U.S. Rejects Emissions Targets

The United States, it seems, won’t even take the tiniest of steps towards setting a target for emissions reductions, judging from reports of the ongoing Montreal conference on the Kyoto Protocol:

The Bush administration, facing fresh criticism on several fronts in climate talks here, maintained its opposition on Wednesday not only to new targets for cutting emissions linked to global warming but also to any informal discussions that might even touch on the subject.

So there. Throughout the conference, the administration has been touting “voluntary emissions reductions” as the way forward, pointing to the “fact” that between 2001 and 2003, emissions in the United States were reduced by 8 percent. One could respond that this time period, rather conveniently, includes a recession—exactly when you’d expect emissions to drop anyway—and that since 2003, emissions have sharply risen again. Not surprisingly, you can’t just “ask” companies to do the right thing.

In a related vein, the Times ran a smart article a few days ago that ran through the various problems with the Kyoto Protocol, along with potential treaties that might replace it. Well, fine. My sense is that whatever its flaws, Kyoto at the very least sent a signal that countries of the world could get together, act like adults for a change, and think about global warming in a responsible fashion. Sadly, the U.S. feels no need to be a part of that. Still, the flaws are worth noting. Everyone has their clever criticism of emissions-reduction treaties. The best point, I think, is that even if you set emissions targets, there’s no guarantee that countries will know how to reach those levels by such and such a date.

Ultimately, some sort of carbon-free energy source is going to be needed to help countries meet their targets, which means that someone’s going to have to develop that energy source and make it cost-effective. Massive, massive R&D investments in solar and wind power will be necessary—on a far larger scale than is currently even being contemplated, even in solar- and wind-friendly places like Japan, Germany, and California. But there’s no indication that the U.S., Europe, or any other industrial nation is ready to make these massive investments and help stave off catastrophic global warming.