Despite the economic crisis, the incoming Obama administration has put the global warming agenda — and all its dangers for our economy — at center stage. The effects of the would-be policies are likely to be much longer lasting and have far greater impact on U.S. life and economy.
Europe was supposed to be the Great Green Hope for the environmental alarmists, the only credible balancing force against the “irresponsible” and “crass capitalism” of the U.S., which refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol on carbon emissions. Many of Obama’s supporters invoke Europe as the model to emulate. But the results of the recent EU Climate Summit in Poland showed that hope to be misplaced.
Europe’s scepticism and its rejection of radical short-term environmental-economic policy revisions should be a cautionary signal to Obama and Congress.
In July, the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change chair, Rajendra Pachauri, called on the E.U. to "show the way" to the rest of the world. If the EU did not do so, Pachauri said, "[A]ll attempts to manage the problem of climate change will collapse." The summit meeting in Poland was supposed to translate the EU’s ambitious target of 20 percent cuts in carbon emissions by 2020 (compared with 1990 levels) into hard-nosed legally binding agreements. In the end, the EU leadership approved a document full of escape clauses.
While EU leaders said the deal was “an example for the world,” environmental groups deemed it a betrayal of the EU’s efforts to fight climate change. The World Wildlife Fund, among others, called upon the EU Parliament to refuse major parts of the deal. They especially demanded the rejection of the raft of exemptions from the cap-and-trade scheme. The EU Parliament wasn’t listening. It duly ratified the deal.
Denying that the deal significantly watered down pre-conference goals, EU leaders now hope they have done enough to convince the U.S., India, China, and others to follow suit. But even a cursory review reveals the claims don’t stack up.
The deal commits Europe to cutting carbon dioxide emissions by varying national reduction targets throughout the 27 member states. The cap-and-trade scheme, which presently issues free carbon credits to industry, will require industries and power stations to buy their permits beginning in 2013. But to achieve a consensus, the EU attendees were forced to agree to all sorts of exemptions. Chief among them was bowing to German pressure to exempt most heavy industries from paying for permits.
An exodus of heavy industry from German soil had persuaded Chancellor Angela Merkel to make this request non-negotiable. Poland, with 94 percent of its industry dependent on coal-fired power stations, along with other eastern European countries, demanded large discounts. They got them. So what about other European industries who feel so threatened by the deal they may leave for foreign, “less stringent” emission refuges? No problem. The fail-safe for them is written in too. All they have to do to gain exemption is threaten to leave European soil.
Most critical of all is a revision clause — insisted upon by the Italians — which makes the new EU climate deal entirely conditional on a consensus agreement being reached at next year’s Copenhagen conference. Failure there — and it is hard to see any consensus — would simply lead to more watering down of European commitments.
The environmental alarmists are hugely critical of the result. Writing recently in the Wall Street Journal, Benny Peiser, professor at John Moores University in Liverpool and editor of the international science policy network, CCNet, says “The EU climate deal was diluted beyond recognition.” Of the 20 percent emissions cut targeted for 2020, Peiser states, “The actual reductions might be as trivial as 4 percent if all the exemptions are factored in.” Colin Butfield of the World Wide Fund for Nature put it succinctly: “EU politicians may be hoping to trumpet the deal on climate change as a great success, but in reality this is a significant failure.”
Carbon emissions rose in Europe last year. And few of the Kyoto signatories have succeeded in reducing their carbon dioxide emissions over the past decade, even before the global economic crisis took a hand. The downturn caused a complete collapse in the price of carbon credits and now threatens the viability of future EU Emission Trading Schemes.
The writing was on the wall in the months running up to the EU Summit. By the time the conference opened, European states, especially Germany, Italy, Poland and Eastern European states, were lining up, carbon dioxide “sicknotes” in hand, to renegotiate their targets. That’s not surprising. In October, Germany and Italy, Europe’s leading manufacturers, declared that any cap-and-trade measures should not "weigh on the economy." Italy estimates the cost of complying with its imposed target will be about $32 billion a year. New research concludes that Germany could lose around 300,000 jobs by 2020. German industrialists have openly called for a moratorium on the climate package.
Poland and at least eight other eastern European countries with coal-dependent power stations have long lobbied against forced emissions cuts. Even some last-minute carrot dangling by France, offering the prospect of millions of Euros of free carbon emission allowances (halving their emission allowance quota until 2016) failed to head off the fears of the eastern European nations. France and Austria, too, asked the EU to ease their national targets burden.
The EU and the U.N. are both eager to achieve emissions reductions agreements. Both see a global energy-climate consensus as pivotal to a planet-saving enterprise orchestrated and led by them. But any consensus on carbon cuts is being threatened by the renaissance of coal. The U.K. is considering building six new coal-fired power stations. And while Brussels may prefer that Russia, Poland, the U.K., Germany and the others leave their coal in the ground, the need for European energy diversity and the EU’s push for more (carbon dioxide-neutral) nuclear power is working against it. Some 40 coal-fired plants are planned across Europe over the next five years with 27 planned for Germany alone.
Meanwhile, China is bringing online one coal-fired power plant a week. India is industrialising using coal-fired power. The World Bank has been investing in coal projects around the world during the last year. Clean or otherwise, King Coal is set to continue punching massive holes in global carbon emission targets. In a market where carbon prices have already collapsed, just imagine the scale of the carbon taxes for which these burgeoning state industries would be liable if a Kyoto model was adopted. All of which puts the EU’s paltry carbon cutting efforts in perspective.
For Kyoto-style accords to succeed, carbon emission targets must be binding and deals meaningful — and if not in an ideologically committed Europe, then where? No wonder the EU and U.N. fear their over-weaning political ambitions through global carbon governance may, literally, be going up in smoke.