Commentary

The Kyoto Killers

Predictably, our European friends spent July 16 berating the United States for its refusal to go along with the infamous Kyoto Protocol on global warming. As most people know, Kyoto is an international agreement to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases that, in reality, has no detectable influence on climate and costs a fortune. This reality notwithstanding, another semi-annual “Conference of the Parties” to Kyoto is taking place this week and next in Bonn, Germany. The last one was at The Hague, in the Netherlands, last November.

Chief among Monday’s berators was Juergen Trittin, Germany’s Environment Minister, who thundered that, “We cannot allow the country with the biggest emissions of greenhouse gases to escape responsibility.” That’s us, because we have the world’s biggest economy (which just happens to also be one of the most energy-efficient).

So who killed Kyoto? If any one person will be fingered by history, it will be Trittin himself. If any group of nations is to be singled out, it will be the EU, which has been out of step with the rest of the world on Kyoto since day one.

Kyoto’s last best chance at adoption was last November, when the same people who are now berating us in Bonn met at The Hague, two weeks after Election Day. The Clinton-Gore team, struggling to find some economically defensible way of meeting Kyoto’s totally unrealistic target—which would require a 33 percent reduction in total U.S. emissions (read: energy use)—proposed that we meet half of that target by planting trees, building up the organic content of our soils, and selling/giving clean power production technology to polluting, poor (the two are highly correlated) nations.

Jurgen Trittin and the French Environment Minister, Dominique Voynet, said no. To them, speaking for the EU, the United States had to meet Kyoto by directly reducing energy use. Here they proved to even many radical American greens that Kyoto has nothing to do with climate and everything to do with hatred for the United States, very chic these days in Berlin, Paris and London.

So, the United States then proposed that it would only salt away 40 percent of its emissions in trees. No, said Trittin, Voynet and the EU. 30 percent? 20 percent? No. No. President Clinton gained the intercession of his friend, British PM Tony Blair. Voynet then turned on him, saying that he “had conceded too much to America.”

In disgust, the U.S. negotiation team packed its bags and left. As it later admitted to USA Today, the final proposals would have caused grave economic damage. On the way out, EU security guards sat on their hands, as green demonstrators assaulted U.S. negotiator Frank Loy with a pie in the face on world television.

Surely the EU knew that, despite the November turmoil, there was a pretty good chance George Bush was going to be the next president. And not long after this happened, National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice announced, “Kyoto is dead.”

For that, we have been subject to incessant rants about the United States being a “pariah” and a “rogue state.” So who’s the pariah here? Kyoto doesn’t apply to China, the world’s most populous nation. Nor India, the second largest. Are people in Russia clamoring for its adoption? What about Indonesia, Pakistan, the Middle East? Africa has real fish to fry, like AIDS.

It is clear that the vast majority of the world’s citizens either aren’t bound by Kyoto or don’t care anyway. The United States is merely siding with the majority against a vocal and radical European minority that supports an ineffectual and expensive treaty, which they say can only be implemented in a fashion that will cause us (and, ultimately, the rest of the world) grave harm. There is no way the U.S. Senate will ratify it, anyway.

Kyoto always was sickly. At its inception, in December 1997, the Europeans pressed for impossibly large emission reductions, agreeing to a cut to 8 percent below 1990 levels for a five-year period centered around 2010. At Kyoto in 1997, as in The Hague in 2000, the EU proved incapable of standing up to its most radical green elements. Nor has the EU learned from these mistakes. On July 16 in Bonn the 15 EU leaders issued a joint declaration promising to fulfill their treaty commitments, adding one final farce to this tragic comedy. Why anyone would engage in a failed effort to do something that everyone knows wouldn’t even have a measurable effect on global climate remains a mystery.

So, who killed Kyoto? Not us. Bush was merely the coroner. Jurgen Trittin, now railing about holding the United States “responsible” for his own irresponsibility, was the perpetrator, and the EU, wildly out of step with the rest of the world, was the accomplice. But they’re Not Guilty, by reason of insanity.

Patrick J. Michaels is senior fellow in environmental studies at the Cato Institute and author of “The Satanic Gases.