Counting Coup for CO2

New numbers for US vs. European CO2 growth have been making the rounds, based on a Wall Street Journal article today.  Jonathon Adler at Volokh has the key numbers for CO2 growth rates:

U.S. E.U.
1990-1995 6.4% -2.2%
1995-2000 10.1% 2.2%
2000-2004 2.1% 4.5%

The Wall Street Journal tries to make the point that maybe the US somehow has a better approach to CO2 reduction.  Here is the reality:  Neither the US or the EU has done anything of substance to really reduce CO2 production, because at the end of the day no one can tolerate the political and economic costs associated with severe reduction using current technology.

But there is a story in these numbers.  That story goes back to the crafting of the Kyoto treaty, and  sheds an interesting light on what EU negotiators were really trying to achieve.

The Kyoto Treaty called for signatories to roll back CO2 emissions to 1990 levels.  Since Kyoto was signed in the late nineties, one was immediately led to wonder, why 1990?  Why not just freeze levels in place as they were currently?

The reason for the 1990 date was all about counting coup on the United States.  The date was selected by the European negotiators who dominated the treaty process specifically to minimize the burden on Europe and maximize the burden on the US.  Look at the numbers above.  The negotiators had the 1990-1995 numbers in hand when they crafted the treaty and had a good sense of what the 1995-2000 numbers would look like.  They knew that at that point in time, getting to 1990 levels for the EU was no work -- they were already there -- and that it would be a tremendous burden for the US.  Many holier-than-thou folks in this country have criticized the US for not signing Kyoto.  But look at what we were handed to sign - a document that at the point of signing put no burden on the EU, little burden on Japan, no burden on the developing world, and tremendous burden on the US.  We were handed a loaded gun and asked to shoot ourselves with it.  Long before Bush drew jeers for walking away from the treaty, the Senate voted 99-0 not to touch the thing until it was changed.

But shouldn't the European's get some credit for the 1990-1995 reduction?  Not really.  The reduction came from several fronts unrelated to actions to reduce CO2:

  • The European and Japanese economies were absolutely on their backs, reducing economic growth which drives CO2 growth.  I have not looked up the numbers, but the 1990s are probably the time of the biggest negative differential for the European vs. US economy in my lifetime.
  • The British were phasing out the use of carbon-heavy domestic coals for a variety of reasons unrelated to carbon dioxide production.
  • German reunification had just occurred, so tons of outdated Soviet inefficient and polluting industrial plant had just entered the EU, and was expected to be shut down and modernized for economic reasons over the 1990's.  The negotiators went out of their way to make sure they picked a date when all this mess was in their base number, making it easier to hit their target.
  • The 1990 also puts Russia in the base.  Since 1990, as the negotiators knew, the Russian economy had contracted significantly.
  • At the same time the American economy was going gangbusters, causing great envy among Europeans.

Kyoto was carefully crafted to make America look like the bad guy.  The European's goal was to craft treaty responsibilities that would require no real effort in Europe, with most of the burden carried by the US.  But times change, and the game is catching up with them.

  • dearieme

    Usually I find that this-is-a-conspiracy-against-America arguments are tripe, but I believe that you are entirely right about this. Just another reason why Britain should leave the EU.

  • Ray G

    It's always baffled me that seemingly intelligent people can follow current events and not understand the machinations behind such things as this.

    The news in this post is not entirely new; the bulk of the proof against Kyoto all along has been the convenient timing of their set date, 1990. Now we have some more numbers to back up the proof of what a sham it has been all the while, but it's not new, and the media at large will little to no notice.

  • Ryan Cupples

    I'd probably agree with you on the speculation, but is there any other further evidence that you'd have that this was definitely orchestrated with this in mind? I don't doubt that they would do that, but it's still only speculation.

    Interesting observation.

  • Craig

    The fact that only two European countries (UK and Sweden) are anywhere near their Kyoto targets should prove to anyone that the whole treaty is a joke. These are the same countries that enforce strict entry requirements onto Eastern European countries who want to join the EU, but then ignore the rules themselves (most notably France and Germany). In fact, pretty much everything Europe does these days, with the exception of British antiterrorism activities, is worthless.