One Year Later, Kyoto-Enthusiasts Struggle to Meet Targets

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:17 PM EDT

( - Europe's top environment official marked the one-year anniversary of the Kyoto Protocol on Thursday by accusing the U.S. of not doing enough to combat climate change -- despite the fact that many of the treaty's most enthusiastic supporters have done significantly worse than America in dealing with "greenhouse gas" emissions.

The U.S. rejected Kyoto, saying the treaty's emission-reduction targets would harm the American economy and workers. Instead the U.S. is exploring alternatives with Asia-Pacific partners focusing on developing cleaner technology.

"The U.S. still thinks that technology will find the answer," the Associated Press quoted European Union (E.U.) environment commissioner Stavros Dimas as telling reporters in Brussels. "But we know we need [emission] reductions."

Washington says it shares the Kyoto goal of reducing emissions of CO2 and other pollutants blamed for climate change, but that its partnership with China, Japan, South Korea, India and Australia is a better way to achieve it.

Environmental groups are highly skeptical of the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate, calling it an attempt by the U.S. and Australia to undermine Kyoto.

The State Department said last week the initiative "will complement, but not replace, the Kyoto Protocol."

The protocol was signed in 1997 and entered into force one year ago after the required number of countries ratified it. It commits industrialized nations to cut their emissions by an average of five percent from their 1990 levels, by 2012.

National targets were set for individual countries, with the U.S., the world's biggest polluter, set a target of reducing emissions by seven percent from their 1990 levels.

Other targets included a six percent cut for Japan and Canada, and an eight percent aggregate reduction for the E.U.'s then 15 member states, each of which also had its own, national, target.

(Major polluters China and India were exempted from emission-reduction targets, on the grounds they were considered developing rather than industrialized countries. Their exemption was another issue of concern cited by the U.S. as well as Australia, which followed the U.S. in rejecting Kyoto.)

'Dead end'

In the U.S., figures released by the Energy Information Administration at the end of 2004 showed that emissions had risen by 13.4 percent from 1990 levels.

But according to 2003 figures cited by Friends of the Earth Europe this week, some countries which, unlike the U.S., do have legally binding Kyoto targets are doing as badly, or even worse.

For instance, Austria was set a Kyoto target of -13 percent, but emissions are running at +16.6 percent. Italy's target was -6.5 percent, and its actual emissions are +11.6 percent. Others that are off target include Belgium, the Netherlands and Spain, while France, Britain and Germany are nearer to being on track.

Compared to the aggregate -8 percent target for the E.U.'s then 15 member states, the actual situation is -1.7.

"If current trends continue, Europe will not meet its Kyoto target," the green group said, adding that "if emission levels continue to develop as they did over the last three years, the [15 E.U. members'] emissions in 2010 will be +2.8 percent above of what they were in 1990."

Other industrialized countries with Kyoto targets are doing no better. Canada was set a target of -6 percent but is emitting +24 percent of its 1990 levels. Japan's target is -6 percent, and emissions are running at +7.4 percent.

New Zealand's government announced in mid-2005 that it would be unable to meet its Kyoto commitment -- a target of no change from 1990 levels -- and the country was warned that compliance would cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.

In Washington, the Competitive Enterprise Institute said Kyoto's future looked bleak, as countries that have agreed to cut their emissions realize the costs involved.

"Even as they damage their economies with limits on energy use, emissions continue to go up," said Myron Ebell, the institute's director of energy and global warming policy.

"The sooner that Kyoto's supporters realize that it's a dead end, the better off the world will be."

CEI senior fellow Iain Murray said the international community should drop Kyoto and work on alternatives -- like the Asia-Pacific partnership -- "that will build resiliency and deploy new energy technologies."

The U.N. body behind the Kyoto Protocol, the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), said in a statement to mark the Kyoto anniversary that industrialized nations "can still reach their legally-binding emissions targets" if they take extra measures.

"More is needed," said UNFCC acting head Richard Kinley.

Extra measures include mechanism permitted under Kyoto whereby industrialized countries can earn "credits" to offset their own emissions by investing in sustainable development projects in developing countries.

Heavy polluters can also buy "credits" for cash from countries that do not emit as much.

Subscribe to the free daily E-Brief.

Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow