November 28, 2005
Kyoto Climate Accord Signatories Missing Targets

Countries whose leaders like to pose as environmentalist Miss Goodie Two Shoes forgot that moral posturing eventually fails if countries fail to honor their treaty commitments.

Canada is among those countries most likely to run into difficulty implementing its commitments, as in 2003 the country had increased its emissions by 24.2 pct from the base 1990 level, far from its 2012 target of a 6 pct reduction.

Japan, meanwhile, recorded a 12.8 pct increase over the 13 years to 2003 and is headed for an increase of 12 pct by 2010 instead of the intended 6 pct reduction.

And although the 15-member European Union, which ratified the treaty en bloc in 1997, achieved a reduction of 1.4 pct in emissions from 1990 to 2003 -- it is still a long way from the 8 pct target in 2012 -- most of the 15 countries have seen emissions increasing.

Read the full article for more details about the more egregious treaty violators. Spain's emissions have risen 41.7% since 1990. I'm guessing Spain has seen some very hefty increases in per capita income due to economic liberalization post-Franco. But that's just the problem: Economic growth makes more more able to afford energy consumption. As long as increased energy demand is satisfied by fossil fuels carbon dioxide emissions will rise with expanding economies.

Last year nearly half of all CO2 emissions increases came from China. Attempts to deal with CO2 emissions with a regulatory approach are hopelessly naive. Every country is going to point away toward other countries and suggest others should sacrifice.

Instead of a regulatory approach what we need is a massive effort at energy research and development across a wide range of energy technologies. The recently deceased Nobelist Richard Smalley proposed that the United States spend $10 billion per year on energy research and development with nuclear, solar photovoltaics, and an assortment of other approaches all as elements of the big drive to develop new energy technologies.

I think Smalley's approach makes far more sense than moralizing and signing of treaties. But too many groups are intent upon fighting yesterday's battles over who to blame or who to make suffer or which energy technology to stop. Why advocate useful measures when you can spend the same amount of time demonizing SUVs, Hummers, George W. Bush or oil companies? Why take the rise in atmospheric CO2 seriously when you can point at environmentalists as a bunch of crack-pots? Political activists enjoy partisan mudslinging ("mostly say 'hoo-ray for our side'") a lot more than they do solving problems. So the more reasonable approach which could produce cheaper and cleaner energy technologies remains the road not taken. How long is this state of affairs going to last? Isn't it getting old? Why not solve the problem?

Share |      Randall Parker, 2005 November 28 10:01 PM  Energy Policy

Matthew Cromer said at November 29, 2005 5:58 AM:

The problem has already been solved: nuclear power.

odograph said at November 29, 2005 6:05 AM:

Is it stated whether the "failing states" achieved a deflection, a reduction in their growth path?

I'd submit that anything negative is .... positive, as it were, and "moral posturing" might also prevent us from recognizing incremental improvements.

(to use nukes for transportation you need to get everyone to accept simpler electric cars (ev1, etc.), or build out a huge hydgrogen infrastructure (and even then, accept hydrogen internal combustion, as fuel cells are still a million bucks per car (unsubsidized)).

Ivan Kirigin said at November 29, 2005 6:37 AM:

"As long as increased energy demand is satisfied by fossil fuels carbon dioxide emissions will rise with expanding economies."

Nuclear aside, in a market, your phrasing should simply be "energy comes fossil fuels". I 100% agree with the need for research rather than regulation (especially failing regulation). You need to make the good alternatives _cheaper_ than fossil fuels if you want them to go the way of whale-fat.

I'm pretty sure a very small electric car (1 or 2 passenger) can be made cheap enough with the newest battery technology for consumers to demand on mass. Transportation is 2/3 of petroleum, and driving small distances (<20ml) is 80% of driving (that might just be non-commercial).

Does anyone have any numbers for the _current_ federal spending levels on alternative energy? Sites like this make me think part of the problem is just lack of focus.

odograph said at November 29, 2005 7:24 AM:

FWIW, as a semi-retired engineer, I am extremely cautious in my optimism. Many "alternative" energies were known, researched, and called "alternative" 30 years ago. Spending money has brought us progress, but cannot "insert magic."

If there was anything out there which could be cheaper than fossil fuel, we probably spent enough money to find it. Probably. We are talking odds when we talk ROI or R&D. We'll keep looking, obviously, but I object to a "spend X and get Y" simplification.

On carbon and energy, the interesting fact is that burning things produces energy and CO2, but the ratios vary. Natural gas produces more energy per ton of CO2 than coal, and coal produces more energy per ton of CO2 than wood (or other biomass).

There are moves, through research and regulation, to improve our energy/co2 ratio for coal, and moves to export that technology to China. If you ask me, that should be the immediate goal. Improvement is possible with available technology, no magic required.

Randall Parker said at November 29, 2005 7:29 AM:


Ever compared the cost of heating a house with electricity with heating it with oil or natural gas? Electricity is much more expensive. Check out the Penn State Energy Selector and in particular their comparison of electricity with #2 fuel oil (diesel).

What do you pay for electricity? If you pay more than 10 cents per kwh (and I think I pay about 15 cents per kwh) then fuel oil would have to cost more than $3 per gallon to make switching competitive.

Now, if nukes can be made cheap enough (future tense) to get below the cost of fuel oil you might have a point. But that hasn't happened yet.

Also, nukes can't power cars until battery technology advances. So I do not see nukes as a replacement for fossil fuels in transportation any time soon either.

Randall Parker said at November 29, 2005 7:32 AM:


Federal energy spending includes subsidies and demonstration projects. I focus on research. Last I checked a few years ago only a few tens of millions a year was spent on photovoltaics research.

We aren't trying very hard. Nuclear gets a lot more reseach funding than solar btw. Multiples more if memory serves.

michael vassar said at November 29, 2005 7:37 AM:

Randall, do you just think government is irrational, inefficient, and ineffective, or that it has become more so with time. If the latter, any ideas why?

Randall Parker said at November 29, 2005 7:52 AM:


I agree that fossil fuel energy extraction technology will advance. At the same time though, the easy to reach places will get depleted. So will extraction costs rise or fall per barrel of oil or mcf of natural gas? Hard to say.

I agree we should do research on carbon sequestration techniques and ways to burn coal more cleanly. However, research to lower the cost of non-fossil fuels energy will eventually bear fruit. I'd rather it happen sooner rather than later.

As for past research that has not paid off yet: We haven't found a cure for cancer either. I'm not willing to point to our past record of cancer research as a reason not to expect breakthroughs in the future though. We use yesterday's advances as starting points and use better tools to make new advances.

Kurt said at November 29, 2005 8:51 AM:

Canada's liberal party just suffered a no-confidence vote yesterday. Elections will probably be early next year. I believe that Kyoto was a liberal agenda item. What is the position of the other two parties on Kyoto? Perhaps Canada will back out of Kyoto when the new government comes in next year. I also understand that Canada's finances are a mess, due to the liberals. Perhaps the new government will promote the development of the tar sands as an export commodity to boost canada's economy and, thus, the government finances. No doubt this will undermine support for Kyoto in Canada.

I think Kyoto and, in deed the whole regulatory approach, are DOA. Most of the European nations are failing to meet the Kyoto requirements. Since they have more important issues to deal with, like non-assimulating Muslim immigrants and becoming Eurabia, for example, I think that Kyoto and greenhouse gas issues are going onto the back burner for a LONG, LONG time to come.

Hugh Angell said at November 29, 2005 10:54 AM:

It is interesting that Tony Blair has virtually written off Kyoto and has just announced
a major new nuclear program for Britain. The Brits, as have we, found substituting gas for
coal and nuclear powered generation, while a nice idea, ran up against the constraints of
supply. British gas production peaked last year and they will now have to import gas to
meet their domestic needs. US gas production, even without the effects of this years
hurricane disasters, has plateaued and has become very costly for power generation.

I bet $15000 on gas fired power plants a few years ago. I lost $12,500 hoping the situation
would improve. It won't. Katrina and Rita showed how vulnerable our gas ( and refinery)
situation is. We've got major trouble heading our way if we don't get cracking on expanding
our coal ( and railroad ) capacity to utilize more coal. Our balance of payments situation
will not permit us to simply continue importing more and more oil and gas from abroad even
if we were not facing such horrible political realities as hostile regimes in Venezuela
and Iran. We are just one hurricane or political implosion in the Persian Gulf from an
energy nightmare. It might not even take that. We simply have to get working on clean coal,
biofuels and whatever else we can to make us more energy independant and we have to do it
with the same urgency we applied to the Manhattan project or the Apollo program.

odograph said at November 29, 2005 11:26 AM:

Randall, I didn't really want to belabor the point, but FWIW, my favorate peak oil guy classifies certain technologies as "dreams" (link) and says "Donít pin your hopes on a Manhattan Project or an Apollo program."

