Kyoto framework still best

The Canadian Prime minister, Stephen Harper, has allied himself more closely with the US on many issues than the former Liberal Government. Anderson was in the former government. Although the government signed on to Kyoto it did little and in fact emissions grew. So the former govt. took the moral high ground and then in practice made the environment worse. Stephen Harper blows hot air at very high temperatures and his idea of fairness is to not do anything as long as developing countries such as China and India do not sign on to targets even though as the article points out they certainly have quite legitimate complaints and suspicions about the US and Canada idea of fairness.

Kyoto framework is still best hope for the world

Nov 30, 2007 04:30 AM
David Anderson

The major objective of President George Bush and Prime Minister Stephen Harper at the Bali Meeting of Parties to the Kyoto Protocol that begins Monday is to replace the emission reduction Kyoto targets for the developed countries with an agreement that also includes targets for the developing countries.

Unfortunately, by abandoning the Kyoto approach of starting global reductions of greenhouse gas emissions with the developed industrial nations, Bush and Harper make the chances of getting the developing countries to accept emission reduction targets less likely, not more so.

The starting point for the developing countries is their firm and correct understanding that the increase in the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere over the past two centuries overwhelmingly has been caused by the use of fossil fuels in the developed countries of the world.

The global warming problem thus is a problem created by those developed countries, not by them. This belief then leads to the not unreasonable conclusion that if the atmosphere now has a dangerous level of greenhouse gases, then those responsible for those emissions should be the first to step up to the plate and do something about it.

The position of Bush and Harper, by contrast, is not based on that increase in the contamination level of the past two centuries, but rather on the emissions currently occurring. It is not a two-century buildup of the stock of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere that they focus on; instead, they talk of the current rate of flow of contaminants into the atmosphere. Thus, the responsibility of the developed nations for the acute nature of the current problem is not, in their view, relevant to the current question of reducing emission levels today.

We have a dialogue of the deaf. Canada and the U.S. are talking of current flows of greenhouse gas emissions, while the developing countries are talking of accumulated stocks of greenhouse gas emissions. As long as each ignores the argument of the other, the likelihood of agreement is nil. One is talking of the contaminated pond, the other of the contaminating stream.

The Kyoto process bridged this gap by introducing a staged approach to emission reductions. The developed countries that ratified (essentially the European Union countries, Japan and Canada under the Chrétien government) agreed that the developed nations of the world should be the first to implement serious reductions. Then, after their good faith in dealing with a problem that they were responsible for had been demonstrated through significant reductions in emissions, discussions would take place on emission reduction programs for developing countries as well.

The key was overcoming the suspicion of developing countries that international greenhouse gas emission reduction programs would be used to hamper the development of their economies and their efforts to provide a better life for their citizens.

An important component of the developing countries' argument was the issue of international fairness. The atmosphere surrounding our world is equally necessary to the survival of each and every one of us. Therefore, fairness dictates that we each have an equal share of this common resource. Why then, they ask, are the per capita emissions of the developed countries so flagrantly in excess of the global averages and why are the developed countries not reducing their per capita emissions to that global average?

The question of equal share of the common global resource was sidelined by the agreement of the developed countries in the Kyoto Protocol to reduce emissions, as the reduction targets they accepted implicitly recognized the validity of the fairness claim of the developing countries.

Without Kyoto, this fairness or moral question will come once more to the fore. Indeed, the failure to achieve the Kyoto emission reduction targets that we in the developed world committed ourselves to 10 years ago will increase the suspicion of the developing countries that emission targets are not in their interests, and make this issue even more difficult to handle than ever.

The Kyoto Protocol was the result of extremely difficult negotiations, took a very long time, was a compromise, and is by no means perfect. Unfortunately, it was and still is the best the international community, working together, has been able to come up with.

The central problem with Harper's and Bush's proposed changes for a system with emission targets for all countries is that if they return to that starting point and ignore the difficult factors that Kyoto took into account through so many painstaking compromises, they will likely achieve far less in Bali than was achieved at Kyoto. The Kyoto approach, imperfect though it may be, is still the world's best hope.

David Anderson is director of the Guelph Institute of the Environment at the University of Guelph. He served from 1999 to 2004 as the federal minister responsible for the climate change file, and during that time represented Canada at the international meetings on climate change.


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