Kyoto has “failed”


Scientists call for new climate change policy. It is time for a radical rethink on climate change, says a report in the journal Nature this week.

Echoing sentiments long associated with politicians such as Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and US President George Bush, the report says it is time to ditch the Kyoto Protocol because the United Nations treaty has “failed.” Not only has the decade-old treaty not delivered cuts in global emissions of greenhouse gases which continue to soar, but it is the wrong tool for the job, say Gwyn Prins of the London School of Economics and Steve Rayner at Oxford. Their commentary has top billing in the influential British science journal this week. Under the headline “Time to Ditch Kyoto,” they call on delegates heading for the United Nations climate meeting in Bali in December to “radically rethink climate policy” and warn against creating a “bigger” version of Kyoto with more stringent targets and timetables.

Kyoto is a “symbolically important expression” of governments’ concerns about climate change, they say: “But as an instrument for achieving emissions reductions, it has failed. It has produced no demonstrable reduction in emissions or even in anticipated emissions growth. And it pays no more than token attention to the needs of societies to adapt to existing climate change.”

On Monday, an international team reported humans are pumping more greenhouse gases than ever into the atmosphere, and warned the ever-increasing emissions will speed a planetary meltdown. “Kyoto’s supporters often blame non-signatory governments, especially the US and Australia, for its woes,” say Prins and Rayner. “But the Kyoto Protocol was always the wrong tool for the nature of the job.” Kyoto was fashioned after treaties for dealing with stratospheric ozone, acid rain and nuclear weapons. “Kyoto’s architects assumed that climate change would be best attacked directly through global emissions controls, treating tonnes of carbon dioxide like stockpiles of nuclear weapons to be reduced via mutually verifiable targets and timetables,” say Prins and Rayner. It failed because climate change is so complex and rooted in the “globally interlaced supply system of fossil energy,” they say.

They warn against compounding Kyoto’s mistakes in Bali. “We are witnessing that well-documented human response to failure, especially where political or emotional capital is involved, which is to insist on more of what is not working: in this case more stringent targets and timetables, involving even more countries.” Prins and Rayner call instead for action in key areas. They say the focus should be emission reduction by the biggest emitters - fewer than 20 of the 194 countries in the world are responsible for about 80% of the world’s emissions. China and the US lead the top-20 list, which also includes Japan, India, Russia, Canada, the UK and several Europeans countries.

They also say carbon taxes and so-called cap-and-trade systems, which can target emissions reductions for countries and industries, cannot stimulate the level of action required. They “cannot deliver the escape velocity required to get investment in technological innovation into orbit, in time,” they say. What is needed is a massive increase in spending on clean-energy technologies, say Prins and Rayner, who want energy research and development placed on “wartime footing.” “It seems reasonable to expect the world’s leading economies and emitters to devote as much money to this challenge as they currently spend on military research - in the case of the United States about $80 billion a year.” An equal amount should go toward global adaptation efforts, they say. There is "no silver bullet" solution to climate change, but they say there is hope for a multi-pronged “silver buckshot” approach.

Canada signed on to Kyoto and now the country’s greenhouse gas emissions are 33% above the Kyoto commitment. In his government’s recent throne speech, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said: “It is now widely understood that, because of inaction on greenhouse gases over the last decade, Canada’s emissions cannot be brought to the level required under the Kyoto Protocol within the compliance period, which begins on Jan. 1, 2008 ... .”
Environment Minister John Baird says the Tories intend to forge ahead with their own strategy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions domestically, while working with other countries on long-term solutions. (

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