Miranda Devine’s latest piece on Kyoto (sent to me by Jack Strocchi) adds a couple of new (or newish) talking points to the debate. The first is the claim that New Zealand faces a “cost blowout” of $1 billion as a result of the treaty. As far as I can tell, this is a beat-up. The government had calculated that under existing policies, New Zealand would meet its Kyoto commitments with a bit left over that could be traded on international carbon emission credits markets. Now it looks as if they won’t, which means either changing the policies, buying credits or repudiating the commitments. Its hard to see how the availability of the second option makes NZ any worse off.
What’s more interesting is that Devine attacks not merely the carbon emissions market established under Kyoto, but the whole idea of emissions trading. This is fairly surprising since the whole thrust of environmental policy under the Howard and Keating governments, including the current government’s negotiating position on Kyoto, has been to encourage the used of market-based instruments, of which emissions trading systems are an archetypal example. Although problems can emerge with naive application of this kind of policy, it’s generally the right direction in which to go. The development of tradeable water rights in the Murray-Darling system and elsewhere is a prominent example of both the benefits and some potential pitfalls.
To back up her anti-market stance, Devine says
A 2002 study by the non-profit Clean Air Trust of three similar pollution trading schemes in the US found they were a “dismal failure”. They did not produce environmental benefits, stifled innovation in pollution controls, and led to delays and secrecy.
I was a bit surprised to read this, since nearly all the economic studies I’ve seen reach the opposite conclusion. Here, for example is one from Resources for the Future, a rather more prominent non-profit thinktank.
Devine doesn’t acknowledge that the Clean Air Trust is in the minority on this issue, or even that there’s any disagreement, but simply cites their conclusions as authoritative. I hadn’t heard of the group before this, so I visited their website, which reveals them to be a hardline environmentalist group with a strong philosophical objection to market-based instruments, and very hostile to the Bush Administration. I wonder if she would accept as authoritative the numerous denunciations of all aspects of Bush’s environmental record to be found on the site. More generally, would she prefer that environmental policy be based on the command-and-control approach favoured by the Clean Air Trust?
I haven’t had time to read the Clean Air Trust study and see how it stacks up against the large literature supporting the opposite conclusion (perhaps Devine has done this reading, but I doubt it). Until I get time for this, I’m unconvinced by Devine’s appeal to the authority of an advocacy group, especially one that she would dismiss out of hand if it weren’t for the fact that they are attacking, from a left/green viewpoint, policies that she wants to criticise from an entirely different position.
PS: Jack also advises me that Tim Blair has had a go at my alleged failure to mention Kyoto recently, and has implied that it’s due to the unanswerable power of arguments like Devine’s (his post went up just before my Katrina, Kobe, Kyoto post, which I’d drafted the previous evening here in DC). Blair takes a rather literal search-engine based view, linking to all sorts of posts with tangential mentions of Kyoto, but missing posts on the climate change issue that don’t include the magic word, like this one from a couple of weeks ago, pointing out the vindication of the climate models used to support the Kyoto protocol. It was, I think, on the front page of the blog when Blair’s post went up, and is still “live”, thanks to a long-running and mildly entertaining slanging match between Fyodor and the ubiquitous Jack.