U.S. Cutting Emissions Faster than Europe

Published April 1, 2007

The United States is making more significant progress than Europe in cutting both greenhouse gas intensity and gross emissions, Kurt Volker, a European affairs analyst with the U.S. government, told German economic leaders in a February 12 speech in Berlin.

Volker, the U.S. principal deputy assistant secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs, noted greenhouse gas emissions per unit of gross domestic product declined by 7.5 percent in the United States from 2000 to 2004, the most recent period for which reliable data have been assembled. The European Union reduced its greenhouse gas intensity by only 4.5 percent in the same time span, Volker reported.

“How did the United States achieve this lower emissions intensity ratio?” Volker asked. “By working very hard to bring cleaner technology into the marketplace. Through a combination of targeted market decisions, incentives, voluntary partnerships, and mandates, the [Bush] administration’s policies have helped speed the deployment of cleaner technology.”

EU Total Emissions Up

Just as importantly, Volker noted, while overall U.S. greenhouse gas emissions grew by 1.3 percent from 2000 to 2004, total EU emissions grew at 2.1 percent, a 50 percent more rapid pace.

Even this number does not tell the true story, Volker noted, because the EU number was held down by several smaller and less affluent nations that recently joined the Union. Total emissions in the 15 long-standing members of the EU rose by 2.4 percent, roughly double the U.S. increase, from 2000 to 2004.

Significant gains in U.S. population and total economic growth caused the slight increase in overall U.S. greenhouse gas emissions despite the impressive reduction in greenhouse gas intensity.

Investing in Technology

The U.S. strategy of investing in new technology and encouraging private enterprise to take the lead in reducing emissions is producing better results than the European command-and-control strategy of passing mandatory caps but failing to encourage market solutions, Volker noted.

“We are investing heavily in clean technology and instituting policies to help it become cost-competitive,” said Volker. “From Fiscal Year 2001 to the end of Fiscal Year 2006, the U.S. government devoted more than $29 billion to climate science, technology, international assistance, and incentive programs.”

“The hard data show that Kyoto is a paper tiger,” noted Sterling Burnett, senior fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis. “You have got words on paper and they are not worth a thing if the actions don’t correspond. U.S. businesses are succeeding where European bureaucracies are failing.”

“Since the negotiation of the Kyoto Protocol the U.S. has outperformed Kyoto’s major parties in terms of CO2 emissions,” said Chris Horner, senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. “The disparity is even more exaggerated over the past five years for which data are available, 2000 to 2004.”

Horner added, “any claim that it is the U.S.’s turn to do what the rest of the world is purportedly doing can only be a call to abandon our position as a world leader in favor of a failed scheme.”

James Hoare ([email protected]) is an attorney practicing in Rochester, New York.