Maybe he's my favorite because we both have the same curmudeonly engineer's attitude. There are many things we can do, many things deserving of continuing funding ... but that doesn't mean we can count our dreams before they are hatched.

momochan said at November 29, 2005 1:23 PM:

The problem with CO2 and global warming appears to be more related to psychology and game theory than to technology per se. What we've created is a Prisoner's Dilemma on a global scale. Any regulatory agreements, such as Kyoto, are going to be subject to the same pressures as prisoners in the proverbial dilemma. Only when all parties feel that they can trust all other parties, and that the entire process is enforceable and transparent, will a regulatory regime work.
I don't mean to toss out regulation. Almost everyone agrees to rules against murder and the like. I think that climate change has the potential to be so destructive to civilization's infrastructure that regulation needs to be a part of the mix.

Ned said at November 29, 2005 2:17 PM:

Here's the complete list:

Country Per cent
Spain +41.7
Monaco +37.8
Portugal +36.7
Greece +25.8
Ireland +25.6
Canada +24.2
Australia +23.3
New Zealand +22.5
Finland +21.5
Austria +16.5
United States +13.3
Japan +12.8
Italy +11.5
Norway +9.3
Denmark +6.8
Liechtenstein +5.3
Netherlands +1.5
Belgium +1.3
Switzerland -0.4
European Union -1.4
Slovenia -1.9
France -1.9
Sweden -2.3
Croatia -6.0
Iceland -8.2
Britain -13.0
Luxembourg -16.1
Germany -18.2
Czech Republic -24.2
Slovakia -28.3
Hungary -31.9
Poland -34.4
Russian Federation -38.5
Belarus -44.4
Romania -46.1
Ukraine -46.2
Bulgaria -50.0
Estonia -50.8
Latvia -58.5
Lithuania -66.2

The good numbers for the Eastern European countries are a bit deceiving, since the base year was chosen as 1990, just before many of the old, inefficient, pollution-belching factories that flourished under communist governments were dismantled. And of course, the massive increases from places such as India, China, South America and Africa are not recognized, since these countries are not covered at all by the Kyoto Treaty.

Patrick said at November 29, 2005 3:00 PM:

Jusat to point out Ned, that not all the countries listed actually signed the protocol. Australia and the USA for example.

odograph said at November 29, 2005 3:17 PM:

momochan, game theory yes, but prisoner's dilemma, no. Good actors make a real contribution (less CO2 means less warming), and deflect from what "what might have been."

Bad actors are just free riders on ... what should be considered a simple contribution to the community good.

Tom said at November 29, 2005 5:36 PM:

Randall: "As for past research that has not paid off yet: We haven't found a cure for cancer either."

Sure, there isn't a single pill you can pop, or a vaccine that prevents all cancer. But we have a vaccine that prevents some cancers, and our ability to cure cancers in general has come a long way in the last 30 years. We know lots more risk factors for cancers, which will prevent a very large number of cases. I doubt we'll ever "cure cancer" in the way it was hoped in the 60s.

Ivan: "You need to make the good alternatives _cheaper_ than fossil fuels if you want them to go the way of whale-fat."

The alternative, of course, would be to make fossil fuels more expensive, via carbon tax.

"I'm pretty sure a very small electric car (1 or 2 passenger) can be made cheap enough with the newest battery technology for consumers to demand on mass."

I doubt it, at least in this country. You couldn't pay me to drive a very small electric car. I drive 70 MPH to work 30 miles away, and I don't want to die. And I wouldn't put my wife or kid in there either. I wouldn't buy anything smaller than a Civic.

odograph said at November 29, 2005 5:51 PM:

Tom, I hope you realize that the safety factor goes up when everyone drives a lightweight car. One of the tragedies of the SUV loophole(s) is that we have a mix, so that an environmentalist in an Insight is a sitting duck for the proverbial Hummer.

(Note SUVs kill higher percentages of their "target audience" in other cars, on bikes, or in crosswalks)

Engineer-Poet said at November 29, 2005 6:00 PM:
Instead of a regulatory approach what we need is a massive effort at energy research and development across a wide range of energy technologies.
What gets people to adopt this technology?  A uniform carbon tax, level to be set and adjusted according to treaty, would do the job and get people to do things that don't require any technological advances - just adoption.

