The Failure of Kyoto and the Futility of European Energy Policy

The Kyoto Protocol, designed to limit CO2 emissions from industrialised nations was adopted in 1997. The first commitment period began in 2008 and ended in 2012. These landmark dates are marked by arrows on Figure 1. In this period, the rate of global CO2 emissions accelerated (Figure 1). It is difficult to regard the Kyoto process as anything but a total failure.

In the same period, since 1997, Global average temperatures have risen by <0.1˚C (based on Hadcrut4 data) despite cumulative emissions of 460 Gt CO2 being added to the atmosphere (Figure 2). In the period 1997 to 2012 there is absolutely no evidence from the atmospheric temperature record that global warming or climate change are linked to CO2 emissions*.

European Union (EU) and UK energy policies aimed at reducing CO2 emissions have failed to make any impact at the Global level. These same policies have succeeded in pushing up electricity prices, making EU economies less competitive and in spreading energy poverty amongst the poorer people of Europe.

Based only on data from the cherry picked time interval 1997 to 2012 one would conclude that EU energy policy has failed to address a non-existent problem.

* readers are advised to read my cautionary note at the end of this piece.

Figure 1 Global fossil fuel consumption expressed in millions of tonnes of oil equivalent (mmtoe) from the 2013 BP statistical review of world energy. Mmtoe converted to CO2 by assuming CH2 as general formula for oil with molecular weight=14 atomic mass units (amu) and a molecular weight for CO2=44 amu. The arrows show landmark dates in the Kyoto process. During this period, CO2 emissions accelerated. The only process to halt the relentless rise in CO2 emissions is spikes in the oil price causing recessions in 1974, 1979 and again in 2008.

Figure 2 Annual averages for global lower troposphere temperatures from Hadcrut4 as reported by Woodfortrees. Hadcrut4 is compiled by a joint venture between the UK Met Office and the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia and is one of several such compilations of surface temperatures based on historical thermometer records. Since 1997, cumulative global CO2 emissions from combusting fossil fuels amount to 460 Gt. The gradient of the line y=0.000 and the correlation coefficient R2=0.09 means that there is no correlation between emissions and surface temperatures over this 15 year period.

The Failure of Kyoto
It is straightforward to understand why the Kyoto first commitment period failed. Figure 3 shows the few countries that were fully committed to this process. Canada, a large producer and consumer of oil and gas withdrew in 2012. Without full and active participation of the USA, Canada, Australia, Russia, China, India, S Korea, the whole of the Middle East and OPEC, Kyoto was bound to fail. The issue that is very difficult to understand is why a handful of EU countries have persevered with this charade.

Figure 3 A map from Wikipedia that shows countries (in black) that fully signed up for  Kyoto. Canada has since unsigned and Japan, post Fukushima, has decided that having the lights on, powered by natural gas, is preferable to futile attempts to reduce CO2 emissions. The handful of EU countries left in the middle are deluded if they believe their unilateral actions are going to make any difference at all to global CO2 emissions.

Wikipedia has this to say about the second commitment period:

The 37 parties with binding targets in the second commitment period are Australia, the European Union (and its 28 member states), Belarus, Iceland, Kazakhstan, Liechtenstein, Norway, Switzerland, and Ukraine. Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine have stated that they may withdraw from the Protocol or not put into legal force the Amendment with second round targets. Japan, New Zealand, and Russia have participated in Kyoto’s first-round but have not taken on new targets in the second commitment period. Other developed countries without second-round targets are Canada (which withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol in 2012) and the United States (which has not ratified the Protocol).

Like the first commitment period, the second is bound to fail to make any mark at all on global emissions. Why are EU governments continuing to pursue this futile course of action?

The Impact on Climate Change
With the unequivocal failure of Kyoto to abate global CO2 emissions one would think that planet Earth would be well on its way to melt down. In fact, the opposite has occurred. Since Kyoto was adopted in 1997 there has been effectively zero change in globally averaged surface temperatures (Figure 2). Had temperatures continued to rise on the pre-1997 trajectory I too would be adding my voice to those calling for action. But they haven’t! Temperatures have moved sideways for 15 years (maybe they should have been drifting down?). The climate science community should be expressing vast relief at the fact that their dire predictions have not yet come to pass. But instead the arguments and data presentations of the IPCC are becoming increasingly contorted. Has anyone ever heard a Warmist rejoice at the fact that they might just be wrong?

Part of the contortion of data is the expansion of the definition of warming to include not just the atmosphere but the cryosphere and the hydrosphere as well. What about the sea ice? The Global sea ice anomaly is currently positive, and has been for much of this year! (Figure 4).

Figure 4 Global sea ice anomaly (in red) from The Cryosphere Today (University of Illinois). Despite all the hype about melting sea ice etc the FACT is that the global sea ice area today is marginally higher (positive anomaly) than the 1979 to 2008 mean value. It has been positive for the greater part of 2013. 

