The Kyoto Protocol Is Dead, Long Live the Kyoto Protocol

Reason’s science correspondent sends a fifth dispatch from the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Durban.

Durban, South Africa—The U.N.’s climate change conference here in South Africa winds down today. As usual with these conferences, as the end becomes nigh negotiators turn elusive and rumors run rampant. At the moment, it looks like the negotiators will approve a new mechanism for distributing climate reparations to poor countries, the Green Climate Fund. At earlier Conferences of the Parties (COP-15 and COP-16) in Copenhagen and Cancun, rich countries promised to distribute $30 billion in aid to poor countries by 2012 to help them adapt to climate change. The rich countries further promised to send $100 billion in such aid to poor countries annually beginning in 2020.

The preferred options of the poor countries for funding the Green Climate Fund in the draft negotiating text state that COP-17 “decides that all adaption finance shall be provided in the form of grants and wherever possible, through direct access” and “decides that the main or/major source of funding will be public sources.” Poor country politicians are very anxious that the climate change adaptation aid comes directly from the taxpayers of rich countries and is sent directly to their governments’ coffers. About the Green Climate Fund, U.S. Climate Envoy Todd Stern said, "I have a fair amount of confidence this is going to get done in a positive way.” Frankly, the sad, decades-long record of the failure of trillions of dollars in foreign aid to spur economic development in poor countries does not provide much optimism that developing country governments will handle climate change aid any more effectively.

The other big issue at COP-17 is what is going to happen to the Kyoto Protocol. Poor countries want rich countries to make commitments to further cut their greenhouse gas emissions for another five years. However, Kyoto signatories Russia, Japan, and Canada have declared they will not do so. The European Union says that it will make further emissions cuts under the Kyoto Protocol on the condition that the COP-17 agree to adopt a “roadmap” with the goal of negotiating a new treaty by 2015 that would be legally binding on all countries, especially major emitters like China and the United States. That new treaty would go into force by 2020.

As of late Thursday night, COP-17 negotiators were haggling over various options [PDF] concerning the “roadmap.” One option on the table is a multiple choice draft statement which merely notes that the Parties will agree to make “a set of decisions to be adopted at the [18th][19th][21st][X] session of the Conference of Parties.” In other words, we agree to decide something or other about climate change and adopt it whenever. A roadmap to nowhere?

Given all of the focus on keeping the Kyoto Protocol alive, let’s pay a visit to an alternative universe. In this universe, President Bill Clinton submits the Kyoto Protocol to the U.S. Senate for ratification. And in this world, the U.S. Senate does not vote 95 to 0 that the United States should not sign on to any treaty that that did not include binding targets and timetables for developing as well as industrialized nations because that "would result in serious harm to the economy of the United States.” Instead, the U.S. agreed to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 7 percent below their 1990 levels. As it happens, the U.S. emitted a total of 6.2 billion tons [PDF] of greenhouse gases in 1990. Now, let’s also say that the U.S. fails to meet its Kyoto targets. This is not implausible. After all, Kyoto signatories Japan and Canada [PDF] failed to meet their greenhouse gas reduction targets in the real universe.

Under the Protocol, countries that fail to meet their targets by making domestic cuts in emissions can promise to meet their targets in the next five year commitment period or they can buy some sort of offsets to fulfill their treaty obligations. To make it simple, let’s assume that the U.S. could buy emissions credits in the European Trading Scheme market. So what might have happened?

In 1990 the U.S. emitted about 6.2 billion tons of greenhouse gases and the goal was to emit 7 percent less than that by 2012. The actual commitment period ran five years from 2008 through 2012. In order to get some idea of how much the U.S. emitted, let’s add the actual emissions as reported by 2008 and 2009. The figures for the final three years are not yet available, but in 2010 U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide increased 200 million tons. So let’s add that to the 2009 figure and assume that overall greenhouse gas emissions stabilized at that level for the duration. 

Over the years the price for European emission credits has swung wildly back and forth, rising as high $44 per ton and falling to near zero. The current price hovers around $7 per ton. Based on the above assumptions and calculations, the U.S. will have emitted more than 5.8 billion tons more than its Kyoto target during the relevant period. Had the U.S. had to buy offsetting credits when the price per credit was $44 per ton that would have added up to an outlay of about $255 billion. At $7 per ton, it would amount of about $40 billion. Of course, had the U.S. been in the carbon market that would likely have pushed the price for emissions credits up substantially.

But what if the U.S. had actually fulfilled its treaty obligations in this alternative universe, what would the costs have been then? Since the U.S. did not join the Kyoto regime most econometric studies were done over a decade ago. For example, Yale University economist William Nordhaus has been modeling the economic effects of climate change policies for a long time. Back in 1998, he and Joseph Boyer calculated that if the U.S. joined the Kyoto Protocol the total global cost of treaty compliance would amount to $716 billion [PDF], of which two-thirds would be paid by the U.S. Nordhaus also estimated that the costs of compliance would outweigh the benefits by a ratio of seven to one. Interestingly, the Swiss bank UBS just issued a report that concluded that the European Union’s emissions trading scheme has cost European consumers €210 billion ($283 billion) for "almost zero impact" on cutting CO2 emissions.

