Greenhouse Gas Trends

A tale of two perspectives

Last year, critics of the Kyoto Protocol glommed onto statistics showing apparently that the Europeans have been less successful than the United States in ­curtailing the growth of greenhouse-gas ­emissions. ”Since 2000, emissions of carbon dioxide have been growing more rapidly in Europe, with all its capping and yapping, than in the U.S., where there has been ­minimal government intervention so far,” wrote the The Wall Street Journal’s Kyle Wingfield, in a typical comment.

Kyoto commits industrial countries to collectively cut their emissions roughly 5 percent from the 1990 level by 2008–2012. The United States is the one industrial country that has declined to ratify the protocol.

A look at statistics compiled by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), in Bonn, provides grist for both mills in the Kyoto debate. The United Nations’ statistics for 2000 to 2004 did indeed show the United States outperforming the 15 countries that were members of the European Union when the protocol was adopted in 1997. And last month, when the United Nations released its figures for 2005, the aggregate emissions of 25 current EU members (not counting Cyprus and Malta) were 1.8 percent higher than in 1990, while U.S. emissions were up just 1.6 percent.

Clearly there’s no one-to-one relation­ship between Kyoto member­ship and success in meeting its targets. But it would be wrong to conclude that there’s no relationship at all, or that the overall U.S. ­performance is better than Europe’s.

Considered in the context of the Kyoto compliance period starting in 1990 [map] and taking the current membership of the EU into account, Europe has cut its emissions 10.2 percent, while U.S. emissions have increased 16.3 percent. The individual countries that have been most vocal in support of Kyoto have especially reduced their emissions [bar chart], while emissions have been rising sharply among many of the newer EU members in southern and eastern Europe.

CHARTS: BRYAN CHRISTIE DESIGN

SOURCE: UNFCCC

RESEARCH: MORGEN PECK

When European and U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions are compared for the period from 1990 to 2005 [map], emissions of 25 European Union members (not counting Cyprus and Malta) are down 10.2 percent, while U.S. emissions are up 16.3 percent. But in the more recent period, 2000 to 2005 [bar chart], the emissions of many individual European countries have gone up far more than U.S. emissions have.

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