Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Kyoto Protocol: Why the U.S. must ratify the climate change pact

As the U.S. continues to drag its feet on the Kyoto treaty, a fierce debate continues worldwide about the efficacy, fairness and even the very need of the climate change pact. As is the norm with any hotly contested issue, a lot of misinformation is being thrown around with regards to the Kyoto plan for tackling global warming.

An article in the American Thinker reports:

If we look at carbon dioxide emissions data and compare 2004 (latest year for which data is available) to 1997 (last year before the Kyoto treaty was signed), we find the following:

  • Emissions worldwide increased 18 percent.
  • Emissions from countries that signed the treaty increased 21 percent.
  • Emissions from non-signers increased 10 percent.
  • Emissions from the U.S. increased 6.6 percent.

By providing statistics showing that countries that signed the Kyoto treaty went on to be worse emissions offenders than countries that didn’t, the author is trying to argue that countries that signed the Kyoto treaty aren’t putting their money where their mouth is.

But a more careful look at the same table (#1317) that American Thinker derived its startling statistics from suggests something else.

American Thinker was content with simply comparing country emissions levels in two randomly plucked years, 1997 and 2004. When I examined emissions levels for a group of years before 1997 with those for a few years after 1997, I got very different results.

Comparing the pre-Kyoto period of 1991-1997 to the post-Kyoto period of 1997-2004, I find that:

  • Emissions worldwide increased 11.76 percent.
  • Emissions from countries that signed the treaty increased 11.65 percent.
  • Emissions from non-signers increased 12.01 percent.
  • Emissions from the U.S. increased 9.55 percent.

From these figures, it becomes obvious that American Thinker’s sensational results were being driven merely by data from two randomly chosen, unrepresentative and idiosyncratic years.

Their report also overlooked the fact that 27 of the thirty-odd countries that have not ratified the Kyoto treaty are responsible for less than 0.1% of the world’s total carbon dioxide emissions as measured in 1980 (same table). When measured as a percentage of today’s higher emissions levels, these countries’ contribution drops even further! When the non-signers group has this many countries which produce such little emissions, of course the rate of increase is going to be very low.

All countries that are serious polluters and therefore need to cut back on emissions have committed to doing so, except for the U.S. Some dissenters may point out that even using the figures above, the performance of signers versus non-signers isn’t anything to write home about.

It is true that there is no significant difference between the emissions growth in the countries that signed the Kyoto treaty and those that didn’t sign it. But that’s because while the emissions data is only available up until 2004, Kyoto went into force in most of the countries only in the year 2005 or later.

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