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Emissions Control, Myths, and Realities

Friday, June 19, 2009

The United States is having better luck at controlling its emissions than most other countries, without the multi-billion-dollar mandates of Kyoto.

Diplomats from the world's major greenhouse-gas emitters met recently at the State Department to discuss a potential U.N. agreement to fight global warming. Commenting on a lack of attention paid by the Bush administration to the urgent need to address global warming, U.S. special envoy for climate change Todd Stern said, "They were not fundamentally looking for an international agreement."

Perhaps that is because international efforts have not succeeded thus far. Gwyn Prins of the London School of Economics and Steve Rayner of Oxford University say the Kyoto Protocol, “as an instrument for achieving emissions reductions, has failed . . . It has produced no demonstrable reductions in emissions or even in anticipated emissions growth." Meanwhile, the United States is having better luck at controlling its emissions, without the multi-billion-dollar mandates of Kyoto.

Carbon-dioxide emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels increased 0.7 percent in the United States from 2000 to 2006, far below the worldwide increase of 21.6 percent.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), carbon-dioxide emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels increased 0.7 percent in the United States from 2000 to 2006, far below the worldwide increase of 21.6 percent. During the same period, emissions grew 4.9 percent in Europe, 37.6 percent in the Middle East, and 52.3 percent in Asia. Major developing nations saw big increases. India, Malaysia, and China’s emissions increased 27.7 percent, 45.8 percent, and 103 percent, respectively.

In 2006, China passed the United States as the world’s biggest carbon emitter, and its lead is growing daily. The EIA projects that China’s energy-related emissions of carbon dioxide will exceed American emissions by almost 15 percent in 2010 and by 75 percent in 2030. In 1990, China and India together accounted for 13 percent of the world’s emissions; in 2005, their contribution was 23 percent; and in 2030, they are expected to account for 34 percent of the world’s emissions.

The best-known U.S. carbon-cutting legislation provides a good idea of just how costly such plans run. America’s Climate Security Act, also known as the Lieberman-Warner bill, called for emission reductions of 63 percent below the 2005 level by 2050 (President Obama’s much more ambitious plan is to cut emissions 83 percent below 2005 levels by 2050.). The Environmental Protection Agency projected that Lieberman-Warner could, by 2050, lower GDP by up to 6.9 percent, increase average gasoline prices by $1.40 per gallon, and raise electricity prices by 26 percent. Many private economic estimates were considerably higher.

The EPA projected that America’s Climate Security Act could, by 2050, lower GDP by up to 6.9 percent, increase average gasoline prices by $1.40 per gallon, and raise electricity prices by 26 percent.

Moreover, there is no guarantee of any benefit to the global climate should we adopt and meet the demands of a national or international carbon-cutting plan. Perhaps developed-world carbon reductions would lead to marginal reductions in temperature, but would they be worth the economic cost, particularly since developing nations’ emissions will easily swamp any American reductions?

Some counter that if America will lead, China and others will follow; but we should not delude ourselves into thinking that 80 percent of the world’s population cares more about cutting carbon than joining the ranks of richer, industrialized nations.

One may take issue with various cost projections, but what is beyond dispute is that laws or regulations that put a high price on carbon will necessarily lead to higher energy prices. Penalizing (higher carbon) conventional energy sources in favor of (lower carbon) renewables forces businesses to divert resources to less-economically-efficient uses. This, in turn, raises the overall cost of producing energy. The result: less energy and more expensive energy, which ultimately raises consumer prices across a range of goods and services.

We have a growing population with growing energy needs. The last thing we should do is implement policies that will reduce the supply of energy. We need more energy, and we need affordable energy. Adopting a carbon-cutting regime, à la Kyoto, will give us neither.

Drew Thornley is the author of a new report, "Energy & the Environment: Myths & Facts," published by the Manhattan Institute.

Image by Darren Wamboldt/Bergman Group.

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