Politics & Policy

Hot Air

Every year, parties to the Kyoto Protocol meet. Every year the future of the protocol is very much in question. And every year the meeting ends with environmental crusaders falsely claiming that the world has finally united behind the goal of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions. This year’s conference in Montreal followed the tired old pattern.

The parties agreed to little or nothing–but, hearing the way the conference has been spun, you’d think the environmentalists’ every dream had been fulfilled. Greenpeace hailed the meeting as “historic,” and enviros hither and yon felt the special frisson of Bill Clinton’s saying, in a speech before the conference, that George W. Bush is “flat wrong” to think that reducing greenhouse-gas emissions would harm the U.S. economy. The conference’s supposed triumph was an agreement to proceed with talks on new emissions-reductions goals, to take effect after Kyoto’s current targets expire in 2012. That the U.S. has agreed to participate in these talks is being taken as a major American reversal.

No one bothers to point out that the U.S. is in no way committed to accepting whatever emissions targets are ultimately agreed upon. Given the reluctance of the vast majority of Americans–and their elected representatives–to emasculate the U.S. economy by enforcing a Green regime, we suspect Kyoto’s supporters aren’t going to get their way anytime soon. Moreover, the agreement to hold more talks is nothing new. It is, rather, simply a reaffirmation of an agreement in 1997 to hold discussions on post-2012 emissions targets no later than December of 2005. One man’s historic breakthrough thus turns out to be another man’s eight-year-old news.

In any case, the future talks are quite likely to run aground as soon as they turn to specific emissions targets. The truth is that Kyoto’s parties are in serious trouble. The EU-15 countries, in particular, essentially admit that they won’t be able to reduce their greenhouse-gas emissions to the Kyoto-required levels. Their solution is to buy “emissions credits” from Eastern Europe, Russia, and the developing world–countries whose economic woes have kept them well below the high emissions levels that Kyoto allows them, freeing them to credit their “excess” reductions to whichever state bidder pays the highest price.

The trouble is that there almost certainly won’t be enough such credits to make up for the developed countries’ shortfall in meeting their targets. Moreover, it’s tough to see what incentive the developing world has to keep its emissions down–and, in so doing, to impair its economic growth–simply so that Western Europe doesn’t have to follow through on the cuts to which it has committed itself. After 15 years, negotiators have failed to find even a single developing country willing to make such a deal. According to the BBC, echoing recent comments by Tony Blair and even former European Commission president Romano Prodi, “Indian negotiator Andimuthu Raja said growth and the elimination of poverty must take precedence over mitigating the effects of climate change.” Hear hear.

“It’s tough to see what

incentive the developing world has

to keep its emissions down.”

The only alternative is for Europe to give cleaner, more modern technology to developing countries, allowing them to keep their emissions levels low without hindering their economic growth. If the EU decides it’s worth paying that price to advance the Green agenda, so be it–but it hardly strikes us as a good deal.

Before the conference, British environment secretary Margaret Beckett said that anyone wanting the Montreal meeting to agree to binding emissions-reduction targets post-2012 was “living in cloud cuckoo land.” She was right–and all those news reports implying otherwise are strictly for the birds.


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