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Unpicking Kyoto (1)

Unpicking Kyoto
Jo Abbess
20 June 2010



The governments of the world are, by and large, well-informed about Climate Change by their trusted scientific advisers and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). However, there is a disconnect between this knowledge and concrete policy action. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has not been successful in achieving control of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions through the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol. Plus, annual negotiations have not reached a form of an agreement to succeed Kyoto, as evidenced by the inconclusive round of talks in December 2009 in Copenhagen. Suggestions of a way forward include a radical re-think about the formulation of the Kyoto Protocol, and the connection of Climate Change to other global concerns.

Kyoto Isn’t Working

For a period during the late 1980s and early 1990s, the world economy appeared to reach a stable point, whereby Carbon Dioxide emissions per person (per capita) levelled off. Many of the world’s major economies were switching fuels – from coal to Natural Gas. And some heavily industrialised countries were going through revolutionary change, and reducing their Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions as a result of the ensuing loss of industrial output.

Some of the “basket of gases” covered by the Kyoto Protocol appeared to be stabilising, or reducing :-

Some economists hailed this as a success, claiming that the Global Warming problem had been solved (obviously, as long as the world could control the growth in population). However, since about the year 2000, Carbon Dioxide (CO2) emissions per person began to rise once more :-

Carbon Dioxide levels continue to accumulate in the Atmosphere :-

Worryingly, so are Methane (CH4) and Nitrous Oxide (N2O) :-
(Select “CH4” or “N2O” in the dropdown of item 4 “Gas”)

Optimistic economists and technologists have proposed that as energy production, machines and vehicles improve, that there would be a “decoupling” of economic growth from Carbon Dioxide emissions. In some parts of the world, “Carbon Intensity” has reduced – in other words, less Carbon Dioxide is emitted for each unit of productivity. This is known as “relative decoupling”. But the overall amount of Carbon Dioxide emissions is still rising, showing that there has been no “absolute decoupling” of economic production and Carbon Dioxide Emissions.

This point was well-illustrated by Professor Tim Jackson of the Sustainable Development Commission in 2009, in a report and a book :-

The global economic recession has had a discernible effect on Greenhouse Gas Emissions, in particular, Carbon Dioxide Emissions, for example in the United Kingdom :-

However, as Ross Garnaut, the Australian economist has pointed out, there will likely be a robust continuation in emissions growth going forward, as we move into his projected “Platinum Age” :-

Although some countries have met their Kyoto Protocol commitments, as a whole, the world has not :-


Trading Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Greenhouse Gas Emissions are directly correlated to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) measured in Purchasing Power Parity (PPP), and the causes should be easy to identify :-

An expanding, or growing, economy produces more goods, and despite increased energy efficiency in production, this growth increases the use of energy overall, and increases the consumption of traded products.

The problems are not seen universally. There is a strong tendency towards stratification of emissions behaviour – the merchant-manufacturers and wealthy urban classes are the highest emitters in most countries.

So, emissions rises are deeply connected to globalised trade.

Surprisingly, at the UNFCCC negotiations, while there is much talk of nations, national commitments on Carbon Dioxide Emissions reductions, and citizen behaviour change, the “third parties”, the corporate entities, are missing.

With all the talk on per person or per capita emissions, the effect of the behaviour of the international, transnational and national businesses is virtually ignored.

Companies are not “national” any more – they cross borders, both in terms of production, consumption, but crucially in terms of financial flows.

The United Kingdom cannot make pledges on emissions reductions and expect to be able to implement them without the engagement of the corporations that operate on UK territories.

This is one key reason why the post-Kyoto negotiations are not making much headway – a major sector in all economies is not even invited to participate in the future regime.


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