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Gaming Emissions In The Eu

For six months, Europe has been surreptitiously floating a revision to its early and enthusiastic dedication to the Kyoto treaty, which it embraced in 1994 and ratified in 2002. The pledge then committed Europe to a reduction in emissions below 1990 levels; today, however, folks at the European Commission--worried about the body's sluggish pace on its emissions goals for 2020--are trying to move the goalposts, to reducing emissions based not on 1990, but on 2005 levels. Why? According to the Japan Times:

In the 15-year period between 1990 and 2005, the EU-15 managed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by only 2 percent, and it is now obvious that the EU-15 will not fulfill its Kyoto commitment. Only five of the EU-15 countries are on track to meet their targets. The EU-15 could, under the best of circumstances, reduce its emissions by 4.6 percent by 2010.

Just your standard bait and switch--right?--in service of a governing body caught ass-out shorting a cause they've used as a bludgeon against the barbaric United States (which has yet to acknowledge Kyoto). But the new accounting may have more troubling motivations:

The EU-12 — the new members admitted in 2004 — have been outperforming the EU-15. The new members have not agreed to a collective Kyoto goal, but as a group they are projected to reduce emissions relative to 1990 by around 20 percent by 2010.

Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia have, for example, managed to more than halve their 1990 emissions by 2005. This can partly be attributed to the collapse of heavily polluting Soviet-style industry. But, in changing the base year for absolute emission levels from 1990 to 2005, the commission also seems to be trying to cover up the EU-15's failure while pushing excessively large reduction targets onto the EU member states that are already the most environmentally efficient.

So the new guys are showing up the old country--and big time. I wrote about the difficulties of simultaneous greening among developing, industrial and post-industrial economies last week. The intra-EU struggles are a case in point. I contend that developing countries of the Estonian model--like Senegal, India or Brazil--are actually at an advantage when it comes to new and more efficient energy technologies that arrive "too late" for older, more industrial neighbors. Further, I note: 

there are interesting models within Kyoto that address this issue of uneven greening—such as the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), a program whose mandate was written into Kyoto in 1997….[which] "allows developed countries to meet part of their reduction targets by investing in projects to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases produced in developing countries. Every tonne of greenhouse gas not emitted by a CDM–approved project in a developing country is assigned one Carbon Emission Reduction credit (CER). These CERs can then be bought and sold, much like corporate stocks, and can be used by developed countries to meet their emissions targets."

But the idea that innovations flow only from developed nations seems a halfway assumption; sure, advanced clean tech is predominantly wealthy and western--but are the less developed nations not fine incubators for implementation? Rather than reviling or ignoring the European Commission's fuzzy math, perhaps the thing to do is have more environmentally-savvy EU nations stick to their 1990-based goals (or improve them!) while exporting best practices (and CERs?) to the dinosaurs of western Europe that most need them. 

Incidentally, this is also an argument against the guilt-industrial complex that can pervade environmental circles, which allows entities like the European Commission to feel pressure to do such wacky accounting, while not acknowledging how incredibly difficult it is to amass meaningful regulatory and behavioral changes across such a diverse political and cultural landscape. As usual, more nuanced thinking is in order.

--Dayo Olopade