Dominic Lawson: Kyoto is worthless (and you don't have to be a sceptic to believe that now)

The EU has managed to claim success while increasing emissions by 13 per cent

Tuesday 09 December 2008 01:00

Seldom has a politician's call to action been so rapidly answered. Mr Ed Miliband gives a newspaper interview in which he demands "popular mobilisation" to force the world's governments to push through an agreement to limit carbon emissions. Within hours, members of the Plane Stupid campaign occupy the runway at Stansted Airport, causing arriving planes to circle for hours before being diverted. Well done, Ed!

In fact the Secretary of State for the Environment's demand for a "countervailing force" to be applied to the carbon foot-draggers was anticipated: last week, "climate protesters" broke into one of Britain's biggest power stations, managing to cut almost two per cent of the nation's power supplies. I imagine that the Secretary of State for Energy will be having stern words with Ed Miliband. This, though, would mean Mr Miliband shouting at himself, like a lunatic on a street-corner, since he is the Secretary of State for Energy, as well. Who says we don't have joined-up government?

Both of these "mobilisations" were presumably designed, à la Miliband, to put pressure on the world's environment ministers who are now gathering in the Polish city of Poznan to come up with the outlines of a treaty to succeed the Kyoto Accord, which expires in 2012. The truth, however, is that Kyoto, as a means to reduce carbon emissions, has been like Monty Python's parrot, long dead, despite all the protestations to the contrary by its salesmen.

You don't have to be a "climate change sceptic" to assert this unwelcome fact. Professor Gwyn Prins, Director of the LSE's Mackinder Centre for the Study of Long Wave Events, has been advocating measures to reduce what he sees as man-made climate change since 1986. He was a lead author on the Third and Fourth Assessment Reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and on the Advisory Board of Friends of the Earth UK. For some years now, Prof Prins has been warning that the Kyoto approach is hopelessly flawed – and his unpopularity in the environment ministries of Europe has grown, precisely as his criticisms of their approach have been vindicated.

His basic critique was originally outlined in a paper entitled "The Wrong Trousers" (after the Wallace and Gromit film): "The Kyoto Protocol seeks to square a circle. It seeks to articulate a market-driven trading mechanism, with a top-down detailed specification of how it will work. It is an example of a form of output target-setting that seeks to prevail by institutional fiat, based on over-confident assertion of fragile knowledge, through the sanction of tax and associated punishment. It has been applied to an entirely novel, indeed, a fabricated market."

This fabricated market in carbon has at its heart the UN's Clean Development Mechanism. This is how the EU, which had an obligation under Kyoto to reduce its emissions by two per cent by 2012, has managed to claim success while actually increasing its emissions by 13 per cent. By purchasing so called "offsets" from countries such as China, Britain, for example, proclaims itself a "leader in the fight against climate change".

Most of this is entirely fraudulent, in the sense that the Chinese have been paid billions to destroy particular atmospheric pollutants, such as CFC-23, which have actually been manufactured in order to be destroyed – and for no other purpose. This is hardly surprising: if something is accorded a price (especially a fixed one) then companies will queue up to produce it.

The EU is inordinately proud of its Emissions Trading Scheme – which it calls "the world's first carbon market" – and it is this scheme which has created the creative accounting scam known as "offsets". Even mortgage-backed securities, the financial instrument at the heart of the credit crunch, at least had something useful – houses – at the bottom of the pile of junk. Some people have described offsets as the carbon market equivalent of the mediaeval sale of Indulgences by the Catholic Church; but as Prof Prins points out, the Church sold them only as a means of atoning for the sins of the past – "carbon offsets" are sold to absolve us from sins in the future, an even more preposterous transaction.

Now that the EU is attempting at Poznan to set up a scheme which will make its industries buy carbon allocations via an auction, rather than simply receiving them free of charge, reality is finally intruding on the madness. Angela Merkel, as environment minister in Helmut Kohl's administration, was noted for her promotion of policies solely designed to reduce Germany's carbon emissions. As Chancellor, however, she has become better acquainted with the arguments of her country's industrial base. Thus last week in Berlin Merkel declared: "We must ensure that our energy-intensive industry, which is driven by exports, is of course excluded from the emissions quotas. We cannot stand by while jobs in the chemicals, steel and other industries move to regions of the world where climate protection is less stringent than here."

Similar remarks have been made in the run-up to Poznan by Silvio Berlusconi, Italy's Prime Minister. It is not thought that Signor Berlusconi had read the Kyoto treaty, when he signed it during his previous term of office-but then the most convincing fraudulent documents have real signatures.

As for the host nation Poland, it produces 94 per cent of its energy from its own supplies of coal – the devil's fuel, according to the Kyoto process. Other European countries have, in effect, attempted to bribe the Poles to agree to take Russian gas instead of using their own coal to keep the country going. If they understood anything about the history of Poland, they would surely realise that there is not a chance that the Poles would voluntarily make themselves reliant on Russia to keep the lights on. I wonder if the hosts might suddenly arrange to have the delegates' hotel heating turned off in freezing Poznan, just to get the point across.

I tuned in to the BBC's Today programme yesterday morning to hear someone expostulating passionately on this general issue. He exclaimed: "I really can not believe that the EU will not come up with a deal [in Poznan]. The EU can not afford to fail on this. Our credibility will be absolutely nil." I wondered which member of Plane Stupid was talking; but then the presenter said: "Thank you, Roger Harrabin," and I realised that I had been listening to the BBC's "Environment Analyst".

Mr Harrabin's evident panic at the idea that the EU might appear to fail to keep the "Kyoto process" alive is, in a way, understandable: the Corporation's coverage of this issue has been at all times based on the idea that the Kyoto Treaty is A Good Thing: as that rare subversive, Jeremy Paxman, said last year, "The BBC's coverage of the issue abandoned the pretence of impartiality long ago." This is why you won't be hearing Prof Prins being interviewed by Mr Harrabin.

Never mind. As with Monty Python's rigid Norwegian Blue, it doesn't matter how desperately convincing the salesman is: in the end, the public knows a dead parrot when it sees one.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments