Hits Germany for shutting its nukes, Spain for over-investing in renewables, and France for not fracking — but still urges a carbon tax for the U.S.
To its (partial) credit, the WaPo never thought Kyoto would work. Below is an editorial circa the Kyoto negotiations.
Not Yet a Treaty
December 12, 1997, Washington Post
THE CLIMATE CHANGE agreement reached in Kyoto is both more and less than the Clinton administration suggests. The industrialized nations of the world, including the United States, agreed to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases to about 7 percent below 1990 levels by sometime between 2008 and 2012. That may not sound like much, and it may not sound like soon. But greenhouse gases — carbon dioxide and five others — come from burning oil, gas and coal, and as such are intimately connected to almost every aspect of daily life — heating, air conditioning, driving, manufacturing. And the United States, if it stays on its current path, will be 34 percent above 1990 levels by the year 2010. That means a 7 percent reduction is actually a reduction of more than a third. Nothing in the administration’s record during the past five years has laid the groundwork for such a radical change, and President Clinton’s proposed five-year, $ 5 billion program of tax incentives and research subsidies is small potatoes next to the dramatic transformation implied by the Kyoto promise.
That’s why, all along, the administration acknowledged that some kind of binding targets would be needed — the certainty that energy use will become more expensive, or at least that the differential between wasteful and efficient energy use will grow. That’s where the Kyoto pact as it now exists seems to us more modest than some of the claims being made for it, at least so far. Vice President Gore yesterday referred to the agreement as “historic,” saying “the nations of the world agreed” “to take strong, binding action against global warming.” But only some of them did — the industrialized countries — and what they signed on to is only half a treaty, which is to say not yet a treaty at all.
The administration went to Kyoto with three principal goals: targets for greenhouse-gas reductions that were far more modest than those proposed by the European Union or Japan; a mechanism for reaching those targets that would depend on market incentives, not government fiat; and a promise from developing countries to “meaningfully participate” in any climate-change scheme. In the end, the United States gave some ground on the targets, though it didn’t go as far as Europe wanted; it got agreement in principle to establish a market mechanism, but no agreement on how that would work; and it got no agreement whatever from developing countries. Without progress on the second two elements, the Senate will never ratify a treaty, and the administration is wise enough not to submit one for ratification. And until then, of course, the “binding” targets don’t become binding.
These realities do not mean, as some Republican senators would have it, that the half-treaty is without value and should be rejected right away. It’s no small thing that the world’s industrialized nations — the world’s major polluters — have promised in principle to reduce their greenhouse-gas emissions and to be held accountable for their promises. The European Union’s acceptance, after years of skepticism, of the idea of market mechanisms also represents progress. The administration has pledged to keep working on the treaty — to secure the involvement of developing countries, among other matters — and it should be given a chance to do so.
In the meantime, what’s most important is the measures the United States takes at home. The United States is far and away the world’s biggest polluter, especially on a per capita basis; with 4 percent of the world’s people, this country produces more than a fifth of its greenhouse gas. During the coming decades, that kind of wasteful, inefficient behavior could indeed have dire consequences for the world’s climate. There’s much that government and industry could do together to change this pattern without harming the economy; many measures, such as utility deregulation, could actually help the economy while making it more efficient. Progress in this direction would really be historic.