Cancun Can’t

Part One: The Twilight of European Climate Leadership

Talks in Cancun can't be anything other than canned. There is no chance there will be a treaty or even a workable framework.

Yet European policymakers hold out hope. "There is no alternative," German Chancellor Merkel stated, "to the UN process" -- and European greens insist that "there are still reasons for optimism."

Europeans hang on to the dead treaty process because letting go requires acknowledging an uncomfortable reality. Europe has not reduced its emissions and is in no position to lecture the world. Fed up, the world's largest developing powers -- China, India, Brazil, and South Africa -- broke away from Europe in Copenhagen. That the U.S., not Europe, mediated the divide, stung all the more.

All of which begs a question: How did international talks, largely created and guided by European governments, end up sidelining Europeans rather than empowering them? Why did the European Emissions Trading Scheme fail? And what do we do now?

"Cancun Can't" is the first in a three-part series on the "Twilight of European Climate Leadership." Here we show how Europe's emissions have risen, despite the Continent's efforts at creative accounting, even as it off-shored its emissions to China and the developing world.

Der Heuchler

The hypocrisy of European governments was on full display in Copenhagen last year. The German newspaper Der Spiegel gained access to a recording of the desperate attempt by world leaders to forge a last-minute consensus between developing and developed countries. Frustrated with the deadlock in the negotiations, Brown, Merkel and Sarkozy all exerted immense pressure on their Indian and Chinese counterparts to sign up to binding emissions targets.

At some point his patience was at an end, as depleted as the oxygen in the small conference room. He could no longer keep still, not even for a second.
The words suddenly burst out of French President Nicolas Sarkozy: "I say this with all due respect and in all friendship." Everyone in the room, which included two dozen heads of state, knew that he meant precisely the opposite of what he was saying. "With all due respect to China," the French president continued, speaking in French. The West, Sarkozy said, had pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent. "And in return, China, which will soon be the biggest economic power in the world, says to the world: Commitments apply to you, but not to us."
Sarkozy, gaining momentum, then said: "This is utterly unacceptable!" And then the French president stoked the diplomatic conflict even further when he said: "This is about the essentials, and one has to react to this hypocrisy!"

According to Der Spiegel, in apocalyptic hyperbole typical of European writers on climate, "that was the moment when the world leaders meeting in Copenhagen abandoned their efforts to save the world... China and India sabotaged the UN climate summit."

Many Europeans -- Der Spiegel included -- believe Europe is steadfastly leading the world to greener pastures. In fact, Europe is no more reducing its emissions than China -- it just talks a greener game.

This series will show that Europe shelters its industries from its Emissions Trading Scheme, heavily subsidies fossil energy, and hides its emissions through creative accounting.

Do What We Say, Not What We Do

The EU-15 is, today, 6.2 percentage points below its 8 percent reductions target. Between 2000 and 2005, EU emissions grew twice as fast as those of the United States.

Those two facts contradict much of what European greens know to be true about climate. The European environmental ministries have used carbon offsets and the purchase of fake emissions reductions like Russian "hot air" to mask the continent's rising emissions.

The only EU countries that truly seem on their way to meet their targets are five countries: France, Germany, Greece, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

-- France was exempted from emission targets altogether because it was already heavily reliant on nuclear energy for electrification.

-- Germany only managed to reduce its emissions because it successfully negotiated 1990 as the baseline year instead of 1997, allowing it to factor in the collapse of East Germany's industrial sector following reunification.

-- Greece was allowed to grow its emissions to 125 percent of 1990 levels, but due to poor economic performance got "stuck" at 122.8 percent.

-- Sweden, in the meantime, simply continued its energy security policy set up in the wake of the 1970s oil crises, phasing out fossil fuels by building large dams and nuclear plants.

Of the five countries, two -- the United Kingdom and Germany -- count deep emissions reductions that occurred before the Kyoto Protocol was actually negotiated in 1997.

In the years since they committed to emissions reduction targets that they had already achieved, British and German emissions have in fact risen.

The Netherlands, my home nation, imagines itself to be one of the greenest nations on earth. In fact, we provide around 7.5 billion euros per year in hidden subsidies for the production and use of fossil fuels. The United Kingdom provides 10 billion pounds per year in hidden fuel subsidies to the aviation sector alone.

While recent numbers for the EU as a whole are remarkably difficult to obtain, the European Environmental Agency reported that "energy subsidies in the EU-15 have been estimated to amount to over EUR 29 billion ... with almost three quarters oriented towards the support of fossil fuels."

And today "the European Union is fine-tuning plans to allow millions of euros of state subsidies for new coal-fired power plants."

Despite its own cries of horror at the rate of coal-fired power plant construction in China, the European Union has been turning back to coal. Throughout the EU, coal still accounts for almost a third of all electricity production and 17 percent of total energy consumption. In some countries, the share is growing rapidly. Italy, for example, "will increase its reliance on coal to 33 percent from 14 percent," over the next five years.

The Hypocrisy of All Hypocrisies

Shortly after Sarkozy lost his cool in Copenhagen, accusing the Chinese of hypocrisy, the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science confirmed that Europe outsources between 20 and 50 percent of its emissions to the developing world -- and much of that to China in particular.

Writes Time magazine's intrepid Bryan Walsh:

In a few rich nations, such as France, Sweden and Britain, more than 30% of consumption-based emissions could be traced to origins abroad; if those emissions were tallied on the other side of the balance sheet, it would add more than four tons of CO2 per person in several European nations. ... Beijing may be leading the world in carbon emissions, [but] that output is in large part due to the fact that it is using energy to make clothes, cars and toys for the rest of us.

The illusion of Europe as a global green leader is rapidly coming to an end. In Copenhagen, the developing world called its bluff. And Cancun will once again dramatize what Europe can't do.

This is the twilight of European leadership on global warming.

This is the first article in a three-part series on the Twilight of European Climate Leadership:

Part I: Cancun Can't
Part II: The Failure of Emissions Trading
Part III: How Europe Can Escape Groundhog Day