King Coal’s Pyrrhic Victory

BRUSSELS – Sometimes the most important news is what is not happening. This summer has given us one such example: the climate-change bill, for which President Barack Obama had pushed so hard, will not even be presented to the United States Senate, because it stands no chance of passage.

This means that the US is about to repeat its “Kyoto experience.” Twenty years ago, in 1990, the US participated (at least initially) in the first global talks aimed at achieving a global accord to reduce CO2 emissions. At the time, the European Union and the US were by far the greatest emitters, so it seemed appropriate to exempt the world’s emerging economies from any commitment. Over time, it became apparent that the US would not live up to its commitment, owing, as now, to opposition in the Senate. The EU then went ahead on its own, introducing its path-breaking European Emission Trading System in the hope that Europe could lead by example.

Without the American climate-change package, the promises made by the US administration only seven months ago at the Copenhagen summit have become worthless. The European strategy is in tatters – and not only on the transatlantic front.

China’s commitment to increase the CO2 efficiency of its economy by about 3% per year is of no help, because annual GDP growth rates of close to 10% mean that the country’s emissions will soar during this decade. Indeed, by 2020, Chinese emissions could be more than triple those of Europe and even surpass those of the US and Europe combined. Exempting emerging markets from any commitments, as the Kyoto Protocol sought to do, no longer makes sense.