Kyoto Protocol’s Days May be Numbered

By Patrick Goodenough | April 7, 2011 | 5:33 AM EDT

Delegates meet at U.N. climate talks at the U.N. Conference Center in Bangkok, Thailand, on Wednesday, April 6, 2011 (Photo: International Institute for Sustainable Development)

( – As the Kyoto Protocol’s 2012 expiration date draws closer, U.N. climate negotiations underway in Bangkok this week appear no closer to reaching an agreement that would extend or replace it.

Delegates representing more than 170 countries are meeting in the Thai capital, attempting to advance the marathon process that began with the 1992 U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change and its first “conference of the parties” (COP), in Berlin in 1995.

In each of the 16 years since then, tens of thousands of delegates have traveled to destinations in Europe, Asia and the Americas for “crucial” annual summits aimed at advancing the campaign to combat climate change. Now the centerpiece of that campaign, the Kyoto Protocol, looks increasingly at risk of demise.

Under the 1997 protocol, almost 40 industrialized nations were required to cut their emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other “greenhouse gases” blamed for climate change, by prescribed amounts up until 2012.

Kyoto contained no legally binding emission-reduction commitments for countries like China and India, however, although they are major CO2 emitters. Their exemption was a key reason cited by President Bush in rejecting the protocol in 2001.

With neither China nor the U.S. –the world’s number one and two greenhouse gas emitters respectively – covered by Kyoto, some of the countries that are covered, including Japan and Russia, are loathe to agree to any extended or successor agreement that does not rectify this.

Meanwhile developing countries want industrialized ones to commit to continued, preferably bigger, legally-binding emission cuts beyond 2012, while industrialized countries argue that all emitting countries should be onboard.

United States climate change envoy Todd Stern speaks at the U.N. climate conference in Copenhagen on Wednesday Dec 9, 2009. (AP Photo)

U.S. climate envoy Todd Stern said Wednesday any agreement that does not include large developing countries was unacceptable.

“Many developing countries, including large ones, continue to be fixated on preserving the firewall between developed and developing countries,” he was quoted as telling the Bloomberg New Energy Finance Summit in New York.

Stern said the U.S. was not opposed to binding obligations to cut emissions in the future, as long as they “genuinely apply to all the major players.”

But he indicated that the U.S. would prefer a system that sees countries submit national plans on cutting emissions.

So divisive has the Kyoto issue become that at the most recent annual summit, the 16th COP in Cancun, Mexico last December, its fate was set aside in favor of other, more realistic agreements, including a plan to transfer “clean” technology to poorer countries.

At Cancun, countries agreed on the need to take steps to limit average global temperature rise to two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial period average temperatures. “Global warming” advocates argue that a rise of any higher than two degrees Celsius could have potentially catastrophic effects on the planet.

In Bangkok, U.N. climate chief Christiana Figueres warned delegates that Kyoto could not simply be ignored.

“The full implementation of the Cancun agreements can only become an important step forward for the climate if there’s a responsible and clear way ahead on the Kyoto Protocol,” she said.

Figueres also urged countries to offer more ambitious emission reduction pledges than the ones they put forward at Cancun.

The talks in Bangkok will be followed later this year by another round in Germany, ahead of the year’s annual U.N. climate conference, the 17th COP in Durban South Africa.

It will be that Nov 28.-Dec. 9 summit where the fate of the Kyoto Protocol will likely be decided.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow