TCS Daily

Last Exit to Kyoto

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

The European Parliament's Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety is releasing a new report on the European Commission's communication on "Winning the Battle Against Global Climate Change". The report, edited by Swedish MEP Anders Wijkman, is a vivid illustration of how the EU is going to ignore another chance to review its climate policies in light of the available science and a rational economic approach. It's not just that it's going to lose the battle; it isn't even fighting the right war.

Apparently Wijkman is not aware that despite the widespread belief in the popular media that mankind is to blame for climate change, it is still unclear to what extent man-made greenhouse gas emissions, as opposed to natural variables, affect global temperatures. Yet most, if not all, climate policies stem from the presumption that fossil-fuel consumption in the past century is responsible for an unprecedented warming.

For example, the report claims that "we already see indications of climate change, e.g. an increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events," which is a questionable statement to say the least. As the post-Katrina discussions have shown, there is no evidence of an increase in US hurricanes due to the excessive accumulation of anthropogenic carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. It may be true that "economic losses related to weather-related natural catastrophes in the last decade have increased by a factor of six over the 1960s level"; yet the real reason is probably that the value of properties is higher now than at any time in the past.

But the report's failure to assess the state of current knowledge of climate change is not as dangerous as its political implications. In fact, if Wijkman's argument should gain momentum, the global debate will only take a step backwards; to be precise, the EU would revert to its pre-G8 position.

In July, in Gleneagles, Scotland, leaders of the world's industrialized countries agreed to go beyond Kyoto and to address climate change through innovation and economic growth. Now Brussels may decide to turn its back to the future by "building on Kyoto" -- that is, building upon unstable ground. It isn't only that Kyoto will not work -- at the very least for the simple reason that the biggest emitters, including the US and major emerging economies, have made it clear that they will not accept mandatory limits to emissions -- but also that the EU itself is far from meeting the Kyoto targets. The report also endorses the utterly unrealistic goal of "emissions reductions for developed countries for 2020 in the order of 15-30%" and "a target of 60-80% for 2050".

True, the report suggests adopting "a pro-active approach to engage other main actors, notably the US" as well as "developing a strategic partnership with countries like China and India". But this is no more than wishful thinking. Moreover, the US has already launched an initiative that is aimed precisely at partnering with China and India. How did Europe respond? By accusing the White House of working hard to undermine Kyoto.

The report indulges in the usual confusion between the Lisbon Strategy and the Kyoto protocol. In a sense Wijkman is right: "effective climate change mitigation will require a major transformation of the energy and transportation systems and that this transformation ought to become a driving force within the Lisbon Strategy, to boost growth and competitiveness as well as export growth". Again, this is precisely the underlying concept of the American-led initiative, which critics say will "undermine" Kyoto. Getting to Lisbon through Kyoto is as much a detour in the climate debate as it is in traveling -- especially if you leave from Brussels.

By the way, in Wijkman's mind, traveling should be made more costly as to save energy and cuts emissions. "Much greater direct involvement in mitigation efforts at the level of the European citizen" should be encouraged, he argues. Translation: you should drive and fly less. Good luck getting to Lisbon. To be fair, Wijkman does ask that "special efforts should be made in relation to travel of Members of Parliament, implying a reconsideration of the double location of the EP, low-carbon vehicles for the drivers' service etc". If this means one of the two seats of the European Parliament, Brussels or Strasbourg, is to be closed, then maybe even the worst scenarios can have at least some minor benefits.


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