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In Green Europe, It Takes an Economic Disaster to Reduce Emissions

Greenhouse gas emissions were down by 0.7 percent across the industrialized world in 2011, according to a new data analysis by Reuters. The Guardian reports on the leading causes of the drop:

“For the United States, it’s mainly a shift from coal to gas in power plants,” said Steffen Kallbekken, research director at the Centre for International Climate and Environmental Research, Oslo, said of the 2011 numbers.

“For Europe it’s primarily weak economic activity,” he said. Industrialised nations are trying to cut emissions, mainly from burning fossil fuels, to curb a rise in temperatures and avert heatwaves, floods, droughts and rising sea levels.

But the data shows that even though EU economic weakness and US natural gas are responsible for significant drops in emissions in the developed world, developing countries, led by China, continue to drive the global total higher.

This underscores the disconnect between green policies and green results. The US hasn’t checked off many items on the green wish list for domestic legislation; Europe has. But it turns out that the introduction of the euro and the subsequent economic disaster had more to do with European emissions drops than Kyoto or the shambolic carbon-trading program.

The usual suspects are headed to Bonn next week for another forlorn attempt to carve out a meaningful global climate treaty. Meanwhile in the real world, the challenge is to find a way for developing countries to continue rapid growth without driving greenhouse gasses and other pollutants to potentially dangerous levels.

But the diverging trends in greenhouse gas emissions won’t help the bureaucrats and cookie pushers in Bonn. The problem is simple. No meaningful climate treaty can get through the US Senate that doesn’t put strict limits on China and the developing world, and China will never voluntarily consent to international restrictions on the speed of its growth (nor will a large group of other developing countries). And Europe no longer has either the money to pay for grand global climate treaties or a way to pressure countries like China.

Under these conditions, some sort of grand bargain is unlikely. In the meantime, fracking continues to make the US greener every day.

[Earth image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons]

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  • Nick Bidler

    Truly, this story bears witness to ancient wisdom: “if you ignore a problem (i.e. CO2 emissions), sometimes it goes away.”

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