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Will Western Europe Duck Kyoto'’s Energy Caps?

Dennis T. Avery

Fans of the Kyoto global warming treaty are busily floating rumors and reasons why Russia will soon sign the protocol and finally bring it into force. President Bush has refused to sign Kyoto, so the agreement must get Russia’s signature or die.

However, even Kyoto’s most ardent fans in Western Europe are wavering as they get closer to the severe energy cutbacks that the treaty would force on their consumers and industries.

Anders Aslund, of the Carnegie Endowment for Peace, says Russia could sell billions of dollars worth of emission rights if it signed the Kyoto Protocol—and improve its relations with the European Union in the bargain.

Andrei Illarionov, a close advisor to Russian President Vladimir Putin, counter that if Russia doubles its economy in the next decade as Putin proposes, it would need those emission credits to meet its own Kyoto limits. Meanwhile, Kyoto would undercut the value of Russia’s large and growing oil and gas exports.

Illarionov also raises valid questions on the science underlying Kyoto. He asks how world temperatures could have declined for 40 years after 1940 if the huge increases in greenhouse gases during that period were actually amplifying the global greenhouse effect.

Europe’s politicians loved Kyoto when it was negotiated in 1997. It scored big points with their Green parties, and the really harsh energy cutbacks—to be demanded after 2012—seemed a long way off. Now the start date of emissions cutbacks is next year, and the draconian post-2012 energy limits are seven years closer. The costs of Kyoto compliance run are likely to total trillions of dollars per year, and may push millions of EU jobs to other countries.

Without Russia’s big emissions credits in the system, Europe’s costs of Kyoto compliance could be very high very soon. The EU would have to cut real CO2 emissions instead of paying Russia for the privilege of emitting CO2.

The United States’ refusal has also increased Kyoto’s economic and political risks to Europe. U.S. Vice President Al Gore’s original enthusiasm made U.S. membership seem certain, which would have raised U.S. energy costs into line with Europe’s traditionally high fuel taxes. With the U.S. as a Kyoto non-member, however, the treaty worsens Europe’s energy cost disadvantage to America.

Especially as 2012 approaches. All analysts agree that the current Kyoto energy constraints are too mild to make a significant difference in the computer-modeled impact on global warming. Some of the treaty’s supporters say member countries might have to cut energy use by 50–80 percent just to stabilize their CO2 emissions, a seemingly impossible goal.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder warned this month that “rushing” to enforcing Kyoto’s CO2 targets might be counterproductive if Russia fails to sign the Kyoto treaty, and would harm hard-pressed German industries. The German economics minister, Wolfgang Clement, noted while debating with Environmental Minister Juergen Trittin, “China in one year emits 30 times the CO2 we are supposed to save by 2012.”

Meanwhile, the leading German weekly, Der Spiegel, carried an unusually critical article about wind energy: “The Wind Mill Craze: From Environmentally Friendly Energy to the Highly Subsidized Ruin of the Landscape.” French regional councils are rejecting wind farms, and Denmark, the world leader in wind power, is actually scaling down its windmill numbers.

Britain’s Country Life magazine has launched a campaign against land-based wind farms. Country Life’s Editor, Clive Aslet, says, “It provides a trickle of green energy, but is against all the principles of sustainable development.”

For countries that have pledged to give up their nuclear power plants, such as Germany and the Netherlands, a future without fossil fuels, nuclear power—or even windmills—looks stark indeed. Especially when seabed sediments in both the North and South Atlantic testify the world has had nine natural, moderate global warmings and coolings in the last 12,000 years.

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