Negotiations Over The Kyoto Protocol Continue At The Doha Climate Talks

by Gwynne Taraska

The UN climate talks currently taking place in Doha will decide the future of the Kyoto Protocol, which is the world’s only legally binding climate treaty.  Although the protocol’s impact on global emissions has been limited, it is still necessary to keep the policy infrastructure associated with it intact.  CAP has been following the future of the protocol at Doha and outlines below the key issues and probable outcomes at the meeting.

First and second periods
The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change aims to effect emissions reductions that will keep global warming within a 2°C increase over pre-industrial levels.  The Kyoto Protocol is among its tools.  The first period of the Kyoto Protocol (KP1), which set binding targets for emissions reductions for 37 industrialized nations and the EU, will end this year.  A main goal of the current meeting of the parties to the UNFCCC is therefore to implement a second period of the Kyoto Protocol (KP2), which will serve as a bridge between KP1 and the international treaty that will emerge from the Durban Platform and take effect in 2020.

Participants and bystanders
Countries including Australia, Norway, Liechtenstein, Croatia, Ukraine, Iceland, and Switzerland have committed to binding targets in a second period of the protocol.  The EU has committed as well.  Australia, for example, has pledged to reduce its emissions at least .5% by 2020, and the EU has pledged to reduce its emissions at least 20% by 2020 (both from the base year 1990).  Although Japan, Russia, Canada, and New Zealand were signatories of KP1 (Canada later announced that it would never attempt to meet its agreed upon target), they are declining to participate in KP2.  In addition, KP2 will not include the US, which signed but never sought to ratify the treaty in the Senate.

A number of questions about KP2 need to be addressed during the meeting, such as a) whether the duration of KP2 should be five or eight years, b) whether developed countries that are not signatories should be permitted to participate in the protocol’s market-based mechanisms, and c) whether countries should be permitted to transfer emissions credits from the first to the second period.  Blocs of countries including the Alliance of Small Island States, Least Developed Countries, and the African Group, which represent “100 countries and 1.4 billion people who are highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change,” released a statement on 26 November arguing that the duration of KP2 should be five years, so as to make the targets more ambitious.  It also argued that credit carryover should be curtailed and that only parties to the protocol should be permitted to participate in the carbon market it creates.  Artur Runge-Metzger, representing the EU in a press briefing on 28 November, summarized the position of developing countries on the last point:   “You cannot just enjoy the nice things from the Kyoto Protocol but not commit with the legally binding emission reduction budget for the period 2013-2020.”

For and against KP2
The Kyoto Protocol is of course inadequate in isolation as a defense against climate change.

It applies to only a fraction of global carbon emissions, as the countries with the highest emissions (the US and China) and the bloc with the highest emissions (developing countries, as represented by the so-called Group of 77) are not bound by the protocol.  Some, like the United States, never ratified the treaty, but the bulk of the emissions not covered are from developing countries that in fact are members of the protocol but are not required to reduce emissions.  Moreover, the reductions achieved by Kyoto countries in the last period may have been due less to the agreement than to factors such as “the collapse of greenhouse-gas producing industries in eastern Europe and, more recently, the global economic crisis” (Schiermeier, Nature, 28 November 2012).

There are a number of reasons, however, to support KP2.  1) Although the Kyoto Protocol alone will not avert the 4- to 6-degree warmer world we are on schedule to inhabit without increased mitigation efforts (see the new World Bank and IEA projections reported in the Guardian, 26 November), it is merely one track of what should be a “multiple multilateralism” method to achieve climate security.  And it’s the only international and legally binding agreement we have on climate change, at least until 2020.

2) Many representatives from developing countries believe that Annex I countries should “take the lead in undertaking deep binding emission reductions in the short-, mid- and long-terms that reflect their historical responsibility for global emissions” (see Submission from Argentina, Bolivia, China, Congo, Dominica, et al., 27 November).  As such, KP2 will help show the good faith that is necessary to keep developing countries involved in climate negotiations.  Representing Brazil, Andre Correa do Lago said, “If rich countries which have the financial means, have technology, have a stable population, already have a large middle class, think they cannot reduce [emissions] and work to fight climate change, how can they ever think that developing countries can do it?  That is why the Kyoto Protocol has to be kept alive.”

3) The protocol creates a global carbon market.  Under its Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), projects in developing countries that contribute to climate stabilization, such as reforestation or renewable energy projects, earn credits that can be bought by rich countries and applied to their emissions targets.  More than 5000 projects have been approved, and these are projects that likely would not have been undertaken without the program.  According to Andre Correa do Lago at a press briefing on 28 November, CDM projects have resulted in “more than a billion tons of CO2 equivalent.” The program is therefore “not only a market mechanism for projects; it is an effective way of reducing emissions[GT1] .”  We might add that it is also an effective way of financing climate adaptation, as it is the main source of support for the UNFCCC’s Adaptation Fund.  If the CDM remains stable through a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, then it could be used to serve the new global treaty that is now being negotiated in a new track at Doha.

