TCS Daily

Global Warming, Global Goverance

By Hans H.J. Labohm - November 18, 2005 12:00 AM

The European Parliament this week adopted a resolution on a report authored by one of its MEPs. Entitled, "Winning the Battle Against Global Climate Change," it offers a new example of the institutionalized scare-mongering so characteristic of the current climate debate.  

        "Climate change is different from any other environmental 
        problem we face. The main reason is that the climate system is 
        non-linear in character, with positive feed-backs. Once we pass 
        a certain level of green-house gas concentration (GHG) in the 
        atmosphere, the whole system is likely to undergo drastic 
        change. Globally intolerable impacts with disastrous 
        consequences may occur, like annual material damages due to 
        extreme weather events in the range of hundreds of billions of 
        dollars, tens of millions of people being displaced, severe heat 
        waves, large-scale change of crop and species distribution etc. 
        "Developing countries are likely to be the hardest hit. The poor 
        are much more vulnerable to phenomena like floods, storms 
        and droughts. In some regions a drier climate will lead to food 
        production losses. Adding to that, large regions in the South will 
        be seriously affected by rising sea levels. In spite of its different 
        character, climate change is still mostly seen as an 
        environmental problem and mainly the responsibility of the 
        environment ministers. This has to change.   
        "Climate change has serious implications, not only for 
        ecosystems, but for the economy as a whole, for public health, 
        water and food security, migration etc."  

This mindset is a fertile breeding ground for a quantum leap in international governance, shifting sovereignty from the national level to that of international organizations. In a way, they might promote a phoenix-like rebirth of earlier attempts, in the 1970s and 1980s, to establish an International Economic Order (NIEO), aimed at the "management of interdependence". These proposals encompassed a series of measures and reforms in the areas of raw materials, including oil, international trade, development aid, the international monetary system, science and technology, industrial development and the global food supply. They were the topic of a string of international negotiations, which took place in the second half of the 1970s in countless conferences organized by the UN, UNCTAD (United Nations Conference on Trade and Development) and UNIDO (United Nations Industrial Development Organization).  

It takes little imagination to see that all this would have resulted in a degree of government intervention - at both national and international level - which has never been equaled in the history of mankind. The whole project was characterized by a high level of international dirigisme. In other words, top-down control of the international economy by governments on the basis of international political decisions and implementation by international and national bureaucracies. Thus, what it all came down to was more government and less market. Ironically enough, the plan appeared at a time when serious defects were becoming visible in central economic control at national level, in particular in the Soviet Union and its satellite states with their command economies. In addition, the rise of the new economic liberalism at the beginning of the 1980s led to a trend reversal: more market and less government. As a result, all these proposals died a quiet death.  

Nevertheless, supporters of a new world order remain convinced that they had solutions to many of the world's problems. But, in the absence of international political agreement, they were solutions in search of a suitable problem. Like a fire brigade that has spent years on tenterhooks in the station before finally being called out to extinguish a major fire, the advent of man-made global warming offered the adherents of world government a fresh chance.  

But will their efforts this time be crowned with success? It does not seem likely. It has become clear that Kyoto's costs are excessively high and its benefits, in terms of net climate cooling, infinitesimal. Cost estimates for the first round of Kyoto, from now till 2012, are of the order of €500-billion to €1 trillion. The proponents of Kyoto have calculated (but never published) that this will result in a net cooling of less than 0.02 (two hundredths!) degrees Celsius in 2050. This is undetectable even with the most accurate thermometers of today. Moreover, the yearly fluctuations of temperatures are a multiple of this figure.  

Many countries, including the US, Australia, China, India and Brazil, are unwilling to join the Kyoto approach of binding caps on carbon dioxide emissions in conjunction with tradable emission rights. Italy, which joined the first round of the treaty, has already announced it will drop out when this round ends in 2012. If this happens, Russia, which Europe bribed into Kyoto in exchange for European support of its membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO), will have a perfect alibi to back out as well.  

At the July G8 Summit at Gleneagles, the world leaders failed to agree on a follow-up round, although many months earlier, summit host Tony Blair had billed this as a major issue. But after the summit Blair has hinted that Britain may pull out of attempts to draw up a successor to the Kyoto climate treaty because the economic price of cutting greenhouse gas emissions is too high. Rather than rely on global agreements to reverse rising greenhouse gas emissions, Blair appeared to place faith in science, technology and the free market - as President George W. Bush had in repudiating the Kyoto treaty in 2001.  

Of course, Blair's admission has outraged environmentalists on both sides of the Atlantic, who lamented that it flew in the face of his promises made in the past two years. Moreover, they feared that it will effectively block the upcoming Ottawa talks on a new treaty to combat climate change. As Jonathan Brown, observed in The Independent, "Tony Blair came under concerted attack from leading environmental groups yesterday as he was accused of appearing 'indistinguishable' from George Bush on green issues. Green campaigners feel betrayed after Mr Blair made the environment a centrepiece of Britain's presidencies of the G8 and EU, both of which expire at the end of the year. They say the Prime Minister has actually undermined hard-fought gains, particularly on the Kyoto protocol, by questioning the need for binding targets on reducing emissions and by suggesting they might be incompatible with economic success."  

All this does not augur well for the for the next Conference of the Parties (COP11) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which is due to take place from 28 November to 9 December 2005, in Montreal, where some 8,000 - 10,000 participants are expected. With the modesty which is so characteristic of the true believers, the organizers have already declared the conference to be a historic event. But it is more likely it will herald the demise of Kyoto.  

Would it not be better to forget about the whole thing after all? Many would argue that this is totally inconceivable since so much political capital has been invested in the undertaking and since the population wants the governments to do "something" about the "'threat" of global warming. I suspect not. The aborted NIEO showed many similarities with Kyoto. It was an equally grandiose worldwide scheme which aimed at a considerable degree of global economic management or control, backed by enormous funds and a huge bureaucracy. It ultimately fell apart because it was ill-conceived and because it became abundantly clear that it did not serve the interests of the parties which were engaged in the process. The same might happen to Kyoto.  

It could be argued that because of the flaws in its scientific underpinnings, its complexity and inconsistencies Kyoto will collapse under its own sheer weight. But in the mean time it may cause a lot of harm. It acts as a sword of Damocles, depressing the investment climate, especially in Europe. Therefore it is high time for Kyoto to be buried and to cover it with a tombstone carrying the epitaph: "Here lies a serious case of collective folly -- an exercise in modern day rain dancing ... and equally effective. RIP."  

Hans Labohm, co-author of Man-Made Global Warming: Unraveling a Dogma, recently became an expert reviewer of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

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