Of course, everything people can do today puts off the need to hustle tomorrow.

Tom said at November 29, 2005 6:03 PM:

odograph: There's some truth to that. We're all safer if we all drive Crown Victorias than if we all drive Chevy Metros, but if some drive Crown Victorias and some drive Chevy Metros, on net we're less safe. But given that there will still be dump trucks and the like on the road, I still don't want to be in a Metro. And I'd rather run into a tree in a Crown Vic than a Metro. And yes, I don't argue that the higher bumpers and inferior handling of SUVs leads to more serious accidents.

Randall Parker said at November 29, 2005 6:40 PM:


What's that sound of politicians proposing a carbon tax? That's the sound of silence.

Really, R&D funding is the only solution that'll work. Even the Kyoto signatories have failed at a glaring level. They signed the treaty. They violated the treaty. You won't see politicians in Europe running for election promising to bring their countries into Kyoto compliance by enacting carbon taxes high enough to meet their goals. It is not going to happen.

In Britain the debate now is between opening up long closed coal mines and building nuclear plants. Most of their nuclear plants are going to be too old by the 2020s. So they have to build more nuclear plants than they have now just to keep nuclear as the same percentage of the total mix. But the total amount of energy demand will grow and so even if they build more nukes than they have now their increased burning of coal and natural gas for electricity will still boost their CO2 output.

R&D funding is a cheap solution. We could do Smalley's $10 billion per year easily. It is less than 2 months burn rate of the useless war in Iraq. It is less than one tenth of one percent of the US GDP. If the Euros joined us in this approach they could add another $10 billion a year in funding.

An admission that the regulatory approach is not going to work leads logically to the R&D approach. The R&D approach will lower energy costs in the medium to long run and therefore increase the rate of economic growth. It'll pay itself back many times over.

Steven said at November 30, 2005 4:39 AM:

Canada is in the unfortunate position of being exactly opposite, of the Eastern Block countries in 1990. Canada position then was so bad that it is still commonly believed as mentioned by Kurt "Canada's finances are a mess, due to the liberals".

Today Canada has been running huge surpluses for seven years. In fact its percent of Dept to GDP has dropped from something like 68% to 33% with 68 billion dollars of debt having been paid back. The issue isn't that Canada finances are a mess due to the liberals. It is how are we going to spend the surpluses.

Back to the accord....

Because Canada was in such a mess back then, by the time the accord was finally signed, Canada was already producing 40% more greenhouse gasses then in 1990. (I read this in a newspaper the other day.) To me, this implies that the number (+24%) mentioned earlier does not reflect the actual change in CO2 emmissions from the treaty date. Going from 40% over to 24% is actually a good achievement. Lets just hope, they can continue and meet the target.


Randall Parker said at November 30, 2005 6:40 AM:


No, Canada's emissions really have increased. Also, a plot of GHG emissions per capita divided by GDP per capita shows Canada like the US and South Korea as lying well above a curve of all countries.

Now, Canada's above the curve because it is colder in the winter and heating costs a lot. Plus, it is more rural and so people drive greater distances. Plus, agriculture uses energy and Canada's a big exporter. But in no way is Canada doing well on the GHG score. It was high in 1990 and it is higher now.

Canada's GHG growth is due to economic growth. Canada has done very little to reduce GHG growth. There's no good achievement in Canada on meeting their Kyoto obligations.

Engineer-Poet said at November 30, 2005 9:03 AM:

I said a carbon tax would fix the problem.  I didn't say it would be easy. ;-)

Randall Parker said at November 30, 2005 7:45 PM:


When I was much younger I thought all sorts of things were politically possible that I now know are exceedingly unlikely to happen. A high carbon tax is on my list of things that are exceedingly unlikely to happen.

Look, the market just drove the price of oil much higher than government taxes will ever do. We aren't goinng to get $40 per barrel oil taxes or equivalent natural gas and coal taxes. I see no point in arguing for policy prescriptions that do not have a snowball's chance in hell.

AA2 said at December 4, 2005 11:59 AM:

Randall it is sort of funny here in Canada, as Kyoto is wildly popular here and the politicians are all talking about it. And the government that gets elected the liberals are considered the pro-kyoto party and the conservatives the anti-kyoto party. The liberals have been in power for some time now and nothing has been done on kyoto.

