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News and Media
Plenary session at COP16 in Cancun, where the fate of the Kyoto Protocol quickly became a key issue. FLICKR PHOTO/UN CLIMATE TALKS.
Japan’s argument for discarding the Kyoto Protocol is wrong on the numbers and on equity, SEI senior scientist Sivan Kartha explains.
Japan has stated, in no uncertain terms, that it is willing to let the Kyoto Protocol die. It is claiming that the Kyoto Protocol is an outdated instrument, because its targets do not cover the United States or any developing countries. Since it fails to cover three-quarters of global carbon emissions, Japan argues, the Kyoto Protocol cannot be a viable basis for solving the climate problem.
Japan’s argument is doubly flawed. First, it neglects the fact that while the United States is not a Party to the Kyoto Protocol, it is a Party to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and did in fact agree under the Bali Action Plan to negotiate an emissions limit comparable to other developed countries’ Kyoto targets.
Thus, with all Annex 1 countries coming under quantified emission limits, the fraction of global carbon emissions covered by the Bali process would actually be closer to one-half.
Missing the point of Annex 1
But more fundamentally, the Japanese argument confuses emissions with obligations. Annex 1 was never intended to be a grouping of countries with the highest emissions, but rather those with the greatest moral obligation to address the climate problem. The Convention is unequivocal in this regard:
The Parties should protect the climate … on the basis of equity and in accordance with their common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities. Accordingly, the developed country Parties should take the lead in combating climate change and the adverse effects thereof.
If we talk of developed countries’ responsibility for the climate problem, then surely we must consider not just their direct emissions, but also emissions in developing countries that arise from activities that produce goods for consumption in developed countries.
Under a “consumption-based” accounting of emissions, developed countries are responsible for about 60 per cent of global emissions.
Looking back, not just ahead
Furthermore, climate change is caused not just by today’s carbon emissions, but by carbon accumulated in the atmosphere due to years of emissions. If you gauge emissions on a historical basis, developed countries are responsible for more than 75 per cent.
If we talk of countries’ capability with respect to solving the climate problem, it is clear that the great majority of financial and technological wherewithal resides in the North. The developed world controls approximately three-quarters of the world’s GDP. If one takes into account that a much higher fraction of GDP goes toward meeting very basic needs, such as food, shelter, and medical care, then the North controls more like six-sevenths of the world’s discretionary GDP.
It is precisely because Annex 1 is intended to reflect obligation, not merely emissions, that the UNFCCC and its KP commit them not only to undertake domestic reduction targets, but to provide international support as well, through finance and technology, to enable all countries to curb their emissions.
The UNFCCC, with its Kyoto Protocol, if implemented earnestly, completely and in good faith, does provide an equitable and effective way of reducing emissions in all countries, and taking important steps toward solving the climate problem.
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