Bad News on the Kyoto Protocol

Economist Robert J. Samuelson in Washington Post offers some harsh observations about progress on the Kyoto Protocol to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

From 1990 (Kyoto’s base year for measuring changes) to 2002, global emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), the main greenhouse gas, increased 16.4 percent, reports the International Energy Agency. The U.S. increase was 16.7 percent, and most of Europe hasn’t done much better.

Here are some IEA estimates of the increases: France, 6.9 percent; Italy, 8.3 percent; Greece, 28.2 percent; Ireland, 40.3 percent; the Netherlands, 13.2 percent; Portugal, 59 percent; Spain, 46.9 percent. It’s true that Germany (down 13.3 percent) and Britain (a 5.5 percent decline) have made big reductions. But their cuts had nothing to do with Kyoto. After reunification in 1990, Germany closed many inefficient coal-fired plants in eastern Germany; that was a huge one-time saving. In Britain, the government had earlier decided to shift electric utilities from coal (high CO2 emissions) to plentiful natural gas (lower CO2 emissions).

On their present courses, many European countries will miss their Kyoto targets for 2008-2012. To reduce emissions significantly, Europeans would have to suppress driving and electricity use; that would depress economic growth and fan popular discontent. It won’t happen. Political leaders everywhere deplore global warming — and then do little. Except for Eastern European nations, where dirty factories have been shuttered, few countries have cut emissions. Since 1990 Canada’s emissions are up 23.6 percent; Japan’s, 18.9 percent….

“We expect CO2 emissions growth in China between now and 2030 will equal the growth of the United States, Canada, all of Europe, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and Korea combined,” says Fatih Birol, the IEA’s chief economist. In India, he says, about 500 million people lack electricity; worldwide, the figure is 1.6 billion. Naturally, poor countries haven’t signed Kyoto; they won’t sacrifice economic gains — poverty reduction, bigger middle classes — to combat global warming. By 2030, the IEA predicts, world energy demand and greenhouse gases will increase by roughly 60 percent; poor countries will account for about two-thirds of the growth. China’s coal use is projected almost to double; its vehicle fleet could go from 24 million to 130 million.

Signing a protocol is the easiest part. Fashioning a protocol that can effectively accomplish what it claims to do is a lot harder. (And I have major doubts about this one.) Adhering to a demanding protocol is harder still.

Something for both Canadians and Americans to consider on their holiday weekend.

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