Global warming: the EU’s sleight of hand

As the European Union leaps on its high horse over the USA's stance on global warming, it conveniently forgets that its own record is often worse.

Philip Stott

Topics Politics

Fair is foul, and foul is fair: Hover through the fog and filthy air.

(Macbeth, Act I, Scene 1)

Now here is a question for the next Ambridge pub quiz. ‘Which produces the more carbon dioxide emissions per square mile: Uncle Sam or the European Union…?’

‘Oh! It’s got to be that terrible toxic Texan’, screeches Linda Snell, as Eddie Grundy grunts approvingly into his pint of warm Shires. ‘Afraid not!’, says Sid, the harassed landlord of The Bull. ‘The European Union by far. Next question: how many cases of foot-and-mouth have there been…?’

And it’s true. European politicians, who like to focus on country-by-country comparisons which are, in geographical terms, meaningless, have carefully nurtured a myth that the USA is the main producer of carbon dioxide (CO2). But how can you compare tiny countries, like the UK (only 94,227 square miles) or Sweden (173,732 square miles), with the USA (3,732,400 square miles)? Any meaningful geographical comparison has to be with Western Europe as a whole, or at least with the 15 member states of the European Union (EU) – and even the EU, at 1,249,000 square miles, has well under half the land area of the USA.

A recognition of these simple facts of geography makes the carbon dioxide emission statistics of the two regions look somewhat different. If we take the carbon dioxide emissions from consumption and flaring of fossil fuels for 1999 (1), we see that the countries of the EU emit around 925 million metric tons of carbon equivalent (MMTCe) per year, while the USA emits 1519.89 MMTCe per year. Correcting these figures by area gives us 0.0007 MMTCe per square mile per year for the EU and 0.0004 MMTCe per square mile for the USA. So the per unit area production in the EU is 175 percent that of the USA. And this does not include emissions from EU applicant states, like Turkey (49.96 MMTCe in 1999).

This sleight of hand in the moral carbon stakes is frightening. Yet we should have been forewarned. In 1992, an Indian economist, Neela Mukherjee, produced a brilliant analysis showing that, when greenhouse gas emissions were properly analysed, the USA was not even in the top 10 of the culprits (2). But guess who were – both Denmark and the UK, along with Australia, Canada, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.

This fascinating, and corrective, analysis took a whole basket of so-called ‘greenhouse gases’, such as methane and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), not just carbon dioxide, and assessed these against other factors, such as population. Mukherjee then went on to suggest ‘measures’ of emissions and relative efficiency in economic activities, relating these to the per capita income of each country studied.

By contrast, the EU has cunningly ignored such subtleties, and above all has avoided being examined as an equivalent to the USA geographically, although it consistently claims to be so in political and military terms. The EU clearly wants the benefits of its size and producer/consumer power both ways. We must also recognise that the USA, by geographical and ecological necessity, has different lifestyles, extending from arctic Alaska through to sub-tropical Florida, from a heated realm to an air-conditioned biome, with mid-continental distances that are vast by European standards.

But the story is worse than this. Only two of the member countries of the EU are predicted to come anywhere close to achieving their Kyoto CO2 targets, namely Germany and the UK – and the precipitate withdrawal from nuclear energy in Germany (at 229.93 MMTCe per year the leading CO2 emitter in the EU) is even making attaining this target unlikely. Moreover, some UK private analysts regard the UK (the second largest emitter in the EU at 152.39 MMTCe per year) as being way off course, with predictions that we will miss the CO2 emissions target by as much as 20 percent.

Yet when we come to those raucous morality peddlers, namely France and Sweden, we find that they are totally off course, with absolutely no chance whatsoever of meeting their targets. No wonder John Prescott was livid when French environment minister, Dominique Voynet, and her fellow fundamentalist ‘Green’ Europeans, arrogantly scuppered the climate treaty talks at the Hague in November 2000. I think he was too mild by half. The gap between their self-righteous and hysterical posturing and reality was breathtaking.

It thus ill-becomes Romano Prodi, the European Commission president, to be ‘shocked’ at the position now being taken by the Bush administration. Europe has played a moralistic game for its own ends and it has finally backfired. The lovely goal of a European-controlled carbon trading system has gone out of the window with their deceitful hot air. In the carbon stakes, ‘Fair is foul, and foul is fair’.

And after all this, recent science increasingly indicates that there is no simple linear link between CO2 emissions and temperature. In Europe, we are being duped on every count.

Philip Stott is professor of biogeography in the University of London. His latest book, co-authored with Sian Sullivan, is Political Ecology: Science, Myth and Power (Arnold 2000).

(1) See Table H1 5 February 2001 at US Energy Information Administration (EIA)

(2) ‘Greenhouse gas emissions and the allocation of responsibility’, N. Mukherjee, Environment and Urbanization 4, 89-98, 1992

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Topics Politics


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