TCS Daily

Leaving the Europeans Behind

By Carlo Stagnaro - August 15, 2005 12:00 AM

Now that a new climate initiative has been signed by the US and five Asian and Pacific countries, the European Union finds itself increasingly isolated.

The Bush administration has been able to put together a coalition of countries that account for half of global greenhouse gas emissions today, a figure that is likely to increase significantly in the coming decades as emerging economies such as China and India (both members of the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate) experience dramatic economic growth. The remaining signatories -- Japan, Australia, and South Korea -- have already achieved higher energy efficiency, yet they can contribute substantially to technology transfer as well as reduce future emissions. Among the members of the Partnership, only Japan has legal obligations under the Kyoto Protocol.

Generally speaking, the Kyoto Protocol gives to developing nations great opportunities for rent-seeking. That is the case, for example, of former Soviet Republics, which are going to make a lot of money in the next few years by selling hot air -- that is, emissions credits that they would not use otherwise -- to European countries unable to meet their Kyoto targets. Yet, that is just a trade in hot air: the process will result in little or no actual reduction of GHG emissions.

Moreover,the Asia-Pacific Partnership's goals follow closely the action plan issued by G8 leaders in Gleneagles, Scotland, less than one month ago. The plan -- signed by representatives of the eight most industrialized countries, including France, Italy, Germany, and the UK -- focuses on energy innovation and research & development of cleaner technologies, as well as technological transfer to the developing world in order to address global warming. The underlying concept is that climate change is a long-term, global threat (assuming it is a threat at all), thus it must find a long-term, global response, as opposed to short-term GHG reductions in a selected number of developed countries.

One would expect those sincerely concerned about the anthropogenic greenhouse effect to welcome the news of the new Partnership, at the very least because it provides a framework to work together with the biggest emitters who are not included or have not ratified the Kyoto Protocol. Unfortunately the reaction was cold.

"[The Asia-Pacific pact] is no substitute for agreements like the Kyoto Protocol and we do not expect it to have a real impact on climate change," said the European Commission's environment spokeswoman Barbara Helferrich. "We have serious concerns that the apparent lack of targets in this deal means that there is no sense of what it is ultimately trying to achieve or the urgency of taking action to combat climate change," said Royal Society president Lord May. "And the developed countries involved with this agreement must not be tempted to use it as an excuse to avoid tackling their own emissions."

German Environment Minister Juergen Trittin criticized the Partnership and claimed it is "no working alternative to the binding guidelines of the Kyoto protocol." Needless to say, major environmental groups dismissed the initiative as a way to ultimately undermine Kyoto.

Why so many attacks on the US-led initiative? First for a reason of political pride: it is a US-led initiative, after all. European countries have been playing green politics for years, and now they can't admit Washington has succeeded in creating what might turn out to be the only viable, truly global effort to address global warming. Similarly radical environmentalists have deemed President Bush as Environmental Enemy No. 1: how can they admit without losing face that he's gone beyond Kyoto and he's doing more than the EU champions?

Then there's an ideological reason. Many members of the environmental club, as well as European political elites, see climate policies as mere means to achieve political control over society. It is no surprise then that they tend to prefer command & control over voluntary agreements, and legally binding mandates over innovation -- which by definition can't be centrally planned.

Finally there is an economic reason. Under a Kyoto-style treaty bureaucracy enjoys the power to pick winners and losers between countries, industries, and individual firms. When you get to a voluntary, science-based, R&D-oriented program that very power is much smaller or even zero -- and the winning countries, industries, and firms lose their ability to seek favors.

The Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate has already achieved one important goal: it has exposed what the Kyoto crowd really wants.



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