NYT Fails to Explain Why Europe Prefers 1990 Carbon Benchmark
John Broder and James Kanter had a story in the July 7th New York Times titled Despite Shift on Climate by U.S., Europe Is Wary. The article accurately reveals that the U.S. stance on a binding if selective international treaty limiting greenhouse gas emissions remains, in practice if not rhetoric, consistent under President Obama as it was under President Bush. With President Clinton having undertaken the gesture of signing, but refusing to seek ratification of, the Kyoto Protocol, this continues a long chain of consistent U.S. policy. One key characterization, however, presents a materially different circumstance than is the case.
Europe’s one “must have” at Kyoto in 1997 was a 1990 baseline year against which to measure performance. Thanks to post-Soviet economic collapse in Central and Eastern Europe, this was uniquely favorable to a large handful of Kyoto’s 35 covered countries. Specifically, with Kyoto allowing countries to create a “bubble” (for example, the EU bubble), it left Europe with essentially no actual “reduction” commitment under the five-year treaty. Meanwhile, with Australia and others being allowed an increase in emissions as their “reduction,” the 1990 baseline left the covered countries with major obligations as essentially the U.S., Japan and Canada. With Japan in recession most of the 1990s, what this really meant in practice was that Kyoto required major reductions by North America, exclusively.
As a result, talks now include the notion that any post-Kyoto treaty reflect a less selectively favorable baseline, but instead a more modern measurement singling no one out for special treatment or a nearly free ride.
This context is what makes the 1990/2005 discussion relevant, but is left out of the story which instead states in relevant part that “The United States, however, has resisted European pressure to set strong goals over the next decade and has insisted on language that leaves vague the starting year against which emissions reductions will be measured. The Europeans wanted 1990, which would require much steeper near-term cuts, while the United States, Australia and Japan preferred a 2005 benchmark.”
With Kyoto’s past remaining such relevant prologue to talks about its future, making such claims without context leave the reader uninformed and in fact is misleading.