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4 July 2002Printer-friendly versionEmail a friend

Quitting Kyoto
A leading professor argues that everybody but the EU is realising the foolishness of the Kyoto Protocol.

by Philip Stott

'Global warming' has proved a gift for the Fat Boy school of journalism, straight out of Charles Dickens' Pickwick Papers: 'I wants to make your flesh creep.'

European environment ministers are also susceptible: 'We do not have much time…we run the risk of making this planet…uninhabitable', moaned UK environment minister Michael Meacher recently, in an article promoting the Kyoto Protocol, the treaty aiming to control the emissions of so-called 'greenhouse' gases such as carbon dioxide and methane (1).

But as Dickens reminds us, hard times demand facts - not hysteria and untestable computer 'fairytales' (to use the scathing phrase of German geophysicist Hartwig Volz).

The USA has now confirmed that it will have nothing to do with the Kyoto Protocol for at least 10 years. Harlan Watson, its senior climate negotiator and one of President George W Bush's most trusted advisers, stated that 'Kyoto would have hammered our economy and put millions of Americans out of work and undermined our ability to make long-term investments in cleaner energy' (2). He added that, even if Bush failed to win a second term, Kyoto would still not be ratified because the US Senate opposes it.

This is now also the case in Australia - and is becoming so in Canada, especially as far as individual provinces are concerned. Ottawa has unveiled proposals on how to approach climate change without crippling the economy and, in doing so, it has effectively put off ratification of Kyoto for this year. Of the four proposals presented, the one seeking clean energy export credits for Canada is clearly favoured.

Even Greenpeace's Steven Guilbeault believes that '[Canada's prime minister] Jean Chrétien has no intention of ratifying Kyoto' (3). Hans Konow, the president of the Canadian Electricity Association, summarises the Canadian opposition well: 'Kyoto is a short-term response which puts us on the wrong road…to high-cost short-term solutions that do nothing to deal with the underlying issue.' Herb Dhaliwal, the natural resources minister, has even argued that some global warming might be good for Canada (4).

In May 2002, Australia resisted a call by Japan to ratify the Kyoto Protocol (5). The prime minister John Howard believes the protocol to be totally ineffective without the participation of the USA and developing countries, such as China. 'For us to ratify the protocol would cost us jobs and damage our industry', Howard told parliament on 5 June 2002 (6).

The Kyoto Protocol will not work - politically, economically or scientifically
And so we are left with the European Union (EU). But what are the facts in Europe? Spain's emissions were up by no less than 33.7 percent on its 1990 levels in 2000, compared to a 14.1 percent rise in US emissions during the same period. Even Britain saw its carbon dioxide output rise by 1.2 percent year-on-year in 2000, and, for the EU as a whole, the emission of greenhouse gases was up in 2000 on 1999 (7). So while lecturing the rest of the world, the EU countries are far from attaining their own ratified targets.

And the reasons are obvious. As we grow economically, the goals set by Kyoto are just impractical. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that the US increase of 3.2 percent carbon dioxide emissions in 2000 resulted from economic growth of 2.5 percent with a concomitant rise in the demand for electricity and fuels, which was compounded by cooler winter conditions (so much for 'global warming') and a decreased output from hydroelectric dams (8).

The simple truth is that the Kyoto Protocol will not work - politically, economically or scientifically. According to one recent 'best case' estimate, compliance with the Kyoto Protocol could cost Germany and Britain around five percent of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and cause an increase in unemployment of 1.8million and one million respectively; will cost the Netherlands 3.8 percent of GDP and 240,000 jobs; and Spain five percent of GDP and one million jobs (9). Electricity prices could also more than double.

Moreover, the false agendas being set by Kyoto are already imposing ill-directed and unfair climate change levies and allowing wind farms to mar some of the most beautiful and historic landscapes of the British Isles. One eminent Church of England bishop described a proposal to place 39 wind turbines at Cefn Croes, below the iconic Plynlimon mountain in mid-Wales, as an act of vandalism equivalent to the Taliban's destruction of the ancient Buddhist statues of Bamiyan in Afghanistan.

What, then, is the way forward? First, we must recognise that climate change is the norm, not the exception - with or without human influence. Secondly, we must grasp that the idea of maintaining 'a sustainable climate' is an oxymoron too far, unpredictable climate being determined by millions of factors. Indeed, in some scenarios, removing 'greenhouse gas' emissions could prove even more dangerous than emitting them.

Finally, we must accept that we cope with climate change, whatever its direction, by growing and maintaining strong economies, focusing special help on the developing world and diversifying energy sources as and when practical. Unfortunately, the Kyoto Protocol undermines this endeavour.

Philip Stott is Professor Emeritus of Biogeography in the University of London.

Read on:

spiked-science debate: Global warming

spiked-issue: Global warming

(1) The global warning Bush must heed, Michael Meacher, Guardian, 16 May 2002; See also Planet is running out of time, says Meacher, Guardian, 16 May 2002

(2) Quoted in Forget Kyoto deal for another 10 years, says Bush adviser, Independent, 14 May 2002

(3) Quoted in Liberals' plan means they are abandoning Kyoto: Greenpeace, Canada News Wire, May 2002. See also Ottawa unveils Kyoto plan, hints at withdrawal, ENN, 16 May 2002

(4) Quoted in 'Global warming spat mars Ottawa's Kyoto proposals ', Yahoo!News (Reuters), 15 May 2002

(5) Australia resists Japan's call to join climate pact, Planet Ark, 2 May 2002

(6) Quoted in Australia rejects Kyoto pact, BBC News Online (World), 5 June 2002

(7) E.U. halfway to Kyoto target, but emissions are up Reuters, 30 April 2002

(8) 1990s ended with US surge in greenhouse gas emissions, Edie Weekly Summaries, 10 May 2002

(9) Economic Effects of Kyoto on Europe, National Center for Policy Analysis 2002

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