For German politics and the German media, the U.S. and in particular U.S. President Bush are the default villains of environmental policy. Next to the bible, "Kyoto" is the cherished vision for a better world, in which humans, penguins and polar bears, to name a few beneficiaries, will live together in perfect natural harmony. All that stands between the paradise and the present are Bush's neocons who simply refuse to accept the consensus view of science.
Imagine, then, the surprise for the German audience generated by a speech of Kurt Volker, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs of the U.S. State Department. The speech was given on Feb 12, 2007, at a meeting of the German Marshall Fund.
Now, I know there is a deeply held view among many in Europe that the U.S. Government doesn't get it. That we don't care about climate change, that we are doing nothing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and that Europe, while perhaps not perfect, is doing a far better job of tackling the issue than the United States. This proposition--no matter how simple, no matter how widely held, and no matter how much it fits a pop-culture "blame-the-United States" paradigm--is completely wrong, on every point. (...)
Let me start first with the data, because it is important to have the facts on the table. No question: The United States is the world's largest emitter of CO2. Everybody in the room knows this. But this fact says no more about the United States, than the fact that Germany leads Europe in emissions says about Germany.
The United States is number one in greenhouse gas emissions primarily because it is the number one economy in the world. With 5% of the world's population we produce 25% of global wealth. And despite being relatively clean and green, Germany leads Europe in emissions, because it is Europe's largest economy. Our emissions are not out of line with the size of our economy. And it's worth noting: the International Energy Agency is forecasting that China, with a smaller economy, is expected to surpass U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 2009.
More important than current emissions is the trend line. What is actually happening to emissions? Are they being reduced? This, after all, is what Kyoto is supposed to address.
According to data from the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, from 2000-2004--the most recent period for which we have good, comparative data--U.S. greenhouse gas emissions increased by 1.3 percent. This is an increase, but a very modest increase. The EU-25, on the other hand, increased collective emissions by 2.1 percent.
And, no, this is not because the new EU members added since the 2004 expansion run dirtier economies than the previous 15 members, and this then bumps up the numbers. Actually, the new members have the opposite effect. Those nations--by moving away
from some older energy technologies like brown coal--are part of the good news story. If the new EU members did not bring down the average, the old EU-15 would get a worse report card--having increased emissions by 2.4 percent during this same time period.
Germany, I should state, had an admirable record of actually cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 0.7 percent during this time period--but Germany's efforts were overshadowed by increases in most other EU economies.
Now let's be honest--even a 2.4 percent increase for the EU-15 is a very modest increase. But given the way this issue gets talked about publicly in Europe, I would venture to say that few people in Europe know that from 2000 to 2004, EU-15 emissions grew at nearly double the U.S. rate, and that Europe, at least during this period, has been moving away from-not towards-its Kyoto target of an 8 percent cut. (...)
Now notice something else. This time period of 2000 to 2004 was a period of rapid economic growth in the United States. Between 2000 and 2004 we grew our economy by almost 1.9 trillion dollars (or nearly 1.46 trillion Euros). That's about the equivalent of adding Italy to the U.S. economy. And we increased our population by 11.3 million people--adding more than the population of Greece. And yet our emissions grew only 1.3 percent--that tells you a lot about how the U.S. economy is already changing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
It is of course very hard if not impossible to see an actual decrease in emissions when both your economy and population are growing, though we came close. So how do we get a better measure of what is really happening? We do that by measuring the greenhouse gas intensity of an economy--that is, greenhouse emissions per unit of GDP. As our economy soared, our emissions rose only slightly; from 2000 to 2004, we reduced the greenhouse gas intensity of the U.S. economy by 7.5 percent. That is a good result.
How did the EU-25 perform? They also saw a reduction in greenhouse gas intensity. Theirs was about 4.5 percent. Also a good result, though not quite as steep a decline as the United States.
How did the United States achieve this lower emissions intensity ratio? By working very hard to bring cleaner technology into the marketplace. Through a combination of targeted market decisions, incentives, voluntary partnerships and mandates, the Administration's policies have helped speed the deployment of cleaner technology.
And this is the key: Kyoto provides a target for emissions reductions. To actually cut the emissions -whether one is a Kyoto country or not--one needs to put new, cleaner technology in place. And this is where the United States is leading the world. Our approach is producing concrete results, even as our economy expands.
And that, in fact, gets to the heart of the issue. We all want jobs, education, health, poverty reduction--all the things a healthy, growing economy provides. So the trick is not to cut our economies, but make them cleaner even as they grow. ...
We can't wait for 2012; the future is today. We mustn't mistake process with outcome, and we mustn't confuse the means and the objectives. The Kyoto Protocol is one means that some nations have chosen to address greenhouse gas emissions. But the objective--our common objective--is the reduction of greenhouse gases, and there are multiple means for getting there. And my government is committed to this effort. I have tried to demonstrate to you today:
- The United States is deeply committed to the objective of cutting greenhouse gas emissions;
- We have a set of policies and concrete actions that are producing good, concrete results--now and in the future;
- We are cutting the growth rate of emissions in a way that also favors human development;
- We are working multilaterally to do so, particularly with the developing world;
- We are working together with Europe as well, and are eager to go further under the German EU and G8 Presidencies; and
- In doing so, we will not only help the global climate, but also strengthen independence, democracy, and security in the world.
I hope I have achieved my goal of getting you to start to think differently about the United States, and our policies on climate change.
The reaction of the German media to Volker's speech was phenomenal.
Well, not exactly. Somewhat underwhelming, to be more precise.
Actually, zero. There wasn't any reaction whatsoever, as far as I can see.
Anyway, IF ONLY BUSH WOULD SIGN KYOTO!!!!
Update: Criticism mounts over Europe's climate policy:
Europe 'complacent' on climate change
February 18, 2007 - 8:24AM
European nations are not doing enough to fight climate change and should show more leadership before they criticise the US and Asia, the head of the UN Environment Program (UNEP) said on Saturday.
Achim Steiner said in an interview with Bild am Sonntag newspaper climate change has been caused primarily by carbon dioxide emissions from Western industrialised nations and it was thus their responsibility to lead the fight against it.
He said the US and Asia were now moving faster in the fight against climate change than Europe, which he said has grown complacent.
"The Americans and Asians are catching up quickly and are becoming strong business competitors (with green technologies)," Steiner said, in excerpts of the interview released ahead of Sunday's publication.
"But in Europe we've cherished the illusion in recent years that 'we've done enough'," he added.
He praised Germany, which holds the European Union presidency, for "showing initiative" but said it was not enough.
"It's important that Germany move forward," he said, referring to Europe's biggest emitter of greenhouse gases.
The EU's environment commissioner earlier this month said Germany's lack of progress in cutting greenhouse gas emissions was holding back international efforts to combat global warming.