The Kyoto Protocol on climate change, which comes into force this week, represents a massive act of folly by many of the world's industrialized nations. It sets the world on a course to economic disaster while doing nothing to alleviate global warming. It is the wrong solution to the wrong problem at the wrong time.
Kyoto attempts to alleviate what may be a major cause of warming—the emission of greenhouse gases—by suppressing energy use in the developed world. Yet energy use is vital to modern health and wealth. The Kyoto treaty itself recognizes this fact by exempting developing countries, eager to achieve prosperity, from greenhouse gas reductions. As a result, China and India are likely to become the major emitters of greenhouse gases on the planet within a few decades. This means that, even with Kyoto, global emissions of greenhouse gases will continue to increase.
So the Kyoto Protocol will do virtually nothing to halt any possible global temperature increase— the temperature that would have been reached in 2100 will be reached in 2106. Yet independent analyses of the annual cost to the world of complying with Kyoto put it at between $150 billion and $350 billion a year (the global development aid budget is $50 billion annually). The cost of the "solution" vastly outweighs any purported benefits.
Moreover, it is a solution to the wrong problem. There are many problems facing the world that are far more pressing than global warming: 5 million children in poverty, an AIDS/HIV crisis that is devastating sub-Saharan Africa, and the resurgence of vector-borne diseases like malaria (malariologists agree that global warming is not an important factor in their resurgence). For a fraction of the annual cost of Kyoto, we could do much to alleviate these problems—and thereby render any possible effects of global warming much more manageable.
Finally, it is the wrong time to enact energy suppression measures. We do not know what the extent of future warming will be. It would be far better now to adopt "no regrets" policies—measures that will benefit all of humanity whether global warming turns out to be a problem or not.
One such strategy is to allow and encourage the creation of wealth around the world. For example, when several hurricanes hit Florida last year, the death toll was low. But when those same hurricanes hit Haiti, thousands died. The hurricanes were not appreciably stronger over Haiti, but Florida, being richer, proved more resilient. By eliminating barriers to wealth such as trade restrictions and building up incentives to wealth such as property rights, we can put the world on the path to prosperity. Then if the world does turn out to be appreciably warmer, the effects will be less in a more resilient world.
Kyoto supporters argue that this treaty is just a first step, and they're right—it is a step in the wrong direction. Our children will not thank us for stepping out down a road we know will lead to ruin, when the road to prosperity is well-marked.