Kyoto sinking


Clive Crook's account in the National Journal of the Montreal conference on the Kyoto Protocol. Crook believes that global warming is real and requires reductions in carbon emissions. But he recognizes that Kyoto is a failure:

Many are now being forced to admit that the policy is failing–so embarrassingly that nothing similar is likely to take its place. As usual on such occasions, some face-saving scapegoating formula (you can guess which country is going be blamed) may emerge before the meeting wraps up. But the truth is that unless a new scheme is designed, there simply won't be an ongoing, effective, internationally coordinated effort to curb emissions of carbon to replace the failed Kyoto plan. . . . The Kyoto model was a dead end, to be sure: It has made getting to the right place far more difficult, and it has wasted more than 10 years.

Since 1997, when Vice President Al Gore went over to Kyoto to superintend the final working out of the agreement's terms, high-minded thinkers have excoriated American politicians, especially George W. Bush, for rejecting Kyoto. But Bush wasn't the first American politician to reject Kyoto. In 1997, the Senate voted 95 to 0 for the Byrd-Hagel amendment rejecting any climate control agreement that did not apply to developing countries like China and India—which, of course, was a central feature of the Kyoto Protocol. The Clinton administration endorsed the Kyoto agreement but, wisely though arguably cynically, declined to submit it to the Senate for ratification. Bush, reflecting reality, forthrightly rejected the agreement. That left Democrats free to curry favor with left-wing Europeans and editorialists by criticizing Bush on Kyoto without having to face the consequences from their constituents of backing an agreement that would require squelching economic growth in the pursuit of a goal that was never going to be reached.

A quick read of Crook's article reveals what's wrong with Kyoto and what approach would be better. What's wrong with Kyoto is that it is a centralized command-and-control approach. Central governments are presumed to know best how to balance reducing carbon emissions with encouraging economic growth. The results show that central governments, for all their lip service to Kyoto, are not very good at this. Canada, whose officials and intellectual elites love to look down on the United States, is a case in point. Crook:

This gave other countries the customary opportunity for empty moralizing. Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin declared: "To the United States . . .. there is such a thing as a global conscience, and now is the time to listen to it." A suitably Canadian sentiment, which the meeting's host was entitled to express, you might think – except that Canada is a leading Kyoto defector. Under the terms of the protocol, Canada promised to cut its carbon emissions, by 2008–12, to 6 percent less than their 1990 level. That will not happen. By 2003, Canadian emissions were already running at 24 percent above the 1990 benchmark.

Martin should be apologizing to the "global conscience."

As Crook notes, Britain's Tony Blair has already moved away from the Kyoto approach, however sacred it remains in the precincts of trendy left Islington, where he lived before he moved to No. 10 Downing Street. (His wife, Cherie Booth, has lamented that since they sold their house they have missed out on its gain in value to something on the order of 1.6 million pounds.) Blair seems headed toward something like the more market based approach that Crook recommends:

The Australian economist Warwick McKibbin (currently residing at the Brookings Institution) has described a detailed plan for such an approach.

It is based on a combination of long-term carbon permits (whose number would be capped by international agreement; these might be sold or given away in each country at the discretion of its government; permits could then be traded domestically) and one-year permits (which would be issued by national governments as they saw fit, at an internationally agreed price of so many dollars per ton of carbon). This combines the advantages of a tradable-permit scheme (which encourages carbon to be reduced where it costs least to do it) with an assurance that the maximum cost per ton of carbon abatement will be no greater than the price of a one-year permit.

Interestingly, as Crook noted, this is not so different from what George W. Bush has proposed. Crook argues that the Bush administration has not done enough to flesh out its proposal. Maybe so. But the bottom line is that the market-based approach of George W. Bush may be feasible while the centralized command-and-control approach of Kyoto, however much it appeals to the preening elites, is a proven failure.

Here's the take of Irwin Stelzer on the Weekly Standard weblog. Stelzer points even more damningly to the hypocrisy of the European elites.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair, sufficiently worried about global warming to favor a new round of construction of nuclear plants, ruefully noted, in a typically candid appraisal of the effectiveness of the Kyoto emission caps: "The blunt truth about the politics of climate change is that no country will want to sacrifice its economy in order to meet this challenge."

That did not deter his environment minister, Margaret Beckett, from claiming that the 15 older E.U. countries are on a path to meet their Kyoto obligations by reducing their 1990 greenhouse gas emissions by 9.3 percent by 2010. Italy, Japan, Ireland, Canada, and Spain have so far shown no sign of being able to cut their emissions by anything like that amount: all are actually producing greenhouse gases in excess of, rather than below, the 1990 baseline levels. Germany, because its economy is in the doldrums and it has shut down uneconomic and highly polluting Soviet-era factories in the East, is one of the few countries likely to meet its targets.

That's because the beginning target date was 1990, which enabled Germany to claim credit for shutting down these pollution belchers, which it would have done in any case because they were economically unviable as well as hideously polluting. But you'd never know from the rhetoric emitted at Montreal that the United States, as well as the European countries, has vastly reduced air pollution since the 1970s, while the Soviet bloc remains a hideous polluter. Bashing America, after all, is the main point of the exercise.