The Kyoto negociations

François Jeulin

A summit about global warming has taken place in Kyoto in 1997. There had already been one in Rio, which led to the principle that only developed countries, which pollute the most, would reduce their CO2 emissions. However the targets set in this summit have not been respected.

The Kyoto summit has established new rules. Europe asked for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 15 percent from 1990 levels by 2010. Japan wanted a reduction of 5%, and the USA only a come back to the 1990 levels. The USA also wanted developing countries to be submitted to some quotas too. They proposed that the quotas should be negotiable values, that developed countries could buy to developing countries. That would be a way to help them to develop themselves and in the same time a way of not penalizing too much the growth of developed countries.

The American views have finally triumphed. However, for the first time, Europe has showed a common will and that may be a first step to the rise of its influence. The targets for 2010 are very various : reduction of the emissions by 7% for the USA, 8% for Europe, 6% for Japan, but a rise of 8% for Australia.

The main argument of America is that the danger is very difficult to quantify : we do not really know the role of greenhouse gazes and cannot measure their impact over the global warming. This point is contested by many scientists who have been warning about the risk since 1979. However, from the American point of view, even if the risks were real, the problems would happen only at the end of the next century, which lets some time to the scientists to sharpen their analysis and to the politics to make it acceptable for the populations.

Another point stressed by the USA during the negotiations is the cost of radical measures to reduce the emission of greenhouse gazes. The stabilization of carbon emissions would cost from 0.75 to 1.5 point of growth. That means a big loss of welfare and could be even worse than the catastrophe itself. The money lost could be used to reduce misery and death. So the Kyoto solutions, privileging a pragmatic approach and gradual measures may be a good compromise, which could gradually evolve with scientific researches. It has also avoided to divide the world into two groups, as it was previously done in Rio : the rich and the poor.

Moreover, European countries should remain aware that they cannot ask too much to America. President Clinton is stuck between the environmental concerns and the economical decisions. The green in the USA do not support him and the industry and Trade Unions fear of the economical costs of environmental measures. American people are not ready to make sacrifice and save energy : they do not want to reduce their standard of living. In the USA the price of oil is a very sensitive issue. Foreign countries should encourage the USA, especially since Bill Clinton has a courageous attitude by recalling the American responsibility in the present pollution. His position is difficult to handle as the trouble of mister Gore, previously very committed in favor of the environmental cause, shows. Moreover, the American congress could be tempted not to ratify the Kyoto agreements.

If people really want some improvements, it may be let up to every nation to set its own constraints. Some efficient measures could for instance lay in the improvement of the industry efficiency, the elimination of energy subsidies and more cooperation between States.