A Free-Market Energy Blog

UN Chiefs see Glimmer of Reality but Remain Wedded to Dangerous Fantasy

By -- February 5, 2009

Can there be a Kyoto II without China, India, and the other developing countries getting on board with significant greenhouse-gas emissions reductions? Voices of realism, knowing that consumer and economic factors drive public opinion, doubt it. But there are less realistic voices too.

Background: A key issue in the post-Kyoto negotiations leading up to the November–December 15th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (aka COP 15), taking place in Copenhagen, is whether major emerging economies such as China and India will agree to adopt quantified emission limitations. This has been a bone of contention since COP 1 in 1992 and really heated up in the COP 3 negotiations that produced the Kyoto Protocol.

Climate wonks will recall that President Clinton declined to submit the Kyoto treaty to the U.S. Senate for a ratification vote, because the Senate preemptively rejected Kyoto when, in July 1997, it voted 95–0 in favor of the Byrd-Hagel resolution. Byrd-Hagel stipulated that the United States should not be a signatory to any agreement negotiated in Kyoto that would exempt developing countries from “specific, scheduled commitments to limit or reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

Earlier this week, questioned by long-time Kyoto critic Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), EU Ambassador John Bruton said that both the EU and U.S. publics would probably reject a Kyoto II that excludes China from binding emission limitations.

However, China and India continue to oppose emission limitations as inimical to their development (see here and here). No surprise there. But it was newsworthy when the two Asian giants received qualified support this week from Yvo de Boer, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, and Rajenda K. Pachauri, Chairman of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Pachauri told an Indian audience: “Of course, the developing countries will be exempted from any such restrictions but the developed countries will certainly have to cut down on emission[s].” De Boer opined: “I don’t think it’s possible for developing countries like China and India to cut emissions or say reduce emissions, it is not realistic.”

On the other hand, de Boer believes it is “feasible and essential” for India and China to limit the growth of their emissions provided “international finance is made available” (i.e., industrialized countries pay for it). Here he lapses back into fantasy. With the U.S., European, and Japanese economies all in serious trouble, it is difficult to imagine public opinion supporting huge wealth transfers to India and China.

More important, despite their bow of deference to reality, de Boer and Pachauri cling to the illusion that the EU/IPCC objective of reducing global greenhouse gas emissions 50% below current levels poses no serious economic risk to developing countries.

Achieving this goal would require developing countries to make extreme sacrifices, because most of the growth in global emissions is projected to occur in the developing world. EIA’s 2008 International Energy Outlook forecasts that energy-related CO2 emissions in OECD countries will increase from 14 billion tons in 2005 to 16 billion tons in 2030—a 14% increase. In contrast, non-OECD energy-related CO2 emissions increase from 14 billion tons in 2005 to 27 billion tons in 2030—a 92% increase. Similarly, IEA’s 2008 World Energy Outlook forecasts that global energy-related CO2 emissions will increase from 28 billion tons in 2006 to 41 billion in 2030, with three-quarters of the projected increase occurring in China, India, and the Middle East, and 97% occurring in non-OECD countries as a whole.

Former chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality James Connaughton provided a sobering assessment of the EU/IPCC proposal in late 2007 at the “Major Emitters” meeting in Washington, D.C. From 2005 to 2095, combined energy-related CO2 emissions from the United States, Europe, Canada, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and the Former Soviet Union are projected to remain nearly flat under current policies. In contrast, developing country CO2 emissions are projected to increase from 14 billion tons in 2005 to about 36 billion tons in 2050 and 66 billion tons in 2095.

What these numbers imply is that achieving a 50% reduction in global emissions by mid-century is impossible unless developing countries hold their emissions almost constant over the next four decades. Even if industrialized countries reduce their net emissions to zero by 2050, achieving a 50% cut in global emissions would require major developing country emitters—China, India, South Africa, Mexico, Brazil, and Indonesia—to reduce their CO2 emissions to below 2005 levels.

Breakthroughs that dramatically decrease the cost of providing zero-emission energy could in theory make it possible to meet the UN/IPCC goal without putting developing countries in an economic straitjacket. But it is in the nature of breakthroughs that they elude planning or prediction.

A morsel of realism is better than none, but Pachauri and de Boer remain wedded to an agenda that imperils the future of mankind.


  1. jae  

    I made a comment, but it did not appear. Was it censored? Does your system work? What?


  2. jae  

    Oh, I guess the comments do work. As I recall, what I tried to post earlier is the thought that Pachauri and de Boer can remain out there in la-la land and remain as idealistic as they want, since they have no responsibility to anyone. Obama’s decisions will have big consequences to the very survival of many people and, therefore, have to be based on something other than the IPCC’s fairy-tales. We could cut a hell of a lot of CO2 emissions by just getting rid of the useless UN and the jet-set that surrounds it.


  3. Ed Reid  


    This post ate a comment of mine as well.


  4. TokyoTom  

    “Breakthroughs that dramatically decrease the cost of providing zero-emission energy could in theory make it possible to meet the UN/IPCC goal without putting developing countries in an economic straitjacket. But it is in the nature of breakthroughs (and their implementation) that they are spurred by incentives.”

    There. Fixed that for you.


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