By Dieter Helm
Nature – The Kyoto Protocol, agreed in 1997, is the centrepiece of global efforts to address climate change by reducing greenhouse-gas emissions. Its first commitment period expires this year, but despite the political capital invested in it, numerous subsequent Conference of the Parties (COP) meetings and considerable economic costs, it has had no noticeable impact on global carbon emissions. These remain on an upward curve, increasing from almost 2 parts per million (p.p.m.) a year in the early 1990s to almost 3 p.p.m. now, and heading towards the critical threshold of 400 p.p.m..
It will only get worse. At the Durban COP in December 2011, all that could be agreed was that the participant countries would try to agree by 2015 what they might do after 2020. At current growth rates, by 2020 the economies of China and India will be twice their present size, requiring the addition of 400–600 gigawatts of coal-fired generating capacity to their electricity systems1.
The reasons for the Kyoto Protocol’s ineffectiveness are in its architecture. It is based on carbon production, not carbon consumption. It has a mainly European focus. It does nothing to address the immediate problem of global coal burning. It is wide open to free-riding, allowing nations to avoid cutting emissions while others do so, and it has few enforcement mechanisms. These are deep flaws that render the protocol incapable of slowing emissions, let alone reversing them. Fortunately, other, better, bottom-up approaches hold hope for progress.
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Source: Nature, November 28th, 2012
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