Lords claim Kyoto focus on emissions targets 'will fail'

The Kyoto Protocol's reliance on targets and penalties to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is doomed, according to a House of Lords Committee.1 The Committee also casts doubt on the objectivity of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) - but it is itself open to charges of conflicts of interest.

The report from the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee, launched just before the G8 summit (see p 53 ), says that negotiations on a successor to the existing Protocol "will have to take a far more innovatory approach than simply assuming that the Kyoto targets will be tightened."

The Lords argue that "the 'more of the same' approach, focusing on emissions targets, will fail". The Kyoto compliance mechanisms are "very weak and even counter-productive" - and the existing targets will "make little difference to rates of warming".

Instead, the Lords call for "wholly different, and more promising approaches" which, they argue, stand a better chance of engaging major emitters such as the USA. They place particular emphasis on international agreements on R&D and diffusion of low-carbon technologies - the approach favoured by the Bush administration.

The International Energy Agency has estimated that a $400 billion programme - equivalent to the US Apollo programme that put man on the moon - could make low-carbon technologies commercially viable.

However, the Lords have little to say on other policies to curb emissions and drive uptake of cleaner technologies. Major companies recently told G8 leaders that a cap and trade system based on long-term emission targets is also needed to provide a secure framework for investment in cleaner technologies (ENDS Report 365, p 11 ).

The report calls on the Government to review energy policy in the UK, which it claims is based on "dubious assumptions" about the potential for renewables and energy efficiency. It calls for nuclear power capacity to be "maintained at least at its present level", and for the climate change levy to be replaced by a carbon tax.

The Committee has an impressive line-up. It is chaired by Lord Wakeham, former Energy Minister and director of collapsed US energy giant Enron, and includes two former Tory Chancellors, Lord Lawson of Blaby and Lord Lamont of Lerwick. Leading environmental economist Professor David Pearce acted as its special adviser.

However, the Committee's choice of witnesses and lines of questioning raised questions about whether it approached the subject with an axe to grind. Sir David King, the Government's Chief Scientist, told the peers that "you have subjected yourselves to a particularly strange representation of scientists" (ENDS Report 362, p 37 ).

In the end, the peers recognise the "strong majority view" on the science of climate change, as articulated by the IPCC, and say they "do not believe that today's scientists are 'crying wolf'."

Even so, the report maintains that "the science of climate change is debatable", and "speculative" when it comes to measuring impacts. It accuses the IPCC of "downplaying" positive aspects of global warming in some parts of the world, and calls for a refocusing of effort away from mitigation and towards adaptation measures.

The IPCC comes in for strong criticism in other areas. The Committee suggests that its emissions scenarios - which underpin forecasts of warming - have been influenced upwards by "political factors" and are in need of urgent reappraisal. It sees "no justification" for the role played by Government representatives in drafting "policy-makers summaries" - and is concerned that "there may be political interference in the nomination of scientists to the IPCC".

Overall, the Committee says, "it seems to us that the emissions scenarios are influenced by political considerations and, more broadly, that the economics input into the IPCC is in some danger of being sidelined."

The Committee's criticisms of the IPCC appear to draw heavily on the personal experiences of its special adviser. In the 1990s, Professor Pearce's work for the IPCC on valuing climate change impacts prompted a storm of controversy - centred on his proposal that loss of a human life in the developing world should be valued at one-fifteenth that in a wealthy nation.

The Lords' report digs up a controversy from the 1995 IPCC assessment report in which lead authors of a chapter on the costs of climate change disowned the associated summary for policy-makers. However, nowhere does it mention that Professor Pearce was among the lead authors in question.

The report also maintains that global monetised damage costs for global warming are "relatively low", if "highly controversial within IPCC deliberations". It expresses concern that the IPCC "appears to be playing down" monetised estimates of the benefits of controlling global warming - and suggests that this may be because "the economic measures of damage give the impression that the benefits of warming control are smaller relative to the costs."

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