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Unpicking Kyoto (2)

Unpicking Kyoto
Jo Abbess
20 June 2010



Why Was Copenhagen Such A Washout ?

The international community, in the form of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) established the Kyoto Protocol back in 1997, a treaty that was ratified only as late as 2005 after compromises from the World Trade Organisation (WTO) for Russia. Global Climate Change negotiations, even before the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 have been beset by recurring problems. The annual UNFCCC Kyoto Protocol Conference of the Parties (COP) 15, Meeting of the Parties (MOP) 5 at Copenhagen in Denmark in December 2009 suffered from the usual last-minute-ism, as key negotiators did not arrive until the second week, and leaders, who had expressed a commitment to participating, did not arrive until the last few days, whereupon they appeared to derail the whole process, and caused a form of elite coup, taking control of the conference. The different groups of countries conducted “bloc wars”, as always happens, with horse-trading, divide-and-rule and bait-and-switch tactics being deployed over development rights and emissions reduction enforcement issues. Despite the meeting having been planned over a year in advance, key discussions on post-Kyoto treaty texts were still being hammered and ironed out as the conference went on, causing upheaval amongst certain negotiating parties. The document that emerged from the conference, the Copenhagen Accord, contained a reference to a maximum permitted Global Warming of two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, but this is at best a fudge, as countries do not agree how that translates into concentrations of Greenhouse Gases in the Atmosphere. In an attempt to get a commitment from major economies on emissions reductions, Yvo de Boer “passed the hat round” to all the leading countries, in the same way that the Kyoto Protocol was negotiated, asking them what they would pledge. It was entirely predictable that these commitments would not add up to what is required by the science.

Many of these problems were articulated more than 20 years ago, by Professor Michael Grubb, in a publication from the British Royal Institute of International Affairs in 1989, entitled “The Greenhouse Effect : Negotiating Targets”

Things haven’t changed in two decades. A lot of time and effort has been wasted, as the way that negotiations are being conducted retains these main residual problems :-

(a)     How far can the developing countries be allowed to increase emissions rates in growing their economies ?

(b)     How can emissions reductions be enforced and through which mechanism(s) – for example, Carbon Trading, Carbon Intensity “border tax adjustments”, Global Carbon Rights ?

(c)     How can the “third parties”, the companies and corporations of international, transnational and national business, be brought into the post-Kyoto treaty ? Currently, it means little that such companies as BP support the notion of an international Carbon price, as the company can operate as if they are outside any Carbon pricing regime, passing any costs on to their consumers.

It could be said that what is needed for progress is to split open the assumptions underlying the Kyoto Protocol, and link the post-Kyoto treaty to other global and regional issues.


Unpicking Bad Threads

1. All Countries Equal

The first thing that can go from the Kyoto Protocol is the artificial demarcation between Annex I and non-Annex I countries – in other words, an entirely fictitious boundary between those countries who are obliged to mandatory emissions reductions and those who are under no obligations. Some so-called “developing” countries look a lot like “developed” countries already. It doesn’t seem right that the United States of America is requested to make a commitment to serious emissions reductions if China is not (for example).

The mechanism of Contraction and Convergence, as proposed by Aubrey Meyer of the Global Commons Institute would compensate for a country’s relative level of development without having to consider which side of an artificial dividing line they find themselves. A national Carbon Budget for each country would go some way towards evening up the stratification of a country’s emissions – no longer would individual members of the merchant and urban classes be allowed to emit with impunity – all would need to respect their Carbon Quota :-

2. Consumption-Based Carbon Accounting

When the Climate negotiations cover the subject of Carbon Dioxide and other Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions, it is necessary to ask “whose emissions ?” Dieter Helm in his paper “Too Good To Be True ?” raises the question of how we account for Carbon Emissions across borders. His conclusion is that each country should account not only for their own emissions of production, but also for their consumption of imported goods (and services) with their embedded emissions of production.

This would provide a more accurate representation of a country’s global emissions impact.

3. Business Treaty for Diversification

The post-Kyoto UNFCCC treaty that comes into force after 2012 should offer a framework that includes unseen players. The companies and corporations should be party to a post-Kyoto “diversification treaty”, where they pledge to diversify out of Fossil Fuel energy, through the triple pronged approach of (a) process efficiency (b) energy reduction measures and (c) the use and support of Renewable Energy technologies.

The international Climate negotiations always treat emissions as an individual affair, following on from the “per capita” pattern of the economists. But by doing this, business emissions are not taken into account. Take a cross-Europe energy company as an example – would their emissions be included in one country, the “parent” or “tax” country ? Or would their emissions be more fairly split between all the countries they operate in ? This question cannot be answered to everyone’s satisfaction, and so the best approach is to have a parallel, but integrated treaty for businesses – a regime that could include targeted “stimulus packages” to diversify out of Fossil Fuel energy, and special Carbon Disclosure arrangements that apportion a company’s emissions to various nations. Each country would resist being burdened with a company’s emissions, as that would mean less Carbon Quotas for the citizens. This would create an incentive to diversigy out of Fossil Fuel energy for the companies.

4. Drop the Failing “Flexible Mechanisms”

The Kyoto Protocol’s Article 12 “flexible mechanisms”, tacked on at the last minute by the USA are not working and should be abandoned. The Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) is riddled with problems and is not delivering any funds to Africa for Climate Change adaptation, as there are very few African CDM projects. Mechanisms such as Carbon Trading, attempting to create a price for Carbon, are prone to failure, as economic factors mean that the Carbon price signal will be lost in the general price rollercoaster for Fossil Fuel energy. “Stern’s Billions” refer to an attempt by Nicholas Stern to kick-start a global funding initiative, outlined in his books “Blueprint for a Safer Planet” and “The Global Deal”. This money is proposed to protect forests and help with poor country adaptation to Climate Change, and go some way towards guaranteeing meeting the Millenium Development Goals. So far, however, very little money has been forthcoming. The “technology transfer” envisaged by the Kyoto Protocol – whereby rich, technologically-advanced countries offer their expertise and technology to poorer countries – is not happening. The only major mention of this is the concept bandied about by Europe, to export the Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technologies to China to help with containing their coal emissions problem. Very few CCS projects are in progress, and China can do their own CCS if they want to – they don’t need “technology transfer”. Besides which, CCS, like Nuclear Power, is a “dud gift” – expensive and dangerous. Measures proposed to protect world forests via the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and (Forest) Degradation REDD mechanism hold a number of flaws, and little appears to be maturing.

Almost nothing in the Kyoto Protocol is working in the way it was imagined, and the Climate Change negotiations are prone to the same pitfalls and errors as two decades ago.

Clearly, the Climate Change negotiations and the principles underlying the treaties need significant changes.


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