Spinning Carbon Emissions

Contrast these two headlines, from The New York Times and Scientific American, respectively, on the report released yesterday by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, detailing industrial countries’ progress in reducing their greenhouse gas emissions .

NYT: Pollution Has Leveled Off, but the Figures Have Holes, Report Says

Scientific American: From Bad to Worse: Latest Figures on Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions

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The ledes of the two stories present the difference even more starkly. The Times declares that “[e]missions from industrialized countries plateaued in 2006” — only afterward adding the extremely relevant caveat that emissions have not been reported since then — while Scientific American presents the reality more bluntly: “The U.N. says that even countries that vowed to cut pollution that causes global warming are churning out more of it.”

Why the Times chose to present the story with a more optimistic slant is unclear to me. It is correct that greenhouse gas emissions did decrease over the 2000-2006 period, but, in an emergency as dire as climate change, these declines should not be interpreted in a vacuum, but judged against the extent to which countries pledged to reduce their emissions in the Kyoto protocol. And according to this metric, every country has failed rather ignominiously.

There are perhaps two small enclaves of optimism. Leading up to next month’s climate change conference in Poznan, Poland, two countries did meet their emission reduction goals: the United Kingdom and…the Principality of Monaco.

(image from flickr user freefotouk under a Creative Commons license)

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