British Prime Minister Blair Turning Away from Kyoto

Published January 1, 2006

In an editorial published in a leading British newspaper and in comments at a meeting of environmental ministers from the world’s leading economies, British Prime Minister Tony Blair distanced himself from the Kyoto Protocol and supported the longstanding U.S. position that developing nations must be included in any meaningful global warming treaty.

Blair also agreed with the U.S. stance that technological development rather than top-down government mandates must drive carbon dioxide reductions.

“The difficulties with the current climate change debate,” Blair wrote in an October 30 editorial in the London Guardian and Observer, titled “Get Real on Climate Change,” amount to “a reluctance to face up to reality and the practical action needed to tackle problems.

“We must understand that neither issue [climate change and energy supply] can realistically be dealt with unless the US, the EU, Russia, Japan, China and India work together,” Blair explained.

Kyoto Results Disappointing

Blair noted the Kyoto Protocol will not do what its advocates claim, even if it were to gain U.S. support.

“Kyoto doesn’t even stabilize [greenhouse gas emissions]. It won’t work as intended, either, unless the U.S. is part of it. It’s easy to take frustrations out on the Bush Administration but people forget that the Senate voted 95-0 against Kyoto when Bill Clinton was in the White House,” Blair observed. “We have to understand as well that, even if the U.S. did sign up to Kyoto, it wouldn’t affect the huge growth in energy consumption we will see in India and China. China is building close to a new power station every week.

“The first Kyoto commitment period ends in 2012,” Blair noted. “The challenge is what will come next. Will it be another round of division or what we need: a sound, rational, science-based unity, which ensures the right legally-binding framework to incentivize sustainable development?” Blair asked.

“None of this is going to happen unless the major developed and emerging nations sit down together and work it out, in a way that allows us all to grow, imposes no competitive disadvantage and enables the transfer of the technology needed for sustainable growth to take place,” Blair concluded.

Blair followed up on his editorial, according to media reports, by telling the environmental ministers meeting in Britain, “The blunt truth about the politics of climate change is that no country will want to sacrifice its economy in order to meet this challenge. But all economies know that the only sensible, long-term way to develop is to do it on a sustainable basis.”

Australia, U.S. Vindicated

“Blair leads a country that is a key signatory of Kyoto, yet he has left no doubt that the Kyoto Protocol simply will not deliver the reductions in greenhouse gases that are needed to curb the threat of climate change,” Australian Environment Minister Ian Campbell commented in a November 2 column in the Australian News.

“His comments mirror what Australia has said all along: that is, to have a real impact on climate change, it is imperative to have co-operation from all countries and all greenhouse emitters,” Campbell added.

Importance of Technology

“The argument that I have been making, repeatedly, on BBC is that Kyoto is futile,” said Pat Michaels, past president of the American Association of State Climatologists and senior fellow at the Cato Institute. “Tony Blair is realizing that encouraging the private sector to invest in technology is more effective than top-down government mandates. The last thing you want to do is take capital away from people who would otherwise invest that capital into efficient technology investment.

“If the government had taken away my capital in an effort to fight global warming, I could not afford to buy or invest in hybrid automobile technology,” Michaels continued. “How do you create forces to develop the science and technology? Encourage the system that maximizes investment in science and technology. Allow people to invest in things that work.”

Data Indict Kyoto

Data released after Blair’s comments supported his statement that the Kyoto Protocol is failing to live up to expectations. The Reuters news service reported on November 11 that greenhouse gas emissions have risen in Kyoto-signatory Britain during the past two years while declining in the United States, which has not signed the treaty.

“It is difficult to criticize other countries, such as the United States, who will not meet their (Kyoto) targets if we are unable to meet our commitments,” Lord May, president of the Royal Society, the British national academy of science, told Reuters.

Reuters also reported that China, which is unencumbered by the Kyoto Protocol and is the world’s second-leading emitter of greenhouse gas emissions, continues to increase its greenhouse gas emissions and will likely refuse to enter any Kyoto-style treaty in the foreseeable future.

“China is unlikely to commit to cutting emissions in the next phase of the Kyoto Protocol, fearing it would retard economic growth,” Reuters reported.

James Hoare ([email protected]) is managing attorney at the Syracuse, New York office of McGivney, Kluger & Gannon.