To head off the worst of global warming, scientists say the world needs to slash its greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2050, which would mean an 80 percent cut for developed countries. The Copenhagen talks will attempt to make progress toward that goal. Europe wants them to set targets of 25 to 40 percent reductions by 2020 for rich nations. –David Adam, Washington Monthly


Deforestation in Brazil (Image source: Wikimedia Commons)

The road to and from Kyoto has seen plenty of speed bumps, potholes roadblocks, carjackers and – at least from my back passenger seat – a fair amount of road rage. That may be milking the metaphor a bit too much, but we want to know if, despite all the problems, the Kyoto Protocol has done any good. It has obviously helped raise awareness of environmental problems like global warming, but has it delivered real, effective change like a reduction in harmful greenhouse emissions?

The answer – at the risk of sounding ambiguous – is yes and no. In plain language, overall greenhouse gas emissions around the world have gone up in the years since the initiation of the Kyoto Protocol at the 3rd UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in December of 1997. This is partly because the ironing out of agreements and details has taken such a long time. The Protocol only reached its requisite level of support of 55 countries – 55% of them being industrialized nations – in 2005. Meanwhile, China and India have been on a mad path to industrialization, deforestation has risen in key countries like Indonesia and Brazil, and the United States did virtually nothing to curb its own emissions and is only now starting to pass legislation to fight climate change. Consequently, global greenhouse emissions – collectively referred to as CO2 for purposes of convenience – have increased. But lets not lose hope, the UNFCCC is an ongoing concern and Kyoto, which ends in 2012, was just a start.

Perhaps we can take heart in what Europe has achieved. According to a Deutsche Welle article from May 29th of this year, the EU expects to meet its Kyoto goals, but those set by the European Union Emission Trading System (EU ETS) may be more difficult to meet. Ironically, it is a warmer winter that is credited for these positive results along with industry reductions, rather than consumer behavior. This supports the contention that laws and regulations are much more effective in energy reduction than markets and individual behavior, not the belief that global warming will cause us to use less energy, though it may in the long run, albeit in much more horrific ways.

The next convention, the COP15, is to be held in Copenhagen, Denmark on December 7-18, with the intention of producing an agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol. What commitments can we hope from the UNFCCC summit in Copenhagen? What, if any, are the differences between the Kyoto Protocol and the goals of the COP15?


A CO2 emissions comparison of China and the United States from 1990 to 2006 (Image source: Wikimedia Commons)

The COP15 hopes to get short-term commitments from all wealthy, industrialized countries, especially the United States, as well as from large developing countries like China and India. One key difference between Kyoto and Copenhagen is the participation of the United States. Al Gore did symbolically sign the treaty in 1998, but the United States never ratified it, therefore no binding commitments were made. In fact, no U.S. government has even submitted the Kyoto protocol for ratification by the Senate, though some state and local governments, namely California, have enacted laws that put them roughly in line with the guidelines of Kyoto.

It will be a challenge to get a meaningful commitment from the U.S., China and India, but it is also crucial for the future of the planet for this to happen.

Another key element of the Copenhagen talks will be the inclusion of emissions from deforestation. Experts must agree about the effects of deforestation on climate change and just what to do about it. Proposals will include wealthier countries giving donations to poorer countries where environmentally valuable and vulnerable forests exist, plus investing in and rewarding climate friendly projects in those countries and instituting carbon credit schemes.

The theme of Copenhagen is urgent change and immediate action before it is too late. Therefore the participation of the U.S. is crucial as is that of China, now the world’s larges polluter. Other major players like India, the EU and Brazil will be under the spotlight. Let’s hope they give the performance of their lives.

Additional resources:
‘From Kyoto to Copenhagen’ article from Washington Monthly
What does it say in the Kyoto Protocol? – from COP15 website

About The Author: Graham Land

Greenfudge editor and London-based writer Graham Land grew up in the suburbs of Washington, DC, where he was part of the local hardcore punk scene, playing in several bands. Through this musical movement he became involved in grass roots interests such as anti-racist activism, animal rights and Ecology. In 2000 he relocated to Europe, eventually earning an MA from Malmö University in Sweden. He has also lived in Japan, Ireland, Portugal and Greece.


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