Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Off Target on Kyoto

The Globe & Mail reports that Canada is way, way off their emissions targets for reductions in greenhouse gases as laid out in the Kyoto Protocol. Rather than being 6% below 1990 levels (the goal), Canada is 24% up. Anybody that is surprised by this story is incredibly naive about what Kyoto could ever (or will ever) achieve. Kyoto was a shitty deal in many ways, and some countries (i.e. Canada) got screwed in the negotiations. Much is made in the article about how great Germany and Great Britain are doing (both are meeting their targets). But these countries would have been at or near those emissions levels even without Kyoto. The deregulation of the coal industry in the UK and massive structural changes in the German economy since 1990 have completely changed how they produce energy, and therefore, their emissions of greenhouse gases. Canada is faced with a much higher cost curve for emissions reductions than most countries because so much of the county's energy comes from hydropower, which does not produce greenhouse gases. The least-cost method of reducing emissions for most developed countries is to convert coal-fired plants to natural gas. Which is good for the US, the UK, and Germany, where coal is a major power producer - but it isn't very significant in Canada, and therefore makes finding relatively painless reductions much more difficult. The timeline for Kyoto was also unreasonably ambitious. I would have preferred to see a more distant goal with stronger reductions to allow for the natural turnover of capital machinery to move to greater efficiency at a lower costs.

My biggest concerns with Kyoto are that as subsequent treaties are discussed, a couple of problems will arise because of the ineffectiveness of this initial agreement. First, certain countries will be seen as incredibly virtuous (i.e. the UK) even though they achieved their reductions in emissions for reasons completely unrelated to Kyoto. Which they can then hold over the heads of countries who did not meet the rediculously ambitious goals set by the Protocol for countries like Canada. This will just make the negotiations more political (which is just what we don't need). And if Canada or the US actually do try and meet their commitments, it will impose some significant costs on the economy. If those costs are seen as excessive by the public, support for subsequent treaties will be even more sparse than it is right now. Kyoto in and of itself does next to nothing for climate change, so it needed to set realistic goals that could be built upon in the future rather than try to make a bold political statement. Which is what happened, and it's a mistake we shouldn't make again.


Post a Comment

<< Home