At the G8 Summit in Japan, there was much talk about global warming, and considerable self-congratulation over the agreement among member nations to reduce greenhouse gas emission by 50% by 2050. There were also predictable cries from environmentalists that this target was not sufficiently stringent or legally binding. But negotiations about future targets miss the point. Rather than setting new goals, member nations should be looking at whether current goals are being met, and if not, whether a different approach is warranted.

Under the Kyoto Protocol, the multilateral treaty that the United States has not ratified, the other members of the G8 (United Kingdom, Italy, France, Japan, Germany, Russia, Canada) as well as other developed nations committed to an 8% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels by the 2008-2012 compliance period. The compliance period has already begun, but most nations are not even close to being on target to meet this goal. Ironically, many are seeing their emissions on the rise since the treaty was signed, and several at a faster rate than those the United States, which nonetheless still gets criticism for not being a signatory.

The reality is that ratcheting down emissions from fossil fuels is proving to be prohibitively expensive, and setting even tighter standards doesn’t change that. For this reason it is a dead end, and new approaches should be pursued, such as efforts to develop new technologies.