European and U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions

The Bush administration and advocates of its policy of not making the United States subject to binding restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions have been having some fun lately with the most recent data on European and U.S. emissions. Statistics released by the International Energy Agency, Paris, and the Bonn secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), which administers the Kyoto Protocol, indicate that since the year 2000 U.S. emissions have gone up less than Europe's. This would seem to show, argue the Bush administration's supporters, that it doesn't actually make any positive difference whether one ratifies Kyoto or doesn't.

"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 Kyle Wingfield, an editorial writer for the Wall Street Journal Europe, in a typical anti-Kyoto column. "As of 2005, we're talking about a 3.8 percent rise in the Europe-15 versus a 2.5 percent increased in the U.S. according to statistics from the United Nations."

Wingfield's numbers are about right, as far as they go, but they also are incomplete and misleading, unless treated with considerable care. The most recent UNFCCC numbers posted on its website are for 2004, and they show that E-15 emissions rose 2.3 percent from 2000 to 2004, while U.S. emissions rose 1.3 percent in the same period. The same data set also shows, however--and this is a big however--that the E-15 emissions in 2004 were 0.8 percent lower than in 1990, the Kyoto baseyear, while U.S. 2004 emissions were 15.8 percent higher. Thus, looked at in the broader timeframe, the European countries can be seen as making real progress toward achieving their required 8 percent reduction in emissions by 2012, while the United States has been moving in the opposite direction from what Kyoto would have required of it, had it ratified the protocol--a 7 percent reduction.

What is more, the numbers for the European countries that have been doing the most yapping and capping, to borrow the Wall Street Journal's language, look positive even in the recent narrow time-frame, from their point of view. The United Kingdom's emissions decreased 1 percent from 2000 to 2004, and Germany's by 0.8 percent. France, which is a very low-carbon country to begin with because of its many nuclear reactors and its sky-high gasoline taxes, saw its greenhouse gas emissions go up just 0.2 percent in the first four years of this century. That's less than a sixth as much as the United States, whose per capita carbon emissions are about twice as high.


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