Rewriting history

I’m not sure what to make of this story by the Canadian Press’s generally solid Alexander Panetta on goings-on at the Commonwealth summit in Uganda, so laden is it with misstatements that favour Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s post-Kyoto rhetorical position. Consider:

Harper said the key error of Kyoto was slapping binding targets on three-dozen countries but not the rest, including some of the world’s biggest polluters like the United States, China and India.

and

China, India, and the United States, none of whom are bound by Kyoto, account for more than half of global emissions alone.

Harper says they must all be brought on side in a global system that includes binding targets for everyone.

Um. I guess they’re all attributed to Harper in one way or another, and researching clarifications on the spot in Kampala can’t be easy.  (Speaking of which, let me be clear about my own view that Kyoto clearly didn’t work, for reasons more complex than the prime minister seems to be letting on.) But to suggest that Kyoto didn’t include binding targets for some of the world’s biggest polluters is just bull.

First of all, it did include binding targets for the U.S., but that country neglected to ratify the treaty, basically reneging on the deal it negotiated for itself. The treaty came into force regardless, when nearly all the other signatory countries ratified it, but the United States never acted accordingly. This is many things, but not an intrinsic flaw in the Kyoto treaty.

Second, while it didn’t include significant greenhouse-gas targets for China and India and other developing countries, that only became a problem because nobody foresaw just how fast their economies would industrialize and expand. Not taking into account an oracular knowledge of the future is a risk in any agreement. It did happen to be particularly important in an agreement on greenhouse gases, but if Harper is saying that any future treaty will have to predict the future perfectly or else he’s not going in on it, we’re going to be at this a very, very long time.

Kyoto proved to be an inadequate deal, but if we’re not going to repeat the mistakes, we need to be clear on what those mistakes actually were.

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