Friday, December 10, 2010

The Death of Kyoto

Japan made headlines early last week when they came out and definitively stated that they would not support a continuation of the Kyoto Protocol. Based on what has happened up to this point in Cancun it may be time to formally declare the time of death for the Kyoto Protocol. This is especially worrisome to small island states and those countries that are considered most vulnerable to changing climactic conditions. The original Kyoto agreement was flawed from the beginning. The world's largest polluter at the time (the U.S.) never signed on to the agreement despite the fact that their negotiators helped to broker the deal. Many of the largest economies that did sign on, such as China and India, were not obligated to cuts because they were developing countries. The pledged emissions cuts were never seen as going far enough and there was no mechanism to generate any real pressure on countries who were not meeting their obligations under Kyoto.

Despite all these failings, it remains the only legal agreement mandating countries to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases. And it expires in 2012. In the Bali negotiations a couple of years ago, a second line of negotiations was begun to try and bring in the U.S. and the large economies of the developing world. To many, it was inconceivable that real progress in reducing global emissions could be accomplished without the U.S., China and India also sitting at the table contributing to such cuts. This remains sound logic.

So, if we eliminate the possibility of an extension of Kyoto or an alternate legally binding agreement, what are we left with? The phrase that many of the developing countries (including the U.S.) have used is "nationally-binding actions". This means that national pledges can be made to the international community but they are not binding and it is up to individual countries and international pressure to live up to those commitments.

A move to such "soft" climate policies will mean that we can put to bed the possibility of an "endgame" where a single solution to this complex web of problems is found. Rather, future climate policy is likely to be fragmented, unstructured, unregulated, and chronic. Whether such an approach is up to the challenge of reducing emissions to the point where we can safely avoid dangerous effects of climate change is dubious at best.

In the end, what is really needed for an effective solution to this problem of runaway greenhouse gas emissions may simply be more than people and nations are willing to do. The global transition to low-carbon or no-carbon economies will necessitate enormous investments in technology in the developing world and a huge expenditure up front for replacing existing energy infrastructure in the developed world. In the end, the costs involved may be negligible and benefits innumerable but this does not move those who resist these types of changes.

And frankly, aside from those highly vulnerable populations who are beginning to already feel the effects of climate in transition, the public does not seem to be all that motivated to do anything about the issue of climate change. This is certainly true in the U.S. where it is essentially a non-issue. Really, who will mourn the death of Kyoto? BlogBooster-The most productive way for mobile blogging. BlogBooster is a multi-service blog editor for iPhone, Android, WebOs and your desktop

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