Europe Adds Headache to Blair’s Post-Election Hangover

When Tony Blair was reelected British Prime Minister last Thursday, he was entitled to a celebratory glass of champagne.  Despite all the sound and fury over the <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />Iraq war, the British people returned him to office with a majority with which any Prime Minister would be happy.  He has successfully ridden out the foreign policy problem that threatened to unseat him.  Yet another problem awaits as Mr. Blair ascends center stage in the world's eyes when he hosts the G8 meeting and assumes the Presidency of the EU.<?xml:namespace prefix = u2 /> <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />


Mr. Blair has said that his G8 chairmanship will concentrate on climate change and Africa, but it is the EU that will give him a headache on this score.  While the United States has wisely opted out of the restrictions of the Kyoto Protocol, the EU has made a song and dance about its willingness to fight global warming now.  It is even taking the lead in suggesting what should be done to achieve more in the next Kyoto period, post-2012.  Yet, as so often with the EU, the public utterances mask a troubling reality.


In fact, the EU is almost certain to miss its collective targets for the first Kyoto period.  While the EU as a whole is committed to an eight percent reduction in emissions (on 1990 levels), the EU itself admits that policies currently in place (other policies are unlikely to be adopted) will lead to a reduction of only 1 percent in 2010.  The implications of this are huge.


The EU's collective target is there because they put in place a burden-sharing agreement, hoping to take advantage of the inbuilt advantages of the UK, France and Germany in reducing emissions on 1990 levels—the politically-driven phase-out of coal, heavy use of nuclear energy and the closing of East German smokestack industries respectively.  By taking account of these advantages, other countries would not have to be as severe in their emissions policies as they would be under the original Kyoto agreement.


However, those other countries have for the most part massively increased their emissions from 1990 levels, wiping out the big nations' reductions.  If the EU does not meet its collective target, as seems almost certain, then under Article 4 of the Kyoto Protocol itself, each individual country becomes responsible for a reduction of eight percent.  At least 12 of the 15 EU countries concerned are on target to breach this target, nine of them spectacularly (having emissions increases of between 20 and 77 percent).


The Kyoto Protocol also spells out what happens to countries that breach their commitments.  There is a 130 percent penalty in the second Kyoto period for each ton by which the targets are breached.  That means that the second-period targets will be considerably larger than the first period's targets, which the EU countries are already finding impossible to meet.


The EU has set great store by its Emissions Trading Scheme, which it thinks will help meet the targets.  Unfortunately, again under the terms of the Protocol, such schemes become inapplicable if the first period targets are breached.  The EU violators will be forced to make real, deep cuts in emissions rather than relying on buying hot air credits from elsewhere.


It is hard to see how the EU countries can possibly meet any second period targets.  This reality is starting to permeate the veil of rhetoric in some countries.  In Spain, for instance, the newspaper La Gazeta de los Negocios reported on May 5, “Given the circumstances, the Environment Minister, Cristina Narbona, had no alternative and recognized yesterday that the conditions where Spain stands in order to fulfill the mandates derived from Kyoto 'could not be worse'. However she promised that the Spanish government will continue working with the aim of reducing the cost of that bill.”  This is a clear indication that at least one government has realized that Kyoto brings a severe economic cost with it, contrary to the protestations of the European Commission and Kyoto boosters around the world.


The reality, then, is that Kyoto is doomed and it is its greatest champion, the European Union, which is destined to reveal this to the world.  Tony Blair cannot be ignorant of this.  When the G8 comes to meet, do not be surprised if the leaders discuss other ways of combating global warming rather than the targets and commitments approach of Kyoto.  Technology, energy efficiency and scientific research will probably all be mentioned, along with further tentative steps down the road to nuclear power (if the Greens allow that particular method).  


In short, look for Europe, confronted by reality, to see the wisdom of the American approach to combating a threat.  Tony Blair can be excused if his blurred vision makes him think that he's been down this road before.