TCS Daily

TCS COP11 Coverage: Climate Change and 'Overriding Goals'

By James K. Glassman - December 5, 2005 12:00 AM

There's a joke going around Montreal, site of this year's annual United Nations conclave on global warming. With all the smoke from those thousands of burning cars in the rioting suburbs, the French have now completely blown their targets for carbon emissions under the Kyoto Protocol.

The only way out is to buy emissions credits from the Russians for billions of euros. And when the French economy collapses under that bill, the riots will be worse than ever.

It's a joke, but reality comes very close. Europe, home of the most moralizing advocates of the Kyoto Protocol, which requires draconian cuts in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2012, is failing -- by a wide margin -- to achieve those cuts.

The most recent report of the European Environment Agency says total GHG emissions are now actually rising. Friends of the Earth Europe, a Green group, called the numbers "shocking."

But help is on the way. Earlier this year, the EU set up a "Trading Scheme for CO2," which lets its members pay other countries -- notably Russia -- for cutting emissions on their behalf (the way that rich Americans in the North paid substitutes to fight in the Civil War).

Only one problem: The economic repercussions will be enormous. A study released earlier this month by the International Council for Capital Formation looked at the impact on four European countries -- Germany, Spain, the UK and Italy -- of purchasing emissions credits. The firm conducting the study, Global Insight, Inc., assumed that the cost of buying the credits would be passed on to consumers "in the form of higher energy prices."

The result: an average decline of almost two percentage points in annual GDP for the four countries. Since these nations are currently growing at less than 1 percent a year, they would be plunged into recession. Jobs and capital would go elsewhere; total annual employment losses in the four countries would be 1.5 million.

The Montreal meeting was supposed to be a celebration. It's called COP-11, the 11th conference of the parties since Kyoto was conceived and the first since it was officially ratified. But Kyoto is a dead letter. Even the Europeans realize that its costs are far too high for the mere postponement, by a few years, of warming (as predicted by clumsy models) a century from now.

Plus, Kyoto exempts the fast-growing nations that will contribute most to the increases in human-induced GHGs that advocates implicate in higher global surface temperatures.

Is there another way? Absolutely.

In July, six countries -- responsible for more than half the world's GHG emissions -- formed the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development: the U.S., Australia, Japan, China, India and South Korea. It's a diverse group. The first two nations refused to ratify Kyoto; the third did; and the final three were exempt as "developing" countries.

What the Six aim to do is reduce emissions, not as a discrete goal, but as a byproduct of worthier, proven endeavors: pulling hundreds of millions of people out of poverty and cleaning up the air they breathe. The very first statement in the pact is: "Development and poverty eradication are urgent and overriding goals internationally."

The means for this transformation will be technology which can, for example, capture the GHG methane, reduce the pollution in the burning of coal and spread the use of nuclear power.

Meanwhile, even though it hasn't ratified Kyoto, the U.S. is doing better than countries that have (including, over the past three years, many in Europe), in large part because market forces are driving businesses and individuals to use energy more efficiently.

Elizabeth May, executive director of the Sierra Club of Canada points out with dismay that, since 1990, Canada's GHG emissions are up 24 percent higher while those of the U.S. are up 14 percent.

Canada, of course, is the preening host of COP-11. I have been to more of these COPs than I can count, but I am passing up this year's. If global warming really is a danger decades from now, it's going to be solved not by clinging to the cadaver of Kyoto but by spreading technology in nations like China and India, where they still burn charcoal and dung.

The action won't be in Montreal this week but in Melbourne next year, when the six Asia-Pacific partners plot the right course for ending poverty, pollution and greenhouse emissions.


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