Finally, one little bit of drama occurred during U.S. climate envoy Stern’s address to the plenary session of the COP-17. According to news reports, Middlebury college student Abigail Borah interrupted Stern’s speech declaring, “I am speaking on behalf of the United States of America because my negotiators cannot. The obstructionist Congress has shackled justice and delayed ambition for far too long. I am scared for my future. 2020 is too late to wait. We need an urgent path to a fair ambitious and legally binding treaty.” Borah was apparently applauded by many delegates before she was removed from the auditorium by police.

Note: This is the fifth daily dispatch from the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Durban. The conference ends Friday. I will be reporting from the conference until the bitter end.

Ronald Bailey is Reason magazine's science correspondent. His book Liberation Biology: The Scientific and Moral Case for the Biotech Revolution is now available from Prometheus Books.

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  • David F. Weigel||

    http://web.archive.org/web/200.....?artid=419
    That's a dumb piece I wrote about booty calls for my college paper!

  • Sven||

    How many more "Ronald Bailey live from the nuthouse" articles do we have to ignore? is it finally over?

  • Mike M.||

    Seriously. I love a good, entertaining unicorn hunt as much as anyone, but this has become one of the least interesting phony issues of all time.

  • The Most Rev Sharpton||

    reparations? talk to me babiee...

  • tarran||

    It's never over. At some point it will become irrelevant, much like gatherings of the Cardinals of the Catholic Church used to be earthshaking events of great import hundreds of years ago and today are only of interest to an ever shrinking small slice of humanity.

  • k2000k||

    Only earth shaking to Europeans, and two billion people isn't exactly a small slice of humanity.

  • k2000k||

    Correction of those two billion only a billion would actually be affected in any way. Still thats a lotta meatballs.

  • Barry Loberfeld||

    Nolan Chart-minded libertarians might be curious to know where they place on this overview of “biopolitics.”

  • cynical||

    I didn't ask for this.

  • DJF||

    “””or they can buy some sort of offsets to fulfill their treaty obligations.””’

    I believe the correct terminology is ‘indulgences for their sins”. Just make a check out to ‘Al Gore, Pope of Climate Change”.

  • Sevo||

    Can't we just ask for Special Dispensation?

  • DJF||

    Sure if you write a big enough check.

  • ||

    So who will be the ecological Martin Luther to Al Gore's Papism?

  • ||

    Looks like an elaborate exercise to make the U.S. less competitive globally--and doesn't really do enough to solve the problem anyway.

    Also, maybe I've been thinking about the EU treaty too much lately, but I can't shake the feeling like we'd be setting ourselves up to take on something like the role of Germany in the Euro crisis.

    What are we, the lender polluter of last resort?

    Because of our energy wealth, essentially, we're already assumed to be responsible for solving the world's carbon emission problems--like Germany is supposed to solve Greece and Italy's fiscal problems.

    I don't understand why we'd sign up for that responsibility? What do we get in exchange? ...a solution to global warming that still doesn't solve the problem?

    "Back in 1998, he and Joseph Boyer calculated that if the U.S. joined the Kyoto Protocol the total global cost of treaty compliance would amount to $716 billion [PDF], of which two-thirds would be paid by the U.S. Nordhaus also estimated that the costs of compliance would outweigh the benefits by a ratio of seven to one."

    Nations that are competing with the U.S. economy see that as a feature, rather than a bug, I'm sure. Too bad we can't fit that quote on a poster with a baby polar bear.

  • Mrs Schultz's cunt.||

    You came out of me.

  • ||

    Vile troll.

  • ||

    The correct answer is "I love you too rather"

    Two things that are interesting though...you are not Epi so rather has expanded her pissing territory and who knew rather was a global warming nut job?

  • +||

    You don't know who posted that comment.

  • ||

    It does not matter...either it was rather or they sound like rather...being rather is bad enough...but being confused with rather is the lowest of the low.

    Thus the correct answer is still "I love you too rather"

  • wareagle||

    nothing says hubris like some quasi-govt body believing it can enact policy that affects climate.

  • Sevo||

    Dunno. Ms. Abigail Borah is giving them a run for the gold.

  • ||

    Ms. Borah has a very special snowglobe of assdouchiness that she resides in...
    you don't speak for the U.S. you flaming twit if your official title is president of the International Climate Youth Movement...

  •  ||

    How's about we retitle all the Foreign Aid handouts as Climate Reparations and call it even?

  • Concerned Citizen||

    perfect

  • Mike M.||

    All I can say is thank goodness I'm not in North Dakota, where temperatures are already below zero.

    How anyone can tolerate living in a climate like that is beyond me.

