Commentary

Winner And Losers At The Kyoto Corral

On July 23, 178 nations agreed to a new draft of the Kyoto Protocol on global warming. The United States did not. The United States, alone in the world, did the right thing—whether or not you care about global warming. If you don’t care, the bottom line is that our economy will prosper. And if you do care, the bottom line is that our economy will prosper and produce technologies that must reduce the relative production of greenhouse gases, which we’ll gladly sell to everyone else who ratifies the “New Kyoto.”

The “New Kyoto” is a revision of a 1997 instrument that must be ratified by nations that produce 55 percent or more of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions in order for it to enter into force. The United States isn’t going along (our Senate may currently sport about 12 of the 67 votes required for ratification), and the only way this magic number can be reached is if the Japanese come on board. They had signaled that they would not, until the Old Kyoto was modified in their favor.

In a nutshell, while the Old Kyoto required that the major industrialized nations reduce their emissions of carbon dioxide to an impossibly low 5.2 percent below 1990 levels, beginning 6.4 years from now, the New Kyoto requires an impossibly low 1.8 percent below 1990 levels at the same time. This is impossible because most of the world is already running about 12 percent above 1990, as emissions grow with population and prosperity. Most of the 178 signatory nations, including China and India, have no commitments to reduce emissions under this Protocol. The lion’s share falls onto Europe, Canada and Japan. Almost all of the industrial emissions of carbon dioxide come from the combustion of fossil fuels.

The “New Kyoto” replaces the Old Kyoto as the most ineffectual environmental treaty ever proposed. Here are the numbers:

Assume that the earth’s temperature is destined to rise 4.5ºF for a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide. This is a standard U.N. assumption, subject to considerable debate but it is a common reference point. (Note that temperatures rose 1.0ºF in the last 100 years and most people prospered.) Also assume that the nations—mainly European—that have to do something under the New Kyoto live up to their commitments (they won’t), and compare the projected temperature changes to what would happen if no one made any special attempt to reduce emissions—the so-called “business-as-usual” approach.

The New Kyoto produces a world, in 2050, whose surface temperature is 0.04ºF lower than it would be if no one did anything. That’s four hundredths of a degree. This is about 30 percent of the warming “saved” by the Old Kyoto, which itself was small beer. By 2100, the saved warming is 0.11ºF. These numbers come from the U.N.’s own computer models.

The warming rate in the U.N. models is fairly constant, once you chose your “storyline” (that’s what they call their future social projections these days). The mean “storyline” in vogue these days warms the surface about 4.5ºF in 100 years, or 0.045ºF per year. Thus does the New Kyoto signify nothing. Do the math. If everyone does what they say they will, the mean global surface temperature that would have normally been expected on January 1, 2050, will appear on September 18, 2050. The New Kyoto delays this warming by 288 days.

This, of course, assumes that the United States does nothing, while the other nations raise taxes enough to drive emissions to 1.8 percent below 1990 levels. That’s the only way we know to reduce the energy use that produces these emissions. No one knows what the total cost will be. But it certainly means that European governments are going to gobble up more of their people’s income and corporate profits than they do now.

This will have the salutary effect of forcing multinational business over to our side of the ocean, where people will have more money to invest. Like stockholders everywhere, they are going to demand more production with increased efficiency. Thus the New Kyoto will in fact force investment in technologies that are more likely to produce things that cost less energy to operate.

The irony of all of this is that our European friends have sentenced themselves to economic stagnation while doing nothing about global climate change. At the same time, they have insured a vibrant United States that will, with the investment dollars that the New Kyoto diverts in our direction, produce a cleaner future.

All of this is inevitable if only President Bush stays the course and stays away from the New Kyoto.

Patrick J. Michaels is a senior fellow in environmental studies at the Cato Institute.