Climate Feedback

Say What?

Roger Pielke, Jr.

On the BBC Today program this morning the head of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Yvo de Boer

is quoted as saying the following, as subsequently reported online by the BBC:

The UN’s binding global climate agreement, the Kyoto Protocol, currently requires industrialised nations to reduce the majority of emissions themselves.

But Mr de Boer said this was illogical, adding that the scale of the problem facing the world meant that countries should be allowed to invest in emission cuts wherever in the world it was cheapest.

“We have been reducing emissions and making energy use more efficient in industrialised countries for a long time,” he told BBC News.

“So it is quite expensive in these nations to reduce emissions any more.

“But in developing nations, less has been done to reduce emissions and less has been done to address energy efficiency,” Mr de Boer observed.

“So it actually becomes economically quite attractive for a company, for example in the UK, that has a target to achieve this goal by reducing emissions in China.”

He said rich nations should be able to buy their way out of 100% of their responsibilities – though he doubted that any country would want to do so.

This statement is simply factually incorrect on many levels. For instance:

1. Industrialized countries have not seen their emissions decrease, quite the opposite.

2. On a per capita basis people in developing countries emit far, far less than people in developed countries, whether in North America or Europe.

3. Given the long residence time of atmospheric carbon dioxide, concentrations cannot be stabilized if developed countries do not reduce emissions by a great deal.

Expect a retraction soon.


  1. Report this comment

    Benny Peiser said:

    It would appear that Mr de Boer has got his facts wrong. Indeed, both his claims and proposals look rather confused. Given the failure of the Kyoto process, there seems to be growing pressure to come up with a new idea – any idea.

    I’m afraid the UNFCCC are trying to square the circle. Everbody knows that the developing world is neither willing nor able to reduce CO2 emissions in the next one or two generations given the absence of cost-effective energy alternatives. This inability also means, of course, that there is little if any propect that global CO2 emissions can be stabalisied, let alone reduced, in the foreseeable future.

    I wonder how long it will take the international climate change bureaucracy to accept reality.

  2. Report this comment

    coby said:

    I agree that as worded this is at best confused. But I think there may be a point worth considering, and perhaps this is what de Boer had in mind (lets be honest, it is virtually inconceivable that he is not well aware of all three of Roger’s counter points).

    That point is: the migration of manufacturing away from the ultimate consumer nations into the developing nations means that the distinction between “theirs” and “our” CO2 becomes more and more blurred. This is very worth remembering and any truly effective global solution will have to address that at some point.

  3. Report this comment

    Benny Peiser said:

    A good prediction: “The statement [by Yvo de Boer] is simply factually incorrect on many levels… Expect a retraction soon.”

    Well, here it comes, sort of:

    U.S. and Australian calls for a new world deal to fight climate change and ditch the United Nations’ Kyoto Protocol misrepresent key elements of the U.N. plan, the global body’s top climate official said on Thursday…

    “If you take a good look at the Kyoto Protocol many of the things that the U.S. and Australia are advocating as important elements of a useful way forward are in fact in there,” said de Boer, head of the Bonn-based U.N. Climate Change Secretariat.

    Kyoto should be improved and expanded rather than abandoned, he told Reuters in a telephone interview, faulting both U.S. Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs Paula Dobriansky and Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer.

    I guess Mr de Boer’s latest attack on the USA and Australia is driven mainly by an attempt of damage limitation in the aftermath of his controversial interview with Roger Harrabin.

    “Kyoto should be improved and expanded?” Not even the US Democrats are ready to accept a renewed Kyoto treaty.

    Expect more confusion and U-turns at the UNFCCC.

  4. Report this comment

    gb said:

    You clearly didn’t understand the point Yvo de Boer was making. Some countries need much more energy to achieve a certain amount of industrial production than others. For example, companies in China and Mexico emit more carbon dioxide per ton of produced steel than the US or Sweden. Therefore, it costs probably less to reduce the carbon dioxide emission per ton of produced steel in China than in Sweden. Mr. de Boer argues that if a company is forced to reduce GHG emissions by a certain amount it should be free to spend it where it costs less to achieve that goal, so perhaps in another country. To stabilize GHG emissions it doesn’t matter where the emissions are reduced as you said. Who can object to such an approach? It makes a lot of sense economically.

