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Europe’s Anti-Fuel Tax Protests
Truck and taxi drivers across Europe and Great Britain have staged demonstrations to protest high prices on gasoline. The French government gave in to demands and promise a cut in gas taxes to ease the burden. Britain suffered an almost total shutdown of business as protestors blockaded fuel refineries preventing fuel trucks from reaching their destinations.
Britain’s protesters were particularly determined, perhaps due to the fact that its citizens pay more for gasoline and diesel fuel than any other European country. Diesel is 55 percent more expensive in Britain than in France, for example. And even though the fuel blockade caused hardships throughout Britain, “Early opinion polls…suggested that most people endorsed the aims of the protestors,” reported The Economist (September 16, 2000).
Perhaps adding to the anger was the government’s planned Climate Change Levy, an additional tax on fuel. British citizens may balk at future climate change policies after witnessing first hand the costs of lower fuel availability. As The Economist noted, schools were forced to close down, hospitals canceled all non-emergency operations, and morgues filled up. “There were the first signs of panic-buying of food in supermarkets across Britain, as it dawned on people that shops rely on deliveries by road.”
Some people were ecstatic, however. Charles Secrett, Executive Director of Friends of the Earth wrote in The Mirror (September 14, 2000) that the slow down suited him just fine. “I cycled to work today. The streets were almost empty. Air quality was better. Pedestrians were breathing easier. Children were safer. Birds were singing. I thought: ‘Crisis, what crisis?’. Fuel prices should be more expensive not less.”
Little Progress in Lyon
A meeting of the subsidiary bodies of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change ended with little progress being made on the major issues plaguing the global warming negotiations. Indeed, “no major breakthroughs had been reached by nations seeking to implement the emission reduction treaty,” reported BNA Daily Environment Report (September 20, 2000).
Despite the lack of success, Roger Ballentine, U.S. deputy assistant to the president, tried to put a positive spin on the negotiations. “The atmospherics” were good, said Ballentine, and there was a “general sense of accomplishment” among U.S. negotiators.
Others were not so sanguine. Another story in BNA (September 14, 2000) reports that Eileen Claussen, president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, thinks that the amount of work remaining before COP-6 in the Hague is “daunting”. There are several issues that must be worked out that are “totally beyond the scope” of
the Lyon and Hague agendas. “She was confident,” said BNA, “that significant progress will be made going into the Hague talks, but the ‘more complicated, politically charged’ discussions have not happened yet in any country.”
The ongoing controversy between the United States and the European Union over emissions trading reveals the hypocrisy of the global warming negotiations so far. Slowing economic growth in the U.S. rather than global warming seems to be the primary goal of the EU negotiators.
The U.S. wants “maximum flexibility” to meet its Kyoto targets. The EU, on the other hand, wants to restrict the reductions achieved through international emission credit trading to 50 percent. The remaining cuts would have to be achieved domestically.
David Wojick, writing for Electricity Daily (September 11, 2000), notes that electricity use in Britain, for instance, did not increase from 1990 to 1997 and in Germany it actually fell to 7 percent below 1990 levels during the same time. In the U.S., on the other hand, electricity use increased 20 percent due to robust economic growth.
“None of the EU countries have grown appreciably since 1990, as far as electric power usage is concerned, while all of the non EU ‘umbrella group’ countries continue to develop rapidly,” says Wojick. “The low growth EU is the big backer of Kyoto. And the very slowest EU growers Germany and Britain are the loudest to demand that we (the U.S.) stop growing too.”
Benefits of CO2 Cuts Questioned
Scientific uncertainties about the effects of global warming bring into question the benefits of reducing CO2, said Kenneth Medlock III, a Rice University economist, at the James A. Baker III Institute conference, “Global Warming: Science & Policy.”
“If we decide to abate,” said Medlock, “there are costs to doing so, and by and large these costs are unrecoverable with some irreversibility.” We’re not even sure whether CO2 reductions would affect the climate, said Medlock.