Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Le Monde Celebrates The Fourth

The editors of Le Monde could not resist celebrating the Fourth of July with a generous frontpage helping of anti-American incitement from its star cartoonist Plantu.

(Click on image for larger version.)

( Note: The depicted edition of Le Monde is dated 5 July 2005. Le Monde is published, however, on the afternoon of the day prior to the date on its masthead.)

The title above the cartoon reads: "Environmental Warming: Bush Under Pressure by the G8". But the details of one of the associated articles unwittingly give the lie to the image of the USA as the recalcitrant global polluter whose greenhous gas emissions alone cast a shadow over its G8 partners and their hapless protégés from the developing world. (Note Plantu's signature "little black Africans", who are charitably afforded a seat at the G8 table.)

Thus an article on the negotiations for a post-Kyoto climate change agreement ("Les négociations climatiques sur l’après-Kyoto ont déjà commencé") notes that India - like the US, not a party to Kyoto - has criticized "the rich countries" (this the rendering of Le Monde) for "continuing to increase their emissions" (this apparently a direct quote). "This criticism is not entirely unfounded," the author begrudgingly admits:

even Europe, which presents itself as the model student in matters of climate change, has not managed to reduce its emissions sufficiently. According to statistics published in June by the European Environmental Agency, the emissions of the 25 EU countries increased by 1.5% in 2003 and at this rate will not respect the engagements made in the protocol.
Note the unexplained contradiction in the Le Monde article between the observation that Europe has not managed to "reduce its emissions sufficiently" and the statistics cited in the very next sentence that show that the emissions of the EU countries have in fact increased. Regardless of the rate of increase, how in the world could the EU countries respect their obligations under Kyoto - which are reputedly obligations to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions - if their emissions are rising?

The solution to this riddle lies in the fact that Kyoto, as so happens, does not oblige the EU countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, but only to "reduce" them in relation to the level of emissions that obtained in 1990. More precisely, and in less deceptive terms, Kyoto obliges the EU countries to assure that by 2012 their level of greenhouse gas emissions is inferior by a certain margin to that which obtained in 1990 (according to a calculus of so-called "burden-sharing" among the EU member states that can be consulted here by those interested). Depending on the actual level of emissions, of course, this does not imply any reduction whatsoever. And, indeed, as Jeremy Rabkin has discussed in a Fall 2000 contribution in The University of Chicago Journal of International Law ("Is EU Policy Eroding the Sovereignty of Non-Member States?"), it turns out that the 1990 base date was chosen precisely to coincide with significant declines in greenhouse gas emissions in two major EU countries that came about as unintended consequences of other events:

EU delegates came to Kyoto with a spectacularly ambitious agenda - based on a characteristic European political arrangement. The European Union arrived in Kyoto advocating that all developed nations agree to cut their greenhouse gas emissions by 15 percent from 1990 levels. Britain and Germany were anxious to use 1990 as the baseline, because, for different reasons, each of these countries began to decrease its carbon emissions in that year. In Britain, the Thatcher government was consolidating its victory over the miners union by privatizing the coal industry and encouraging a nationwide transition to more efficient oil and natural gas. In re-unified Germany, the government began closing down dirty and inefficient coal-powered plants in the former East Germany. So both Britain and Germany could expect to make sizable reductions in carbon dioxide emissions without much pain. Other European states were persuaded to go along with German and UK ambitions by a plan that would have the European Union as a whole reduce emissions by 15 percent, though each individual state would not have to do so.