Bali Blues

by William Yeatman on December 14, 2007

“With time running out at the United Nations climate change conference in Bali [the conference ends tomorrow], there's no sign of a deadlock being broken in negotiations over how the world should fight global warming,” reports Radio Netherlands Worldwide.

Representatives from more than 190 countries are negotiating a “Roadmap” document to establish the goals of negotiations over the next two years to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which expires at the end of 2012. The European Union wants the “Bali Roadmap” to call for industrial countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions 25-40% by 2020. The United States, in contrast, opposes the inclusion of any numerical targets in the Roadmap document.

Some environmental groups accuse the United States of trying to derail the climate negotiations. In fact, as U.S. climate negotiator Harlan Watson has explained many times, the United States thinks it is inappropriate to adopt a “Roadmap” that “prejudges” and “prejudices” the outcome of negotiations over the next two years.

The subtext of Watson’s remarks, I believe, is that it is inappropriate to begin the negotiations with goals and commitments that ignore economic and technological reality. The typical European response to their own failure to meet unrealistic environmental objectives is to propose even more unrealistic objectives. Bjorn Lomborg, author of Cool It! explained Europe’s lack of realism in a recent interview with Monica Trauzzi of E&E TV:

Monica Trauzzi: But if you have a goal in sight, then you can work towards it.

Bjorn Lomborg: Yes, but the problem is, look at the goals that we've had so far. Before Kyoto in 1992 we actually had the Rio summit, where we said we were going to cut emissions by 2000 to 1990 levels. We overshot that by 12 percent. Then in Kyoto we said, all right, let's make it harder. It didn't work out very well the first time. Let's try to make it harder. So in 1997 we said, all right, we're going to reduce it below 1990 levels by 2010. We're probably going to overshoot that by about 25 percent. It seems likely to me to say we're going to do that again and again, simply because it's very costly. Look at Tony Blair, arguably the primary mover on climate change over the last 10 years; he came into office in 1997 together with the Kyoto Protocol. He said, “Britain is going to cut another 15 percent of its emissions by 2010.” Since then, they've increased 3 percent. So it's very easy to say, but it's actually very hard to do.

Lomborg sensibly concludes that the world will not reduce emissions until reducing emissions is cheap. He therefore argues that governments around the world, instead of negotiating arbitrary emission reduction targets that nobody can afford to meet, invest in R&D to develop technologies that can produce affordable energy without emissions. Come to think of it, that’s very similar to the Bush administration’s approach to global warming.

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