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Kyoto Treaty: Pointless Promises

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Next month, the greatest athletes in the world will visit Beijing for the Olympic Games. Undoubtedly they’ll set new records in plenty of sports.

But after the stars go home, China (which has cut back industrial production in an effort to clear the air ahead of the Olympics) will go back to setting a dubious record of its own: It’s the greatest emitter of carbon dioxide on earth.

China’s CO2 emissions rose 8 percent last year, after jumping more than 11 percent in each of the two previous years. According to a Dutch study, China alone accounted for two-thirds of the growth in global greenhouse-gas emissions in 2007, and its current lead over the United States in such emissions is only expected to grow.

Contrast that with our environmental record.

The U.S. government estimates that energy-related carbon dioxide emissions increased by just 1.6 percent in 2007, after dropping 1.5 percent the year before. The growth in our emissions is less than the growth of our Gross Domestic Product, meaning we’ve improved the economy while reducing the growth in our emissions.

And we’re doing that without being part of the Kyoto treaty.

That 1997 agreement requires the 37 countries that signed it to slash emissions by a combined 5.2 percent below 1990 levels by 2012. But the treaty is a pipe dream. Instead of falling, the U.N. reported that such emissions are nearing “an all-time high.” Greenhouse gas emissions from the Kyoto signers increased 2.6 percent between 2000 and 2005.

Signing Kyoto may allow a country to claim it’s a good “global citizen,” but many of those citizens aren’t keeping their promises. The U.N. reports Kyoto signers Austria, New Zealand and Canada have all increased their emissions over 1990 levels -- by 14, 23 and 54 percent, respectively.

In fact, the U.N. admits that the only reason the world might meet Kyoto’s goal (a 5 percent reduction from 1990 emissions levels by 2012) is because the economies of so many Eastern European economies collapsed when the Iron Curtain fell. In other words, only a domestic recession will allow the planet to hit Kyoto’s target.

Lawmakers understand this point, too.

The Senate recently considered the Lieberman-Warner climate-change bill, which would have set a limit on the emissions of greenhouse gases, mostly CO2 from the burning of coal, oil and natural gas. The bill would have mandated that emissions freeze at 2005 levels in 2012, then plunge. It demanded an unreasonable -- and probably impossible -- 70 percent reduction by 2050.

As energy analyst Ben Lieberman -- no relation to the author of the bill -- noted, “It is hard to think of any economic activity that does not involve energy, and there is not one that would not be made more expensive by Lieberman-Warner.” An assessment of the bill by Heritage Foundation experts showed it would slash our national GDP by at least $1.7 trillion by the year 2030.

Killing the economy for an -- at best -- 0.07 degrees Celsius reduction in global temperatures by 2050 (what Kyoto promises) makes no sense. Economic growth has lifted millions of people out of poverty. That’s why developing countries, including China and India, are scrambling to increase their growth rates, not diminish them. The U.S. can’t afford to cut our growth, either.

The United Nations is pressing all countries to approve a new Kyoto agreement. That pact is supposed to be signed in Denmark next year. But what’s the point of a new Kyoto, when the old one is useless?

Instead of making vague promises, we should focus on proven policies.

We can reduce pollution by generating growth. No one wants to live on a dirty planet, but only people with high enough standards of living have the leisure time to worry about the environment. We also need to build more nuclear power plants, to generate electricity with zero CO2 emissions.

The world doesn’t need a new Kyoto -- the treaty that accomplished nothing but takes the gold medal for uselessness and hypocrisy.

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