Rhein on Energy and Climate

The 1997 Kyoto Protocol has been hailed as the first global climate agreement. But it has not been the success story that its champions have tried to make of it.

It has taken three years to negotiate and another eight years, from 1997 to 2005, for entering into force. It has failed its objective of reducing global green house emissions: these have risen by 50 per cent from 1990 to 2012, compared to a five per cent decline, the objective stipulated for in the Protocol for the 37 signatory countries.

This failure has been due to two reasons:

  • the refusal by major developed countries like USA, Russia and China to ratify and implement the Protocol. EU, Japan, Norway and Switzerland accounting for less than 20 per cent of global C02 emissions did not make a sufficient impact.
  • the emergence of middle-income countries like China, Brazil, South Korea, South Africa and India, which in 1990 had managed to be counted among developing countries, as very large emitters.

Thus, by 2012 the global climate map has completely changed.

The so-called industrialised countries, which had been responsible for three quarters of global green house emissions during most of the 20th century, have seen their share in global emissions shrink to less than half, and China has overtaken USA and EU as by far the biggest emitter country.

To be effective, an international climate agreement will need determined action by all developed and emerging countries. Only sub-Sahara Africa can stay out for another 20 years or so.

Tactically, it is understandable that the so-called G 77 countries want the few “Western” countries with a green conscience to continue implementing the Kyoto Protocol. They profit from its clean development mechanism through investments in hydro or wind power; and further negotiations on details of Kyoto distract from the need to focus on a truly effective international climate agreement, which the international community has failed to do since the failure of the Copenhagen Conference in 2009.

Whatever interest the EU might still have in continuing with Kyoto for a few more years, it should pull the curtain. Its climate record will not be tarnished, provided it remains committed to its internal objective of reducing its emissions by 20 per cent until the end of the decade.

Brussels 29.11. 2012 Eberhard Rhein

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