The US is formally only a bystander in the current Kyoto negotiations, as it never joined the treaty.  But it has an interest in seeing the protocol continue into its second period, with its CDM intact, so that it may serve as a bridge to and a basis for a globally binding treaty and a working carbon market in 2020.

Gwynne Taraska is a visiting research associate at the Center for American Progress working with the energy and climate team. She is also the director of research at the Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy at George Mason University.

17 Responses to Negotiations Over The Kyoto Protocol Continue At The Doha Climate Talks

  1. fj says:

    US should cease negotions and become carbon zero at wartime speed.

  2. fj says:

    Anything less must be considered as a delaying tactic.

  3. fj says:

    Power to Brad Johnson for heckling a high level Obama adviser for foot dragging on climate change.

    This must happen all the time.

  4. NJP1 says:

    face it folks….climate change conferences are vacations for the participants and no more than that.
    we will go on burning hydrocarbons because we are locked into a commercial system that says we must. We make ‘stuff’, and you can’t manufacture anything without some form of heat input. The only source of heat we have is hydrocarbon based
    forget ‘downsizing’…… the moment you start to seriously downsize you have mass unemployment. We are not going to go into our future tending gardens and chicken coops.
    when you have mass unemployment on a global scale you have anarchy because we need employment to buy food and medical care—among other things.
    so lets face up to what’s coming shall we, and get real??

  5. fj says:

    The idea that going carbon zero at wartime speed would be bad for this country makes absolutely no sense.

    It is difficult to imagine the extraordinary position that going carbon zero would put this country in: perhaps the greatest moment in human history.

  6. catman306 says:

    Nationalize the fossil fuel corporations. Let them put their money into renewable energy companies.
    Put a realistic tax on carbon dioxide pollution.
    Subsidize renewable energy: solar, tidal, wind, and geothermal.
    Plant trees, and make biochar from whatever is lying on the forest floors and storm downed trees.

    I’m sure I’ve left out plenty that we can do now.

  7. Leif says:

    I have said it before: Stop profits from the pollution of the commons and let Fossils fight it out on a level playing field with the Green Awakening Economy. Why should the Fossil Barons make billions of $$ polluting the commons as you or I get fined $100+ for throwing a paper cup out the car window? (A $1,000 in AK). The GOP do not fund abortion. Why must Progressives fund the ecocide of the Planet?

  8. Ozonator says:

    Doha is better than D’oh!

    “Before speaking about energy at the Western Governors Association, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) was asked about global warming by the local TV station KTVK. “Everybody has an opinion on it, you know, and I, you know, I probably don’t believe that it’s man made,” she said. “I believe that, you know, that weather elements are controlled maybe by different things.” … “Where in the hell did that come from?” she said” (“Jan Brewer Gets Testy With Reporter Over Global Warming Question (VIDEO)”; SAHIL KAPUR;, 12/1/12).

  9. SecularAnimist says:

    NJP1 wrote: “you can’t manufacture anything without some form of heat input. The only source of heat we have is hydrocarbon based”

    Nonsense. The USA has vast solar energy resources which can be used for heat as well as for electricity.

  10. Aussie John says:

    If the arrogant ignorance shown by Jan Brewer is typical of US Governors, then the world has no chance of surviving climate change.
    See it here:-

    The common people must “call-out” such irresponsible leadership on behalf of humanity.

  11. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    There is no point any country, even the USA, going it alone. So I consider the best option to be that the USA decarbonises at as fast a rate as possible, while negotiating, but, for a change, in good faith, and not just in an effort to assert its global dominance and gain advantage at the expense of others.

  12. fj says:

    A country with the best economy, environment, government with happiest industrious people in the world, etc. should have no trouble making friends.

    It’s not that we should live in isolation – just the opposite — it’s just that as a nation we will prosper terrifically simply by doing the right thing.

    Why should be negotiate about doing the right thing?

  13. fj says:

    Bringing emissions to the absolute minimum and restoring the environment to a state that supports a healthy prosperous long-lasting advanced civilization is more important than anything else.

  14. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    No-negotiate in order to bring everyone along, or, if others are already leading the way, join in with them. There’s no shame in following others down a righteous path.

  15. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    His God wants humanity to destroy itself. Methinks he has cloven feet, horns and a horned tail.

  16. Jamie Rose says:

    While there have been some successes amongst some nations (ones with Kyoto targets that is), on the whole emissions have grown considerably. Frankly, the fact the US are not involved makes the whole thing a bit of a farce (their CO2 emissions per capita are significantly above that of the rest of the world, still double that of China, whom are blamed for the recent increase).

    We put an infographic here to try and demonstrate this:

    Please support our cause by sharing it!