The Heritage Foundation’s Steven Groves and Ben Lieberman are live at the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference reporting from a conservative perspective. Follow their reports on The Foundry and at the Copenhagen Consequences Web site.
There is plenty of anti-U.S. sentiment on display here in Copenhagen as we begin the crucial final week of the United Nations climate change conference. Representatives of developing nations brand Americans as energy hogs – enjoying a high standard of living while contributing disproportionately to the global warming damage that will affect everyone else. Thus, these nations argue for tougher U.S. emissions targets while retaining exemptions for themselves. The developing world is not alone in their criticisms – European and other developed nations also chastise America for not being a party to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, the existing global warming treaty. The representatives of the 191 non-U.S. nations here may not be unanimous about very much but they all seem to agree on one thing – America needs to do a lot more.
EPA administrator Lisa Jackson seemingly conceded some of these points in her December 9th speech here when she said that the Obama administration is “fighting to make up for lost time,” and that “this administration will not ignore the science any longer, nor will we avoid the responsibility we owe to our children and grandchildren.”
Of course, it is typical for the U.S. to get badmouthed on the international stage and for the rest of the world to demand big sacrifices from America. It is also fairly harmless – unless American negotiators start believing these misleading claims and act accordingly.
America was the largest emitter of greenhouse gasses during the 20th century, but emissions from China and other fast-developing nations have more than caught up and are growing many times faster than ours. Thus, the practical reality is that even if the U.S. were to agree to stringent new targets, continued exemptions for the developing world means that a treaty would do little to change the trajectory of future emissions. In other words, blaming America does not lead to sensible policy.
Indeed, one of the key flaws to the Kyoto Protocol, which the U.S. never ratified, was that it exempted China and other developing nations. European criticism of America for staying out of Kyoto is also unfair. For one thing, the Kyoto Protocol included provisions beneficial to European nations but detrimental to the U.S. For example, Kyoto uses 1990 as the baseline year for emissions reduction targets, even though the treaty was signed in 1997 and went into force in 2005. Some key European nations saw their emissions decline between 1990 and 1997 for reasons unrelated to global warming (Britain reduced coal use in favor of natural gas, West Germany absorbed East Germany and shut down much of its inefficient heavy industry). The use of the 1990 baseline does not help the U.S., and despite being nearly 20 years out of date, Europe still wants to stick with it. Kyoto also does not take into account population growth, thus developed nations with growing populations like the U.S. would have more difficulty meeting Kyoto-style emissions targets than European nations, many of which have stagnant populations.
Even with these pro-European provisions, many Kyoto signatories have not reduced their emissions under the treaty. Indeed, the U.S. has done better reducing its emissions outside the Kyoto Protocol than many Kyoto insiders, and better than the European Union overall.
The good news is that U.S. chief climate negotiator Todd Stern has been saying some of the right things about the need for meaningful developing world participation and that the Kyoto approach needs improvement. But we will have to see if the final agreement manages to avoid any disproportionate burdens on the American people.