TCS Daily


Impoverished Policy

By James K. Glassman - July 6, 2005 12:00 AM

As chairman of this year's Group of 8 conference, Tony Blair has chosen to put African poverty and global warming at the top of the agenda when the leaders of the world's top industrialized countries (plus Russia) meet this week in Gleneagles, Scotland.

African poverty, sure. There is no greater problem in the world today. Elsewhere, even the poorest people have gotten healthier and wealthier over the past 30 years, but in sub-Saharan Africa, life expectancy has declined, malaria and AIDS run rampant, and economic conditions have plummeted.

In 1975, Africa had a Gross Domestic Product per person that was twice as high as East Asia's. But since then, Africa's GDP has declined from $1,800 to $1,500 while East Asia's has risen from $800 to $4,000.

Blair believes that dispensing an extra $25 billion in aid per year will help pull Africa out of stagnation. That's a dubious proposition. Academic research shows that aid rarely helps and often hurts. Africa's poverty won't be lifted unless its kleptocratic governments and feudal economic systems change. We'll just be throwing good money after bad. President Bush's approach is to tie aid to economic reform, but that policy won't help suffering innocents in countries ruled by corrupt dictators.

While African aid remains an intractable puzzle, one consequence of the Gleneagles agenda is clear. If Blair gets his way on global warming, Africa will become even poorer.

Blair's solution to climate change is embodied in the Kyoto Protocol, which responded to concerns about rising surface temperatures (up an average of 1 degree F. around the world in the past century) by requiring reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, mainly carbon dioxide, which is a non-polluting byproduct of burning fossil fuels like coal and oil.

The only way to make big cuts in CO2 emissions is to make big cuts in energy use, and that means reducing global economic growth to near-recession levels.

A Kyoto-like solution will deprive Africa of the inexpensive and abundant energy that has been a prerequisite for pulling every other developing region out of poverty. Also, declining economic growth will mean richer countries will buy less from Africa (and give less, too).

The U.S. Senate, by a 95-0 vote, went on record in 1997 opposing a climate treaty of Kyoto's ilk. Bush rejected Kyoto as "fatally flawed" in 2001, and his administration has viewed with proper skepticism the claim that humans are responsible for surface heating. Still, the White House takes the possibility of devastating warming over the next century quite seriously. With little fanfare, the United States has entered into extensive and productive agreements with such nations Australia, Japan, China, India, Russia, Mexico and Brazil to transfer technology and pursue research.

And, at home, the President's voluntary initiatives have accomplished more than efforts in much of Europe.

In return for his support of the Iraq war and perhaps to put distance between himself and Bush, Blair -- who has many fine qualities -- is joining our moralizing Euro antagonists in an attempt to pressure the United States into making some concessions on Kyoto.

That won't happen. At Gleneagles, the President should risk rudeness to point out that France's CO2 emissions rose 7 percent between 1990 and 2002; Italy's, 8 percent. Yes, emissions in Germany and Britain have fallen -- but only because economically unproductive coal plants were shut down in the 1990s.

In Europe's fastest-growing economies, emissions have soared -- up 40 percent in Ireland, 47 percent in Spain, 59 percent in Portugal. G-8 members Japan (up 19 percent) and Canada (up 24 percent) have little to crow about. By comparison, emissions rose 17 percent in the United States.

But the G-8 nations are a sideshow. Over the next two decades, the bulk of the growth in emissions -- and in energy use -- will occur in China and India. As columnist Robert Samuelson of the Washington Post has noted, China has just 24 million cars, and in India 500 million people still lack electricity. The International Energy Agency has pointed out that between now and 2030, CO2 emissions will increase more in China than in Europe, Australia, Japan, Canada, Korea and the U.S. combined.

China is using energy, which applies massive leverage to any economy, to pull its people out of poverty, just as Britain and the U.S. did a century ago. Africa deserves the same opportunity.

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