The Kyoto Treaty: Scandal in the Making?

By David L. Brown

The Kyoto treaty on greenhouse gas (GHG) emission has been touted as a brave step toward a reduction in global warming. But, according to an article in the 22 June 2006 issue of New Scientist magazine, many of the nations that have signed on to the Kyoto program are cheating by claiming they emit less GHG than they actually do.

According to the article, entitled “Kyoto Promises Are Nothing But Hot Air” (read it all here):

… two teams that have monitored concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere say they have convincing evidence that the figures reported by many countries are wrong, especially for methane. Among the worst offenders are the UK, which may be emitting 92 percent more methane than it declares under the Kyoto protocol, and France, which may be emitting 47 percent more.

One of the climate scientists, Peter Bergamaschi of the European Commission Joint Research Centre at Ispra, Italy, used a “top-down” technique to study actual emissions across Europe, allowing his group to monitor GHG emissions independently of official government reports. Bergamaschi’s calculations are supported by a similar study led by Euan Nisbet of Royal Holloway University of London.

The findings not only bring into question the dedication of Kyoto treaty signers to reducing GHG, but cast serious doubt on the developing new multibillion dollar international market in carbon trading. In this system, companies or nations that reduce their GHG emissions can sell carbon permits, actually “pollution rights,” to other less efficient energy users that can apply the permits against their own emissions. But if the numbers are being fudged, there is an obvious opportunity for massive fraud. It has all the makings of the Iraq “Oil for Food” scandal, only writ much larger and at the expense of the world’s environment.

According to the New Scientist article:

Both scientists [Bergamaschi and Nisbet] believe that countries outside Europe are also likely to be under-reporting their emissions, and that the problem is global. “We know the total global emissions well enough, but individual national numbers may be badly out. Some are too big and some are too small,” Nisbet says.

In the past, he says, estimates of greenhouse gas emissions were inaccurate simply because of the difficulty of measuring them, but that may have changed. “Now that money enters the picture, with the Kyoto protocol rules and carbon trading, so also can fraud. There will be an incentive to under-report emissions.”

The United States and Australia have been castigated for refusing to sign onto the Kyoto protocols, and yet both nations appear to be making some real progress in cleaning up their carbon acts. If Kyoto participants are lying and cheating to collect carbon trading remittances while continuing to spew CO2 and methane into the atmosphere, in the opinion of Star Phoenix Base this represents a major crime against humanity.

And here is perhaps the most surprising paragraph in the news report (I have added boldface for emphasis):

Some western governments, say the scientists, have been reluctant to set up permanent monitoring stations. “Of all the G8 nations, the UK does the least,” says Nisbet, who runs the only permanent monitoring point in England, from his lab near Egham, on the south-western fringes of London. The longest-running CO2 monitoring point on British soil, in the Shetland Islands, was run by Australia till 2001 and is now funded by Germany. France runs a network of monitors on its remote island territories round the world, but the UK government refuses pleas for it to do likewise on territories such as Ascension Island or South Georgia in the remote South Atlantic, or the Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean. The European Union recently shut down its pioneering programme of measuring atmospheric methane across the continent. “Ironically, the best monitoring is done by the US and Australia, which are both in denial over Kyoto,” Nisbet says.

One of the problems with Kyoto, and a reason why the U.S. has refused to sign, is that developed economies, and the U.S. in particular, are expected to bear the major hardship of reducing global GHG emissions. So-called developing nations such as China and India are given a “get out of jail free card” allowing them to continue to pollute at higher levels. Add in the opportunity for polluters in developed nations to lie about their emissions and then sell carbon credits (“pollution rights”) to developing countries for billions of dollars makes a complete sham of the Kyoto scheme and could be characterized as corruption on a grand scale.

As the statement from Nisbet quoted above suggests, as non-signers of the Kyoto Treaty the U.S. and Australia have no disincentive to provide accurate monitoring of GHG emissions. To carry that to the next logical conclusion, being a Kyoto signator provides both the incentive and potential reward for under-reporting and outright cheating.

That this may be happening is discouraging news, because the world badly needs to put the brakes on carbon emissions. Unfortunately, it still seems to be business and politics as usual.

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