societies are paying more attention to climate change. Greenpeace and WWF have set up campaigns in China, Hong Kong and Southeast Asia. The pitch is well honed. Get onto the new wave of renewable energy technology. Get first mover advantage in global competitiveness by anticipating the carbon constrained world. Cash in the opportunities for global carbon trading and special joint investments presented by the Kyoto Protocol.

It is fertile ground. East Asia (Japan excepted) has been relatively uninterested in the environment until now. But concern is rising about real environmental problems -- toxic smog, polluted water tables, polluted harbors, and mounting solid waste.

Until now, economic and environmental officials in these governments have not been paying much attention to the climate change debate. Many are unaware that the Kyoto Protocol is now effectively redundant. Count on British activists not to tell them.

Nor to tell them that renewable technologies are uncommercial and require subsidy, there is no first mover advantage in the new technologies, there will not be substantial global trading of permits to emit carbon dioxide and that the Kyoto "opportunities" for developing countries have not materialized. (An analysis of the impact of Kyoto on East Asian economies was prepared by the Australian APEC Centre at Monash University and can be found on

Could the spin be as pronounced as that? It has been. It was in evidence at Gleneagles. The Financial Times on Friday 8 July, the day before the Summit ended, reported that George Bush had been "tackled" by the developing countries over climate change. This report was based on a "call" they made for industrialized economies to meet their commitments under Kyoto to cut emissions. This statement was not directed at the US; it is not a party to Kyoto. It was a message to the Europeans who, to the chagrin even of the European Commission, will miss their Kyoto targets. The media spin continued when the Summit concluded that Bush had relented and conceded global warming was largely caused by human activity.

The substantive result of the Summit was agreement to tackle climate change by developing technologies which reduce emissions, not by adopting Kyoto targets to cut emissions or by setting even bigger targets, Blair's original strategy. Blair conceded this publicly at his press conference "We are not going back over the Kyoto debate. We can't resolve it and we're not going to".

Blair didn't get what he wanted at Gleneagles, but he will not be able to turn off the deep cuts campaign. Maybe he doesn't mean to. Britons are now being taxed to reduce emissions and Britain now has a vested interest in trying to get others to hike electricity costs to countermand the economic disadvantage created by Blair's climate change policies.

So officials in East Asia should expect the blandishments from London and Europe to accept cuts, be a 'good global environmental citizen' and win a global competitive edge. In developing policy on climate change, however, they should note that the only global consensus in the future will be on strategies to develop new technologies. This will be a long haul. In the interim, they will secure better results to improve their environment by concentrating on more serious problems that directly affect their citizens.

Alan Oxley is Asia Pacific host Tech Central Station.


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