All the nations agreed in Rio in 1990(?) to cut emissions by 2000 by 10%. Then they agreed in 1997 in Kyoto to cut emissions another 10% below the Rio goals by 2011. And I am sure in 2007 or 2008 they will meet again and decide to reduce emissions to 10% below the Kyoto goals for 2022.

Which ironically when we go to a nuclear based electrical grid because of economics in the future, and to hybrid engines because of performance/economics we might well achieve that 2022 goal.. or maybe the 2033 goal they decide on.

AA2 said at December 4, 2005 12:02 PM:

Anyway the point is they knew they couldn't meet the Rio goals, so they made the Kyoto deal to buy time. Same as we know we have issues with our pensions and healthcare but they will keep putting it off for some future politician to deal with. No one who signed Kyoto will be in power when it comes due, and no one who signs the next deal will be in power when it is supposed to come due.

And all the time instead of reducing carbon emissions we are increasing them.

The one country that is a model for carbon is france, which looks like a developing nation in emissions, yet has a first world standard of living.

Randall Parker said at December 4, 2005 12:52 PM:


So that's the ticket: Agree to a deal that will come due when you are no longer in office. Doesn't the public notice the deception?

In the US treaties have a great deal of legal force. So if the US signed up to Kyoto we'd probably have all sorts of court cases by groups seeking enforcement. Makes hypocrisy harder.

France: Measured as "Oil BTUs per PPP GDP Dollar" France's oil consumption is below world average but not drastically so. Germany and the UK are both lower. Note the adjustment per Purchasing Power Parity GDP Dollar adjust for per capita size of the economy. The more dollars per person the more each person spends for energy. People travel more, build and heat larger houses, and so on.

Canada's a big statistical outlier on electricity consumption at an annual rate of 16,000 per capita KWH. The US is only about 12,500 per capita KWH by comparison (I'm rounding off from a chart I have). Australia is at 10,000. France looks to be at about 7300. That is mostly nuclear in France's case.

I wonder what makes Canada such an outlier? Cold dark winters? But then I'd expect Germany to be a similar outlier. But adjusted to per capita GDP Germany is well below the curve and Canada well above it.

AA2 said at December 4, 2005 1:08 PM:

I didn't think of the legal force aspect of treaties. I wonder if that is why the UK is acting very concerned about meeting its goals as well. In Canada no serious person ever believed we would do anything towards Kyoto. But educated, intelligent and free thinking people are a tiny minority, and actualy many would probably vote liberal anyway. Our legal system isn't like the US legal system at all really, for example we dont' have punitive damages. Just damages that you can prove were the result of whatever you are suing over.

I think the issue in Canada is like you say. The long cold dark winters. The peak load is december. Also Canadians live in huge suburban homes like Americans, but further north. Whereas the European living space per capita has been stagnant since at least the 70's and possibly even in slight decline. So we are lighting a large area indoors and outdoors, plus heating a large indoor area per capita. And a lot of the heating is electrical heating, not oil or gas.

The next huge use is our resource industries. Like pulp mills and aluminum smelters. Or now the tar sands, which must require enormous amounts of energy.

Randall Parker said at December 4, 2005 1:34 PM:


No, the Brits have Parliamentary supremacy. The Parliament can make anything be legal, including treaty violations.

Kyoto is a bigger issue in Britain and Tony Blair has finally realized that Britain can't meet Kyoto goals without imposing such high energy costs that the economy stagnates for a while and energy prices cause voters to howl.

In the 2010s and 2020s most British nuclear reactors will reach the end of their service lives. Wind can't even make headway in reducing fossil fuels usage for electricity. Nuclear power plants replaced with coal-fired power plants will drive up CO2 emissions even if wind power satisfied all the increase in demand for total electricity. Hence Blair's sudden change of heart about nuclear.

Wind is not even an option in the rapidly growing American southeast. That is the area of the US with the least amount of wind.

I see battery technology as essential for a shift away from fossil fuels. Car batteries could be charged when the sun shines and the wind blows. So better batteries make unconstant solar and wind more feasible as energy sources. Also, batteries would allow nuclear to replace oil for powering cars. Given better batteries we could switch to nuclear, wind, and eventually solar.

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