Kyoto’s Anniversary: Little Reason to Celebrate, by Dana Joel Gattuso

February 16 marks the Kyoto Protocol’s first anniversary — it’s been one year since the UN global warming agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions went into effect. But don’t plan on uncorking the bubbly any time soon. In spite of claims by the European Union’s top brass that the targets for reducing energy use are easily in reach-and their nagging pressure on the United States to sign the treaty-the glaring failure of Europe’s nations to meet the treaty’s targets has put the partying on hold.

The Kyoto Protocol requires industrialized countries to cut carbon dioxide emissions by an average 5.2 percent below 1990 levels by 2008-2012. But 13 of the 15 original members of the European Union have increased their emissions since 1990, not reduced them. New data by the EU’s own European Environmental Agency show that by 2010, the 15 nations’ emissions collectively will exceed 1990 levels by seven percent.1

And while leaders within the EU are pushing for even more stringent caps beyond 2012, the year the Kyoto Protocol expires, other key players believe Kyoto has no future. The  UN climate talks in Montreal last December was telling. There, member countries failed to agree on binding emissions cuts for post-2012, and the climate shifted toward a discussion of clean energy and new technology development as a policy alternative to Kyoto.

Handicapping Kyoto’s future is the fact that the treaty is economic suicide, and most European nations know it. According to the Brussels economic research organization International Council for Capital Formation (ICCF), the UK’s gross domestic product will fall more than 1 percent in 2010 from what it otherwise would be, Italy’s by more than 2 percent, and Spain’s by more than 3 percent as a result of Kyoto’s emissions targets. The UK, Italy, and Germany each would lose at least 200,000 jobs; Spain would lose 800,000.2 

For what? Even if European nations did comply with the Kyoto targets, for all the economic hardship, they’d achieve a paltry reduction in carbon dioxide emissions of 0.1 percent by 2010, according to Margo Thorning, economist and managing director of ICCF.3

The harsh reality of an economic plunge with little to show for it has caused some key European political leaders to do an about-face on Kyoto. The UK’s Prime Minister Tony Blair, a previous Kyoto die-hard, has had to deal first-hand with the economic sacrifices of Kyoto round one. And while the UK is one of only two European nations that so far are meeting the Kyoto targets, Blair’s new enough-is-enough stance is telling. “I’m changing my thinking about this… No country is going to cut its growth or consumption substantially in the light of a long-term environmental problem,” he told government and private-sector leaders at the Clinton Global Initiative conference in New York last September. “I don’t think people are going to start negotiating another major treaty like Kyoto.”4

Similarly, Italy’s Defense Minister Antonio Martino recently had harsh words for the EU’s stubborn pursuit: “That the EU would still insist on implementing the protocol must be seen as an institutional form of collective self-flagellation. Kyoto will severely penalize the European economy without bringing any real progress toward the noble aims proclaimed by the EU.”5

Enter the Asia-Pacific Partnership, a new coalition of Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea, and the United States, committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions through the development of new, clean technologies. The gang of six, who first met officially last month in Sydney, will invest in new R&D promoting cleaner sources of energy and work with China and India to utilize them. By comparison, Kyoto failed to sign up China and India, the emerging industrial giants that together emit over 20 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases.

Unlike the Kyoto Protocol, the new pact will not force its signatories to cut fossil fuel production or cap greenhouse gas emissions but will work to develop new sources of energy that will curb emissions long into the future. Also unlike the Kyoto Protocol, this club’s members comprise almost half the world’s greenhouse gas emitters, all committed to reducing emissions without sacrificing economic growth.6

The Kyoto Protocol’s one-year anniversary is a reminder that the agreement’s future looks bleak and that more realistic and sensible approaches to develop new methods and clean sources of energy for all industrial nations are likely to be around for a long time to come.

Dana Joel Gattuso is a senior fellow at The National Center for Public Policy Research in Washington, D.C.


1 Congressional Testimony of Margo Thorning, Senior Vice President and Chief Economist of the American Council for Capital Formation, before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, “Efforts to Reduce Greenhouse Gases,” October 5, 2005.

2 International Council for Capital Formation, “The Cost of the Kyoto Protocol: Moving Forward on Climate Change Policy While Preserving Economic Growth (Brussels, Belgium),” November 2005, p. 2.

3 Richard Black, “Kyoto To ‘Reduce Europe’s Growth,'” BBC News Website, November 7, 2005.

4 Tony Blair, Remarks, Clinton Global Initiative, Special Opening Plenary Session (New York), September 15, 2005.

5 Antonio Martino, “Kyoto? Mamma Mia!” Wall Street Journal, October 7, 2005.

6 Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate, Inaugural Ministerial Meeting (Sydney, Australia), January 2006, “Communiqué,” at

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