Revolution #53, July 16, 2006

Problems with the Kyoto Protocol

The Kyoto Protocol calls for the industrialized countries to cut greenhouse gas emissions 5.2% below 1990 levels by 2012. The U.S., of course—the largest producer of greenhouse gases, producing 20% of the world’s total—isn’t even part of it.

There seem to be two main problems with Kyoto.

1) Even if successful it is nowhere near what’s really necessary to significantly alter and turn around the growing danger of global warming. According to Greenpeace, the greenhouse gases already pumped into the atmosphere mean that a 2.2-4 degree F temperature rise is already unavoidable. Gases cause effects over decades, highlighting the need for massive cuts and quickly (which Kyoto doesn’t do).

To get a basic sense of the kind of emissions cuts that are required—a statement by the Union of Concerned Scientists says, “To have a fighting chance to keep global warming within safe levels, countries like the U.S. must reduce emissions of carbon dioxide by 80% below 2000 levels by 2050—and we must begin to make those reductions right away.” Instead, by 2003, U.S. carbon emissions had climbed 18% over 1990 levels—despite pledges made by Clinton (while Gore was vice president) in the 1990s to cut emissions. This is being exacerbated by the Bush regime. The Energy Information Administrations International Energy Outlook 2002 projected U.S. emissions will grow by 33-46% over next two decades.

2) It’s very questionable whether Kyoto will succeed in cutting emissions 5.2% or even that emissions (by the ratifiers) won’t actually increase. Kyoto relies on a carbon emissions trading scheme—whereby big producers of greenhouse gases can buy “credits” so they don’t have to themselves reduce emissions, by paying for other companies or countries to reduce emissions through technology upgrades (for instance from burning coal to burning natural gas), by funding “carbon capture” projects, etc.

The notion that this type of profit-driven scheme (as opposed to what’s needed—massive changes to reduce overall burning of fossil fuels, mobilizing the masses to carry out technology shifts that aren’t predicated on producing profit, infrastructural revolutions, etc.) will actually succeed seems very unlikely.

And meanwhile, whether countries will even bother to try to meet goals isn’t clear. For instance, according to a BBC news article, Canada has no clear plan for reaching its emissions cuts, which have increased 20% since 1990. There is also speculation that especially without U.S. participation, but maybe anyway, the whole scheme could fall apart—or at least not be extended after 2012.

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