Kyoto 101
A crash course for Western Europe.


The international global-warming war will heat up next Monday. On that day, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change will hold its ninth Conference of the Parties in Milan, Italy. Although Russia has already opted out of the climate-change controls, western European governments appear determined to go ahead with strict local controls, regardless of what other countries do.

The western European public overwhelmingly believes in global warming, and wants government to do something about it. Asked if “European governments should take the lead against global warming by bringing into force the climate treaty, even if the U.S. doesn’t take part at this time,” 80 percent of people in the United Kingdom answered “Yes.” So did 82 percent in Belgium, 89 percent in Italy, and 88 percent in Spain. Even large majorities in the U.K., Italy, and Spain believed that government “should do more to reduce the country’s own emissions of global warming pollution.”

For Europe’s sclerotic economies, the massive increases in energy prices that would result from strict reductions of “greenhouse gasses” would be devastating. According to a 2002 study of the economic effects on the U.K., depression is a possible outcome of such a move. Between 2008 and 2010, the U.K. could lose up to one million jobs a year. Moreover, the productivity of individual jobs would decrease because of the efficiency reduction (greater cost) of all the other production factors.

Dr. Margo Thorning performed a study about four European countries and estimated that the Kyoto Protocol would have a strong negative impact on the GNP of various nations: a decrease of 5.2 percent for Germany, 5 percent for Spain, 4.5 percent for the U.K., and 3.8 percent for the Netherlands.

If Europeans knew that the Kyoto Treaty would seriously harm their economies and significantly reduce their standard of living, would they still support Kyoto? Would they be willing to suffer the economic damage if they learned that industrial activity was not a cause of global warming?

These are precisely the questions that will be posed by an Italian free-market think tank, the Instituto Bruno Leoni, at a global-warming conference on Saturday–two days before the U.N. conference opens in Milan. The IBL is named after the late Italian political philosopher Bruno Leoni. The conference is co-sponsored by the Centro Europeo di Studi su Popolazione (CESPAS) and Sviluppo e Ambiente (an Italian organization that studies the relationship between humanity and environment), and has received the patronage of the Italian ministry of the environment.

The conference will point out that, contrary to the assertions of much of the European media, orthodox science does not really hold a single position on whether global warming is taking place or whether it is anthropogenic. This will be discussed by University of Virginia professor S. Fred Singer, journalist Dominic Standish, the High Frontier Foundation’s Klaus Heiss, and Italian Air Force major Fabio Malaspina. A panel on this topic will be chaired by Prof. Franco Battaglia of the Third University of Rome.

The International Policy Network (IPN)–a U.K.-based think tank that promotes pro-freedom approaches to issues relating to sustainable development, health, technology, and trade–will also contribute to the conference. IPN’s Julian Morris will chair the second panel at the conference, which will focus on the economics of global warming. Speakers will include Antonio Gaspari of CESPAS, Prof. Emilio Gerelli of the University of Pavia, IPN’s Kendra Okonski, and Dr. Margo Thorning of the International Council for Capital Formation. The speakers will analyze the costs and benefits of Kyoto-inspired policies. Such policies impose very high costs in the present, while promising benefits in the long term that are exceedingly uncertain. The Kyoto policies are guaranteed to harm people today, and for generations to come.

A third panel will consider why European politicians are so willing to harm their own people. Speakers will include three representatives from Italian political parties: Franco Debenedetti (Democratic Left), Vittorio Emanuele Falsitta (Forza Italia party), and Benedetto Della Vedova (Radical party). Fred Smith of the American Competitive Enterprise Institute will also take part.

Excessive faith in central planning and excessive pessimism about the ability of humans to innovate have depressed the European standard of living for decades. The Kyoto Protocol, as well as local analogues, represent one of the worst trade-offs between freedom and security that Europeans have ever faced. The benefits are based on dubious science and would, even in the most optimistic scenario, result in barely perceptible reductions in temperature. The costs are clear and enormous and will make it nearly impossible for Western Europe to regain the economic vitality which once made it the center of global civilization. That international scholars, with the blessing of the Italian government, are convening to point out that the Kyoto emperor has no clothes suggests that there is at least some hope for Europe.

Dave Kopel is research director of the Independence Institute. Carlo Stagnaro is a fellow of the International Policy Network.