Posted by: bmeverett | November 18, 2009

Europe’s Big Lie


Last week the European Environment Agency (EEA) published a report (ISSN 1725-9177) entitled “Greenhouse gas emission trends and projections in Europe 2009” updating the EU’s progress toward meeting its Kyoto targets. The press release accompanying the report claims, “A report by the European Environment Agency released today shows that the European Union and all Member States but one are on track to meet their Kyoto Protocol commitments to limit and reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.” Really? Let’s take a look.
The Kyoto Protocol was negotiated in 1997. Although President Clinton never submitted the treaty for ratification by the Senate, the EU and its member states signed and ratified the Treaty, which went into force on February 16, 2005. The pre-1995 EU members (known as the EU-15 and including Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal. Spain, Sweden and the UK) made a legally binding commitment to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 8% compared to the base year of 1990. These reductions were to be achieved by no later than 2012. They therefore have three years left out of 15 years covered by the treaty.
The EEA establishes the base year greenhouse gas emissions for the EU-15 at 4,266 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent. Their 8% reduction therefore requires a cut of 341 million tons.
The first neat trick the Europeans pulled was the selection of 1990 as the base year. During the 1990s, both Germany and the UK restructured their energy industries to replace coal with natural gas. Coal in the US is one of the most inexpensive sources of energy. Not so in Europe, where high-cost coal was produced for many years solely to avoid the unemployment that would result from closing coal mines. After a while, the cost became simply too high in the UK and West Germany. In addition, German reunification brought with it the massively expensive, inefficient and environmentally disastrous East German brown coal industry. These restructurings were economically imperative, and neither had anything to do with greenhouse gas emissions. Nonetheless, the EU gets credit under the peculiar terms of Kyoto. How much credit? 164 mt CO2 equivalent for Germany and 68 mt CO2 equivalent for the UK. In other words, two-thirds of the total EU Kyoto obligation had been met by the time EU signatures went on the paper.
The next trick is the system known as “flexible mechanisms” the first of which is “emissions trading”. This approach sounds reasonable. Countries that cannot meet their targets can buy credit from countries that can exceed their targets. This approach has worked successfully in the US with a market in Sox emissions. The Kyoto problem is once again the 1990 base year. With the collapse of the old Soviet Union, the economies of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus tanked completely during the 1990s. Energy use and thus carbon dioxide emissions from these countries are therefore well below their Kyoto targets, and they can sell the difference to the EU. Essentially, Kyoto treats Russia’s economic collapse as an improvement in its energy efficiency for which it is to be amply rewarded.
A second “flexible mechanism” is the Clean Development Mechanism” or CDM which allows credit for investments in emissions reductions in developing countries. Again, this sounds perfectly reasonable, but the devil is in the details. Should an EU country get credit for making an energy investment in China that would have been made anyway? How do we know what investments were going to be made anyway? Kyoto sets up a hefty bureaucracy and employs hundreds of consultants to make these judgments, but there is no rigor to the system and no way to know if these projects have any real-world impact on carbon emissions. The biggest fraud under this system concerns a little-known chemical called HFC-23, emitted as an unwanted byproduct in the production of HCFC-22. HCFC-22 is a refrigerant designed to replace freon and other chemicals thought to damage the Earth’s ozone layer. HFC-23 has powerful heat-trapping properties – roughly 11,700 times those of carbon dioxide – but it’s easy and inexpensive to destroy. Western countries generally prohibit its release into the atmosphere so there’s no real problem. Enter the Kyoto Protocol. Some chemical firms have discovered that they can build brand new, totally uneconomic HCFC-22 plants in developing countries and earn huge profits just by selling the Kyoto credits. In other words, companies can earn money by agreeing to destroy powerful greenhouse gases that they had no intention of producing in the first place.
The EU is counting on the “flexible mechanisms” to add the equivalent of 93 mt of CO2 equivalent to its Kyoto ledger of carbon reductions. It’s not clear that any of these credits are real.
The final accounting trick is “carbon sinks” known in Kyoto parlance as LULUCF (Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry). The idea here is that growing forests absorb carbon, thereby offsetting some of the carbon emissions from other sectors of the economy. Again, fine in principle, but Kyoto defines these credits in such vague terms that almost anything can count. Governments can put in this category whatever they choose, and there is no mechanism to verify whether the total impact of forest management (or mismanagement) in any country is positive or negative. The EU is counting on carbon sinks for another 42 mt of CO2 equivalent.
If we add these three pieces together, EU greenhouse gas reductions total 367 mt of CO2 equivalent, reductions totally about 8% more than Kyoto requires. The problem, of course, is that this list excludes the only item that really means anything: how much has the EU-15 actually reduced their own greenhouse gas emissions since they signed Kyoto? The answer is none at all. In fact, total EU-15 greenhouse gas emissions have increased by 19 mt of CO2 equivalent since Kyoto was signed.
The EU-15 is like a multi-millionaire who pays zero income taxes by carefully finding every loophole and deduction in the tax law. Personally, I have no problem with people minimizing their tax liability, but such people should not present themselves to the world as examples of moral superiority and civic responsibility.
The EU’s behavior does tell us something important about climate change treaties. No government is prepared to sacrifice economic growth for carbon reduction. Europe, always on its high horse about the lack of US action on climate change, is willing to take on commitments only if it doesn’t actually have to meet them. Remember this in Copenhagen.

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Responses

  1. Amazing. When you think the climate-industrial complex cannot sink any lower, they do.

    I’ve covered a similar (although more misleading and probably illegal) scam in California, you can see it in my blog. Basically, Tesla Motors is getting ZEV credits for a feature that DOES NOT EXIST!

    It’s the famous battery swap feature, which is simply a hoax. And the “extra” credits they get for this alone account for 20-25% of ALL such California credits (I mean all those earned by Tesla and every other carmaker). Needless to say the regulator in charge of the ZEV program, CARB, knows all this very well.


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