  5. Report this comment

    Marko said:

    According to the CDIAC, since 2000 the total CO2 emissions in the US have been flat. Per capita emissions have been declining. This appears to be true for some other industrialized nations as well.

    Why do you beleive US emissions are increasing? Why do you believe per capita emissions in the US are increasing? What is your source?

  6. Report this comment

    Roger Pielke Jr. said:

    A few replies:

    gb- I agree with your point if the goal is simply to efficiently improve efficiency. But the FCCC talks about stabilization, which requires real cuts. If YdB was in fact talking about emissions intensity then the UNFCCC and APP may be closer to merging than thus far suggested!

    Marko- For the data, see:

    but also,

    “In the United States, emissions per capita are projected to rise from 20 metric tons in 2004 to 22 metric tons in 2030.”

  7. Report this comment

    Lazar said:

    Cost-effectiveness means greater co2 reductions per $ spent. Since co2 is a well-mixed gas, it otherwise doesn’t matter where reductions take place. Additionally, investing in cleaner production in developing nations may have secondary impacts on human health, and since OECD nations have to some extent outsourced filthy and co2-intensive manufacturing, there is an ethical consideration.

    Roger/Olive, Benny, as gb pointed out, it is entirely unclear how points 1-3) show Yvo de Boer “got his facts wrong” or relate at all to his point regarding cost-effectiveness.

    Moreover, Benny, it is unclear how his statement on the Kyoto Protocol relates to his statement on cost-effectiveness, let alone constitutes a retraction. From the article;

    “But he said Kyoto’s caps had been set voluntarily by each country — including the United States — and that there were many flexible ways of reaching goals, for instance by carbon trading or investing in clean energy in poorer nations.”

    In fact the people who seem to have the wrong-end of the stick are the watermelon pseudo-greens.

  8. Report this comment

    JamesG said:

    The economist printed a graph recently about who are meeting their Kyoto targets and who aren’t. They didn’t point this out, but of those listed (the big old energy users) it seemed that the increases (notably in Canada) were cancelled out by the reductions (notably in Russia). India and China (the big new energy users) were not on the list of course. Most of the reductions were by complete chance, ie. profitless factories closing down. As globalisation inevitably spreads it seems that Asia is indeed the place to concentrate efficiency efforts coal-wise. Of course everyone needs to consume less oil but that should begin to happen naturally from the continued high oil price. Funny that most economists were wrong about the global economy collapsing with a high oil price. Market forces are quite interesting, if unpredictable.

  9. Report this comment

    simon said:

    If we compare the rate of burning fossil fuels years ago to the rate at which the same fuels are burnt today I’m sure the rate has slowed down in developed nations that are signatories to Kyoto and in others levelled out due to industrial relocation. Nevertheless this has occurred despite an overall increase in co2 atmospheric concentrations which questions the achievement. The man from the UN was actually correct in all that he says, but unfortunately the problem is so complex that Kyoto will still appear to have failed and may always be misunderstood. Kyoto was designed to be a first step, and has successfully encouraged member states to reduce co2 emissions. All members have reduced these emissions below what might have been without the accord; therefore the experiment was a success.

  10. Report this comment

    Dave Reay said:

    Just to back up Roger’s statement on rising US GHG emissions since 2000, The UNFCCC emissions inventory is worth a look. See:

    These data indicate an increase for CO2 of 2% from 2000-2004 with LULUCF and 2.1% without. This increase seems to be dominated by increased CO2 emissions from transport and energy generation.

    The story for all GHGs (basket of six) looks rather better – an increase of 1.1% with LULUCF and 1.3% without .

Comments are closed.