During his congressional testimony last Wednesday on global warming, former vice president and current movie star Al Gore fielded at least one question that everyone should think about twice.
“Let’s look at what’s happened in Europe as they’ve tried to instigate their carbon cap-and-trade,” said Rep. Joe Barton (R., Tex.). “Despite all the efforts of the European nations that signed Kyoto, almost none of those countries are on target to meet their Kyoto obligation.”
Rep. Rick Boucher (D., Va.) voiced the same concern when he questioned Gore. “I think the consensus now, after several years of experience with that in Europe, is that their program was flawed,” he said.
Gore wasn’t ruffled by the question at all: “The European system is in fact working,” he said in response to Boucher. “I disagree respectfully that they’re not meeting their targets. It’s a Europe-wide target and they’re on — they’re going to be on track to meet it.
He continued: “They’re not only meeting them, they just adopted binding targets last week, when I was over there, that go much deeper than their obligations under Kyoto — a 20 percent reduction. And they’ll take it to 30 percent if we join in the regime.”
Reasonable people can disagree about many things, but when it comes to European emissions, there is a fact of the matter that shows someone in this conversation is right and someone has it just plain wrong. Is Europe, as Gore suggests, reducing its emissions and on track to meeting its targets? Or is Kyoto a failure in Europe, as Boucher and Barton suggest?
East and West
At the time of the European Community’s ratification of Kyoto, there were 15 member states (the “EU-15”) who committed to greenhouse-emissions reduction: Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Spain, France, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Austria, Portugal, Finland, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.
After Kyoto was ratified, eight other signatories to the treaty joined the EU: the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia. (Cyprus and Malta, two non-signatories, also joined, but their emissions are insignificant.)
The so-called “EU-25,” which includes these eight former Communist countries, reduced greenhouse-gas emissions to 95.1 percent of 1990 levels by 2004, according to a European Environment Agency report published on February 2. That sounds like admirable progress, even if it still means the EU will likely miss its Kyoto emissions target, which the report sets as 92 percent of 1990 emissions by 2010.
But if you look at the numbers behind those reductions (see the chart on page 11 of the report), it becomes immediately obvious that any claim of emissions progress in Europe is disingenuous.
It’s not just that the original “EU-15” has reduced greenhouse gases by a mere 1.2 percent since 1990. Far more damning is the fact that overall greenhouse emissions in Europe have increased since 1993, whether you include the former Eastern Bloc countries or not. Earlier this month, the European countries agreed, as Gore noted, to a 20-percent cut in carbon-equivalent emissions by 2020. It is an ambitious goal, to be sure. But perhaps it would be a good start if Europe could just get its emissions to stop increasing.
Gore mentioned in his testimony that Europe had “recalculated” its baseline year 1990 emissions — in fact, Europe has done several such “recalculations,” and it uses one of them in the linked EEA report. But even this cheating only gives the illusion of a less spectacular failure.
The European Environment Agency’s report tells the real story: Nearly all emissions reduction in Europe since 1990 came from the economic collapse of the former Eastern Bloc countries, whose industrial production was decimated by the fall of Communism. These eight nations account for 87 percent of Europe’s annual reduction in carbon-dioxide-equivalent emissions between the baseline year of 1990 and 2004. And even that number understates the case, because nearly all of the reduction came in the first few years.
Between 1990 and 1995, Hungary’s CO2-equivalent emissions fell by 19 percent, and they have stayed level ever since. Roughly the same can be said of the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The former Baltic Republics — Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia — all saw their emissions fall by 50 percent in those five years, and their levels have stayed roughly flat in the following nine years.
Of the former Communist countries, only Poland — which has the EU’s highest unemployment rate — has experienced a sustained decline in emissions. (Tiny Slovenia, never an industrial powerhouse to begin with, has slightly increased its greenhouse emissions from 18 to 20 trillion grams annually).
As the Eastern Bloc’s economies disintegrated, they reduced EU-25 greenhouse emissions by 225 trillion grams per year — 87 percent of the total reduction in European greenhouse emissions between 1990 and 2004. To the degree that Europe has made any progress toward Greendom, the winning recipe has been economic ruin, not conservation or alternative energy.