What about the disappearing Arctic sea ice? A letter published in Nature by Kinnard et al (ref 1) has this to say about past cyclical change in the Arctic sea ice:

The pronounced decrease in ice [Arctic] cover observed in both our terrestrial and oceanic proxy-based reconstructions between the late fifteenth and early seventeenth centuries occurred during the widespread cooling period known as the Little Ice Age (about AD 1450–1850).

When I first read this I was very sceptical since it is rather counterintuitive, but I believe now this may fit with a number of observations linked to Arctic Sea Ice distribution that I will return to in a later post. Unfortunately, Kinnard et al spoil what may have been a fine paper by splicing proxy with satellite data to produce a scary hockey stick.

European citizens and politicians should be concerned by recent extreme cold winters and a possible correlation with receding Arctic sea ice, both of which are likely linked to natural phenomena that are beyond our control. But we could plan to keep warm.

The Futility of European Energy Policy
The description of European Energy policy as described by Wikipedia makes it easy to understand what is wrong with it. The first section describes accurately what the real problems are:

In 2007, the EU was importing 82% of its oil and 57% of its gas, which then made it the world’s leading importer of these fuels. Only 3% of the uranium used in European nuclear reactors was mined in Europe.

And the second part describes policies designed to combat a completely different issue, i.e. abating CO2 emissions and tackling climate change.

  • A cut of at least 20% in Greenhouse gas emissions from all primary energy sources by 2020 (compared to 1990 levels), while pushing for an international agreement to succeed the Kyoto Protocol aimed at achieving a 30% cut by all developed nations by 2020.
  • A cut of up to 95% in carbon emissions from primary energy sources by 2050, compared to 1990 levels.
  • A minimum target of 10% for the use of biofuels by 2020.

And this sets policy off in a direction that is often directly opposed to addressing the risks of declining primary energy production, energy security draining away and spiralling energy costs. By way of example, carbon capture and storage (CCS) and bio-fuel production consume resources. Carbon pricing and trading schemes are designed to make energy more expensive.

What has European energy policy achieved? Germany perhaps provides the best case study with its ambitious Energiwende (energy transition). German renewables consumption (ex hydro) now makes up 8.3% of total primary energy consumption, but as described in an earlier post, roughly 73% of German renewable electricity has gone to make up the shortfall in nuclear production caused by premature closure of power stations post Fukushima (Figure 5). The remaining 27% may have offset coal and gas combustion, but on the Global scale this is a wholly insignificant number and the coal and gas not burned in Germany will simply have been burned elsewhere. The German people need to be aware that their stupendous effort has and will continue to amount to naught in the futile battle to abate CO2 emissions.

Figure 5 Germany has a diverse primary energy mix of coal, oil, gas, nuclear and renewables.  The growth in other renewables (wind, solar, geothermal, biomass and waste) has gone largely to fill the gap left by closure of nuclear power stations and has made effectively zero contribution to the reduction of global CO2 emissions.

The cost of energy
The cost of energy is still very much in the news, in the UK at least. Members of Parliament (MPs) are baying for the blood of those responsible. There are two main causes of high European energy prices today. The first is high international energy prices caused by global demand for energy rising more rapidly than supply. The second is misguided energy policies and subsidies designed to make renewable energy cost competitive with currently much cheaper fossil alternatives. If UK MPs want the cost of energy to fall, then they should abolish The Climate Change Act and replace it with energy legislation that is fit for the purpose of providing secure, reliable and affordable energy for all.

A final cautionary note
While there is no evidence for a link between CO2 emissions and global surface temperatures in the period 1997 to present it does not necessarily follow that atmospheric CO2 has no impact upon natural cyclic changes in Earth’s climate.

1) Reconstructed changes in Arctic sea ice over the past 1,450 years: Christophe Kinnard, Christian M. Zdanowicz, David A. Fisher, Elisabeth Isaksson, Anne de Vernal & Lonnie G. Thompson; Nature 479, 2011

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9 Responses to The Failure of Kyoto and the Futility of European Energy Policy

  1. Hi Euan,

    Great post. I had missed that the Little Ice Age was associated with reduced Arctic ice area in the Kinnard et al. paper.

    You make an interesting argument that the coal not consumed in Germany would simply be burned elsewhere. May be true for hard coal, because Germany imports more than it produces itself. For lignite, it may be a different story, because the power plants are usually located next to the mines.


