Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Kyoto and how we got here (III)

As promised, I'll explain the climate policy enacted by the Bush administration in lieu of the Kyoto Protocol. Canadians should also pay attention; the Bush approach will probably be the model for Canadian PM Harper's"Made-in-Canada" climate policy.

The plan put forth in 2002 calls for an 18% reduction in U.S. greenhouse gas intensity by 2012. The intensity is not the total GHG emissions. It is the GHG emissions per dollar of GDP. The idea is that the economy become more greenhouse gas efficient. On the surface, it sounds sensible.

The hole in this policy is so big you could drive a Hummer through it. I say this not out of politics or any feelings about the current administration. The hole will be obvious anyone who owns a calculator, who sat through Economics 101 or who likes to scribble out equations on a cocktail napkin.

The economy or the GDP grows at roughly 3% a year. Your calculator can tell you that works out to about a 34% increase in GDP over ten years. Compound interest, from Economics 101.

Remember, the stated goal is to reduce the GHG intensity – the emissions divided by the GDP – by 18%. A bit of multiplication and division, and you’ll discover that means the actual GHG emissions can increase by 10% over those same ten years. So the proposed reduction in intensity is actually an increase in total emissions.

Hold on, you might say. If the GHG intensity remained the same over those ten years, the total emissions would increase by 34%. An increase of only 10% is still better than “business as usual”. This is better an improvement, right?

Er, no. The GHG intensity of the US economy had already been decreasing.

How much? I have to pause here, and admit, this is my favourite part. About 18% between 1990 and 2000. I'm not kidding.

The reduction in emissions intensity is not an "ambitious national goal" as the White House claims. It is a statement of what was already happening with no policy in place. It would probably take effort not to continue that trend.

There it is, kids, the Bush climate policy, and Stephen Harper's model for the made-in-Canada solution to climate changes, debunked in about three minutes with a calculator.

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