Moveon Beyond Kyoto

Worth A Look, Climate, Frontier Centre

A new agreement between the U.S., Australia, China, India, and South Korea seeks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, believed to fuel global warming, through technological approaches to the problem. This includes the development and transfer of energy efficiency and pollution reducing technologies to the developing countries of the world. Since these countries have not yet achieved the efficiencies of scale and technological advances that make the industrialized west so productive, their emissions per dollar of productivity currently average twice those of the U.S.

The new agreement is very significant in a number of ways.

Although currently involving only five countries, the signatories to the new “Asia-Pacific Partnership for Clean Development and Climate” represent over 40 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. It includes the two major developing countries, China and India, that were exempted from the Kyoto pact. The U.S and Australia, in particular, have maintained that those countries, with their rapidly expanding economies and relatively inefficient use of energy, must be included in any long-term solution to the global warming problem.

While the Kyoto Protocol, a treaty adopted by most of the world’s countries in February of this year, mandated specific emissions reduction targets, it ignores certain economic realities that has already doomed it to failure. For instance, by not including major developing countries, industries can simply move operations to those countries that do not have restrictions on carbon dioxide emissions (as well as other pollutants). Since those nations are not as efficient in their use of energy as the modern industrialized nations, the result can be even greater greenhouse gas emissions than if Kyoto were never adopted.

Furthermore, the EU countries are, less than one year into the implementation of Kyoto, already realizing they will not meet their reductions goals. This failure reflects the need for cheap energy to fuel vibrant economies. The need is so fundamental that you might as well demand that people stop breathing so much — it just isn’t going to happen.

Already, Green groups are saying that the new agreement is, at best, just spin, and at worst an effort to torpedo the Kyoto treaty. Greenpeace, for instance, still considers the Kyoto treaty as the best strategy to reduce emissions. This is probably because Kyoto has specific targets and timetables for reductions, which at least has the appearance of attacking the problem head-on. Even though it is widely agreed that the Kyoto-mandated reductions will not be sufficient to have any measurable effect on global temperatures, just agreeing to reduce seems “greener” than any solution that relies on technology, since technology is perceived to be the root of all environmental troubles anyway.

Again, though, emissions can not be mandated away,.at least not if elected government representatives want to remain in office. Given the choice between avoiding some future warming of uncertain magnitude, and the comfort, conveniences, and health of modern life, most people will turn on the air conditioner, grab a cold beer, and wash down their blood pressure pills.

What will predictably generate additional criticism about the new agreement is the fact that these five countries went off and negotiated a pact without involving the European Union or the United Nations. Many will view this as nothing short of political sacrilege. Europeans still seem to be having a hard time accepting the fact that being at the historical epicenter of western culture doesn’t entitle them to be consulted on all of our economic decisions. (Nevertheless, when the Bush administration does need advice on matters relating to the Renaissance, I do hope that Europe is consulted first).

It will be interesting to see how this new agreement fairs against the pro-Kyoto forces. Given the fact that the Kyoto treaty is weak, slowly dying, and doomed to failure as the industrialized nations of the world come to realize how much economic pain it will inflict for so little environmental gain, I believe the new “Beyond Kyoto” initiative represents the beginnings of a realistic approach to the global warming problem. The fact that the recent G8 summit in Scotland resulted in a statement that focused on technological solutions, rather than emissions reductions targets, suggests that even the countries that signed on to Kyoto are beginning to have second thoughts as well.