WHY KYOTO WON’T SAVE THE PLANET
by Mark Lynas: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Kyoto Protocol is exceptionally complicated, and the latest round of negotiations in Bonn this July didn’t make it any simpler. But there are some key points to bear in mind which put the whole thing into perspective.
The nominal target set by the Kyoto Protocol is for a 5% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2008-12. Whilst it’s true that the gas guzzling countries had to start somewhere, scientists say a 60% cut is needed to keep atmospheric CO2 concentrations at relatively safe levels. Anyway, that’s before you get to the...
The Kyoto Protocol is riddled with loopholes. There are now many more loopholes than protocol. These include:
What this means for the planet
Greenpeace has calculated that if you add together all the sinks, hot air and other loopholes, rather than leading to a reduction of 5%, Kyoto will lead to an increase of 0.3% amongst industrialised countries. With the US out, the figure rises to 2.5% amongst the remaining countries. If you still count the US in the figure, as its emissions go on rising unchecked, the percentage increase in emissions from 1990 levels is somewhere between 9.4% and 11.6% above 1990 levels. These are both above ‘business as usual’ expectations for the period, which means that the value of Kyoto has been completely negated. Whoops!
One of the good things about Kyoto was the rich countries recognised that they should be making the first reductions. This is only fair, given the historical ‘carbon debt’ accumulated by the rich West. So Kyoto isn’t talking about global emissions, which will go on rising as developing countries increase coal and oil usage. The Third World accounts for 45% of total global emissions, and this will rise to 50% by 2012. Don’t forget the equity issue here though: per capita emissions for poor countries will stay well below rich country levels. Currently an American is responsible for as much CO2 entering the atmosphere annually as 7 Chinese, 19 Indians, 103 Bangladeshis and — get this — 9,800 Somalis. (UK per capita emissions are equivalent to 3 Chinese, 9 Indians and 50 Bangladeshis.) The Norwegian NGO Cicero ( HYPERLINK http://www.cicero.uio.no www.cicero.uio.no) has calculated that even without counting all the Kyoto loopholes, if the US does not ratify, the Protocol will lead to global carbon emissions being only 0.9% lower than current business as usual predictions.
Why has it gone wrong?
Probably the biggest reason that Kyoto has been such a failure is that there has been no political pressure on governments to agree to real cuts. In Britain, for example, the biggest political mobilisation has been against cuts and in favour of cheaper carbon (the fuel protestors). Mainstream NGOs try to influence governments directly in the conference halls, but ministers know they carry relatively little weight in the country. In comparison, corporate lobbies (who no longer lobby, but actually control the government in many countries, most notably the US) have immense power, and the most powerful of all are the oil, car and utility corporations. Oil is still insanely profitable, and no amount of green PR (like BP Solar) is going to convince them to shift away from it.
How long have we got left?
The IPCC has suggested a 60% cut in carbon emissions is needed. Depending on when this is achieved, it might avert dangerous climate change (although temperatures would probably still rise two or so degrees: this is already being spoken about as "unavoidable" warming.) Time is clearly running out — some models have shown that after 2050 the Amazonian rainforest starts to turn into desert, releasing more carbon into the atmosphere and causing a runaway ‘positive feedback’ warming. The release of methane trapped in the oceans could have an even more disastrous effect. I estimate a ‘safe’ path would be to aim for a 90% cut within 30 years (and even this is risky, given the time lag in the Earth’s ocean and biological systems). The problem with Kyoto is that it will make no difference at all the world’s climate, and will mean another ten vital years lost — we’ll then have only 20 years left in which to make these major changes.
There’s no easy way to do it — what’s required most of all is an international movement campaigning for real action to tackle climate change. There are signs of this beginning, for example Rising Tide in Europe, grassroots campaigns against oil development in other countries, and mobilisations at climate summits.
Tackling corporate power
‘Anti-capitalism’ is the current big thing, and whilst climate change is merely one facet of the current social and environmental crisis facing humanity, it is probably the most urgent and clearly has the most catastrophic potential. If the problem is to be dealt with, the power of corporations which promote fossil fuels and their consumption must be confronted.
Climate change isn’t something that can be dealt with piecemeal. Perhaps the best global solution so far advocated is ‘contraction and convergence’, where the world agrees a sustainable carbon budget to aim for, and countries converge to equal per capita emissions within it. Both fairness and sustainability are therefore achieved. See http://www.gci.org.uk for more.
What can I do?
Get involved with Rising Tide, or form a local actions group in your area. Change your lifestyle. Face up to the fact that the future of humanity is at stake, and force others to do the same!