Kyoto Contingencies Confound Commissioner

Commissioner Margot Wallstrom insists that the Kyoto Protocol is “the only existing effective international framework for combating global warming.” This questionable argument – Kyoto neither exists yet, nor has any scientist claimed it would yield a detectable climatic impact – is a curious example of a statement designed to ensure its own truthfulness. The entire “Kyoto industry” regularly cite it to shout down any proposal to break the obvious impasse over this unratified “global warming” treaty. Should any such alternative emerge even for discussion, it would pull a bottom card from the delicate rhetorical house this cadre has constructed.

Now it appears that this strategy faces an irresistible combination of internal dissent and an outside pincer movement of reformists.

In December, the EU Commission said that only Sweden and Britain were on track to meet their Kyoto goals. Economically expanding states such as Spain are, for that very reason, in fact wildly off target. Last month, the Commission sought to paper over obvious cracks in its support for an undeniably deceased document. Then, an international coalition of policymakers formed to force an alternative. Now, even Kyoto planners are changing tack.

As regards internal debate, President Romano Prodi intervened personally in late February to reiterate the EU’s commitment to Kyoto in the likely event of Russian rejection. The Commission then released a document (Memo/04/43) restating its public position. Neither of these interventions seems to have stopped the flood of speculation on whether adherence to the protocol is wise. The influential UNICE employers group said in a letter to the presidency that member state environment ministers should ask the European Commission to launch a review of climate change policies for 2008- 2012.

Reuters reported, “While urging the EU to redouble efforts to get the Protocol ratified so it can come into force, the letter added: “The review of the current EU climate-change policies should also be relevant as an alternative to the Kyoto Protocol in case it does not come into force.”

Reservations among member governments continued at the meeting of environment ministers on 2nd March. Environment Daily reported, “At a ministerial meeting in Brussels [Italian] environment minister Altero Matteoli made a prolonged attempt to force a declaration from his colleagues that future emission-cutting action should depend on the treaty being ratified by Russia and thus entering into force. The move follows increasing unrest in Italian industry circles at the imminent prospect of the greenhouse gas curbs under the EU climate emissions trading system. The Italian government first reflected this last December when it tried to characterize Kyoto explicitly as a threat to business at a summit of EU leaders.

“Mr Matteoli claimed after the meeting he had been supported by Spain and to a lesser extent Finland, where doubts over EU climate policy have recently surfaced. Nevertheless, the final text was adopted unanimously.

Extra-continental actors, also apparently having had enough of the bullying, unveiled in March the “International Climate Change Taskforce” including lawmakers from the UK, America, and Australia. The latter are important given they are major holdouts from the punitive Kyoto. This taskforce was developed by the Australia Institute in Canberra, the Institute for Public Policy Research in London and something called the Centre for American Progress in Washington. As this group took form, Wallstrom let fly again with her insistence that it’s Kyoto or bust.

It is doubtful that Wallstrom’s tactics can save this 1997 agreement that hit the wall at talks in The Hague in November 2000. It was then that EU negotiators attempted to gut a key treaty provision allowing carbon-absorbing “sinks”, which it promises “shall be used” by member countries to meet their commitments. By doing so the EU removed the sole mechanism by which the U.S. hoped to keep Kyoto’s cost below the estimated $400bn/year, or 4% of GDP. These negotiators sensed desperation among the American team, anxious over the pending recount then underway in Florida and therefore seemingly willing to do anything to lock in a deal. Still, this strong-arm tactic led the Clinton Administration to walk away from the table. U.S. ratification has been an impossibility ever since.

Yet one more recent nail in the “Kyoto or bust” coffin comes from an even less likely source: Kyoto planners. Gearing up for the next Conference of the Parties, or COP-10, in Buenos Aires next December, planners announced and again in March a switch of focus to adaptation, from expensive, selective emission “targets and timetables.” That is, the focus is now simply on pouring more developed world money into the lesser developed countries to assist them in doing what Man has done since time immemorial.

Man has always adapted to climate, the wealthiest societies adapting best. Suppressing energy merely suppresses wealth creation, and therefore adaptability. This was Kyoto’s greatest flaw all along. Still, this more practical resiliency plan raises further questions. The goals of “building irrigation systems or canals” and “enhancing the responsiveness of the agricultural sector to forecasts of production and food crises” – precisely how Holland has dealt with an ever-encroaching sea – are also the goals of those truckloads of failed foreign aid spent over decades. This aid has failed for very simple reasons that no proposal, with the exception of a nascent U.S. effort, has dared acknowledge: neither wealth transfers nor UN workers create wealth; this is only accomplished by eliminating corruption, establishing a transparent judicial process and ensuring property rights. States lacking these attributes remain vulnerable to a climate that has always changed, and always will.

All of these reforms, if they cannot be controlled, will doubtless be decried as the work of “splinter groups”, even though Kyoto, having failed to gain sufficient support among covered countries, is clearly not going to go into effect. Those who understand the facts regardless have begun seeking a realistic proposal to address a theory that Wallstrom, et al., decry as a problem on a par with terrorism. This rhetoric only makes the prideful clinging to a moribund document all the more troubling.