  • ||

    We stuff our clothing with all of the money we are making. Great insulator.

  • ||

    Poor country politicians are very anxious that the climate change adaptation aid comes directly from the taxpayers of rich countries and is sent directly to their governments’ coffers.

    I'll bet they are. I'll bet they use the money on such green programs as buying new tanks and artillery pieces.

    But they'll paint them green, so I guess it's all good, huh?

  • Chatroom Crank||

    Tanks and artillery come after Swiss bank accounts are filled, mistresses are procured, gold toilets are paid for and penis enlargement surgery is complete.

  • ||

    Gotta keep the palace guard well equipped, though, lest the peasants storm the palace and take all that cool stuff.

  • anonymous commenter some guy||

    Actually, the tanks and artillery come before those other things. How else are you gonna keep the masses from rioting when they hear about the other things?

  • ||

    The goal: A new climate change treaty in 2015 that would be legally binding on all countries.

    Tell me again: "How many divisions does the Pope have?"

  • Colin||

    I guess these morons don't realize that it takes 67 votes in the Senate to pass a treaty in the US.

    We couldn't even pass the Treaty of Versailles at the end of World War I. In fact, I think we're still officially at war with the Central Powers.

  • ||

    Not only that, but the Euro Treaty is under severe stress as it is--and the solution on the table is supposed to be even less control by European governments over their own finances...

    I don't see how this Kyoto type mechanism is so much different from the Euro Treaty that's blowing up in their faces right now. I'm not sure why a climate change treaty wouldn't also blow up--and for the same reasons too.

    So and so lied and cheated like Greece? So and so isn't financially capable of meeting its obligations, ...

  • Croesus||

    Do not let your heart be troubled, the US officially ended the war with the Central Powers in 1921 by passing the Knox-Porter Resolution.

  • ||

    The Kyoto Protocol is Dead

    So, I'm thinking a "nuke it from orbit" joke would be in bad taste?

  • k2000k||

    Yes, but an orbital kinetic strike joke? Totally appropriate.

  • ||

    Hey, wait a second. If it turned out that AGW were real and actually catastrophic, couldn't we counter its effects with nuclear weapons? I remember a lot of talk about nuclear winter back in the 80s.

    Problem solved!

  • Concerned Citizen||

    Genius!

  • ||

    You guys called me a conspiracy theorist, but I finally have proof.

    The US government creates terrorist. I even found a video of them doing it:

    http://www.lewrockwell.com/blo.....00312.html


    Whose side would you be on in a fight...the little boy or those imperial troopers?

    And somewhere Matt Welch is happy that he got that global war on terror he called for back in 2001.

  • 35N4P2BYY||

    My overlords will not let me watch the video but I get the distinct impression that you probably need to up the dosage your anti-psychotics.

  • ||

    I am not psychotic, just helping americans understand US foreign policy.

    Do you disagree with the idea that our government is creating terrorists? The video shows it very clearly.

  • Gilbert Martin||

    "European Union global warming negotiators in Durban are threatening to kill off the Kyoto Protocol unless the world agrees to start new negotiations."

    Wow!

    What a threat!

    I'm sure that will make everybody fall all over themselves to sign up for a whole new round of economic suicide.

  • Entropy||

    Oh no! Not the briar patch! Anything but the briar patch!

  • China||

    I guess we'll have to take the global leadership role until the United States steps up.

  • Atilla||

    Such an empty news piece. Where is the conference next year? Why do all these other countries get to have this and make all the money on it. When is it America's turn? We need a treaty after one of our cities! "The Miami Protocol!" that has a real ring to it! Or Las Vegas!

  • first||

    Tall, with silky chocolate skin and very smart, this girl has it all. And now she shows it to us...

    This was Valerie’s first time posing nude, and we can thank her boyfriend for encouraging her. In school they call her the gazelle, and with those long legs it’s not hard to see why. Beautiful features and big, wild hair make her look like an untamed animal!

    Originally from Mauritius, she now lives in Germany, where her dark beauty has to inspire second glances on the street. She speaks English, French and German fluently. Strict about her diet and work-out regime, she runs like the wind– helpful for a spirited gazelle like her!

    Strikingly attractive in so many ways, this woman of colour now shares herself with you, only here on Hegre-Art.

  • Nike Dunk Shoes||

    thanks

  • first||

    Konata has come to us from what could be almost another world. We know of the Japanese tradition. The girl-woman seems so quiet and almost timid. Very eager to please and very submissive.

    Get ready for a big surprise. Konata is all this but much more. This giggling girl with a fondness for fizzy sodas has her big secret and it's just come out.

    Konata thinks about nothing but sex. Whatever way, whenever is her style. Most of all being in front of the camera - to show off her perfect breasts and milky skin - is what turns her on.

    Right now she has a glorious black bush. Catch it now before she tries something new with that as well.

  • fletch92131||

    Developed nations could do much better by simply implementing free-trade with developing nations and getting out of the latters' way!!

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