    • Euan Mearns says:

      Hi Dave, Kinnard et al also say ” occurred during the widespread cooling period known as the Little Ice Age” which is somewhat contradictory to the official line. Recent history of FF trades is that US is burning very expensive shale gas at heavily discounted prices, Europe is burning cheap US coal imports made available by expensive shale gas and Japan is burning Europe’s LNG. Best, Euan

  2. Hello Euan,

    regarding your arctic ice retreat calling “a hype” based on *global* sea ice anomaly, I recommend what people doing a lifelong research about the connections of artic ice retreat have to say about it, here is one of the best experts in the field prof. Jeniffer Francis:



  3. Sandy Lawrence says:

    As a former associate professor of medicine and not a climatologist I nonetheless would have to take respectful exception to several of the above comments. Focusing on mean global surface temperatures alone fails to recognize the marine heat sink as the predominant recipient of GHG-generating heating. Likewise, deliberately focusing on sea ice extent and ignoring sea ice mass balance [particularly in the arctic] misses the obvious trendlines.

    Excellent source for these data is the following: good graph demonstrating minor component of the energy going into land + ice + atmosphere in comparison to world ocean.

    Finally, graphic showing end summer arctic ice mass:,d.cGE&psig=AFQjCNGeXB74BMhoXs-whsk0591xPaOHGg&ust=1383762519976787

    Best, Sandy

    • Euan Mearns says:

      Hello Sandy, thanks for your comment, and with respect…. It was the IPCC who used to focus on sea ice area until they were caught with their pants down a few years ago when rapid retreat of summer sea ice in the arctic showed their models were wrong. And so the focus shifted to ice mass, which is a reasonable thing to do. The sea ice death spiral on Skeptical science looks impressive, but I’d like to see the empirical data that is based upon. And I’d like to see the chart go back 1 to 10 thousand years – which I appreciate is impossible. The Sun has cooled deep ocean warming thing confuses me since the Sun has not cooled (much). Showing ocean heat increasing by 20*10^22J in 50 years looks scary, but needs to be set in context of the total ocean heat content of the top 700 m layer of ocean. I’ve looked for this number before but couldn’t find it – maybe you could dig this up? The % increase in ocean heat is the crucial number. At high latitudes, the land is still warming up from the last Ice Age – and I would guess the oceans may be doing the same. Best, Euan

      • Sandy Lawrence says:

        Appreciate your prompt and courteous response. I will try and obtain some of the data that you mentioned, but need to defer this a bit. I am preparing for an energy seminar that I am giving at the university here in Bellingham in the spring [WWU], but am deep in the thickets on the geothermal component right now. Next segment planned for organization is climatology in fact, but apologize that I will probably not be able to provide useful information to you for a month or so. Many thanks.

      • Joris van Dorp says:

        I am also a bit mistified by the apparent ease with which Mr . Mearns seemsto dismiss the veracity and purport of climate science. Since all the worlds major national academies of science have already stated that the need to address greenhouse gas emissions in response to the findings of climate science is unequivocal, it is surprising that Mr. Mearns so easily casts doubt on the issue, even while placing a token disclaimer at the bottom of the text.

        Given the state state of climate science today – where the most recent IPCC assessment has upped the likelihood of a strong anthropogenic influence on climate to 95% certainty, up from 90% in the previous assessment – bona fide criticism of climate science needs to be supported by strong, multiple lines of evidence which take into account the actual peer-reviewed science, rather than a single unqualified paper.

        Such an approach is glaringly absent from this article. The reader has not even been informed of the difference between ice extent and ice mass. Similarly, the reader has not been informed that the role of the ocean on the climate has always been central to climate science, but instead is left with the impression that climate science is only recently considering that role.

        Mr. Mearns, I have been reading your stuff for almost ten years and I thank you for all your work on the issues of energy, oil and the economy. In this case, concerning climate science, I think you are moving into territory that will leave you and your readers in regret.

        • Billy Liar says:

          If you are so well informed of the ‘ice mass’ perhaps you could provide some useful links (original papers please and leave out the modelled estimates and GRACE).

  4. Euan Mearns says:

    Joris, thanks for your comment. The main material difference in IPCC AR5 (summary p11) was this: “Equilibrium climate sensitivity is likely in the range 1.5°C to 4.5°C (high confidence)”. This increased the range from previous report to the low side (1.5˚C down from 2˚C previous). Obviously, if you create a gigantic range in estimates you can then get everyone to agree. I think you need to be a bit cautious in your criticism on sea ice and ocean heat. I don’t mention ocean heat at all in the article. Regarding Arctic Sea extent, the recent retreats of the late summer minimum are only relevant if they are unique and unequivocally linked to human activity. The University of Illinois have a nice sea ice hockey stick, but do not document the data sources for the pre satellite era – I’ve written to them enquiring about this but have not received a reply. It is an incredibly difficult reconstruction to do. And so I went looking for proxy data in the literature and came across the paper by Kinnard et al. This paper from UK Met Office also sees Arctic warming in response to reduced solar geomagnetic flux: “Ineson et al. Solar forcing of winter climate variability in the Northern Hemisphere. Nature Geoscience 2011”. The unfortunate thing for N Europe is that a warming Arctic goes hand in hand with extreme cold winters in Europe. In the UK, the plan is to close all our coal fired power in the coming decade – I’m not sure where the gas (that will be very expensive) is coming from.

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