WASHINGTON, Dec. 28 (UPI) -- European countries who led the attack on the Bush administration's stance on global warming are themselves failing by large margins to meet Kyoto Protocol targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
"Europe is the citadel of hypocrisy," charges Newsweek economics columnist Robert J. Samuelson. "To reduce emissions significantly, Europeans would have to suppress driving and electricity use... It won't happen."
Ten of the European Union's 25 members are set to miss their Kyoto Protocol targets by 2010. Of the other 15, Great Britain is the sole member of the European Union to have made significant steps toward reducing greenhouse gases and honoring Kyoto commitments.
Europe is not alone in the disparity between promise and action. According to the Canadian government Web site, Canada agreed to cut emissions by six percent below 1990 levels. Canada's emissions are up over 20 percent since 1990.
The Kyoto Protocol, negotiated in Kyoto, Japan in December 1997, is an international framework designed to combat climate change. The legally binding 5.2 percent reduction relative to 1990 levels of greenhouse gas emissions is to be implemented by the period 2008 to 2012.
According to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the goal of the Protocol is the "stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system."
According to International Energy Agency estimates, greenhouse gas emissions since 1990 have increased from as low as 6.9 percent in France to as high as 40.3 percent in Ireland, 46.9 percent in Spain, and 59 percent in Portugal. These figures open up member nations to criticism from the United States, despite the Bush administration's refusal to ratify the agreement.
Europeans claim Germany's emission levels are 13.3 percent lower than 1990 levels and Britain's are 5.5 percent lower. However, these cuts were unrelated to Kyoto: Germany closed a number of inefficient coal plants in former East Germany, while the British government had already decided to move from coal-based electric utilities to natural gas.
Wide-ranging excuses have been fielded to explain the failure to reach protocol targets. One is the choice of economic growth over sustainable development.
"We are not surprised to see the EU falling behind its Kyoto targets," said Duncan McLaren, chief executive of Friends of the Earth Scotland, "and this is because nations are increasing the pursuit of economic growth rather than sustainable development."
President George W. Bush refused to sign the Protocol in 2001 and took flak from several EU nations who, it now appears, will not meet their guidelines for emissions reductions by 2010.
Despite not ratifying the Kyoto agreement, the United States agreed to a "non-binding dialogue to respond to climate change" at a recent meeting of nearly 200 nations in Montreal. This agreement, however nominal, opens the door for future negotiations among both industrialized and developing nations.
Members of the Sierra Club of Canada believe Kyoto is only the first step. They say that a 50 percent reduction in global emissions below 1990 levels would be required to stabilize atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gasses, although no timeframe is provided. They have also chided the Canadian government for relying too much on "moral suasion and example" to reach the target of six percent reductions in emissions and are calling on legislators to pass stricter laws.
The 2004 edition of the Sierra Club of Canada's Kyoto Report Card said "we live in a strange world when we must remind the federal government what governments are mandated to do -- make laws and regulations."
According to the latest issue of Geophysical Research Letters and reported in the Toronto Star, much of the permafrost across the Canadian North will thaw several meters each summer by mid-century due to global warming. The thawing of the once-frozen tundra may cause the release of millions of tons of greenhouse gasses and upset Arctic Ocean currents, further polluting the atmosphere.
David Lawrence, chief author of the study, and Vladimir Romanovsky, a permafrost researcher at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, believe the melting permafrost may swell the annual freshwater runoff to the Arctic Ocean by as much as 28 percent by the end of the 20th century.
Calling the study "provocative and scary," McGill University professor and Canadian permafrost researcher Nigel Roulet went on to say, "this is not la-la land. We're already seeing this but it's good to have the numbers."
Be it the European Union or America's northern neighbor, much work remains to be done with respect to climate change and the Kyoto Protocol. Samuelson, however, remains skeptical.
"All this busywork won't much affect global warming, but who cares," wrote Samuelson. "The real purpose is for politicians to brandish their environmental credentials."