November 30, 2015

Earth to Paris. Is Anyone Listening?

kyoto protocol

The only way we can save the planet is through global action and accountability, and by making it in the best interest of governments to be environmentally conscious through the main language they speak: economics.

A global carbon trading scheme with a quantitative cap set by the United Nations on world-wide carbon emissions would allow the market (big business) to set its own price for carbon.

The UN would reduce the cap slightly each year, forcing carbon prices up, which would be an incentive for bigger business to innovate to reduce their costs.

Think of the global shift that occurred after the Industrial Revolution. Now imagine a similar innovative shift that actually led to a significant improvement in the health of our planet? The pendulum swings back.

Too ‘pie in the sky’?

At this stage, for sure.

Political barriers and fairness to developing countries are two of the major obstacles that get in the way of an effective climate change policy. This is evidenced by the Kyoto Protocol, which quite simply isn’t working.

The Kyoto Protocol is the biggest project we’ve undertaken globally to combat climate change. It applies to countries who ratify a treaty that legally binds them to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, with a heavier burden placed on developed (Annex 1) countries. Under the protocol, Annex 1 countries are given individual targets to achieve in terms of reducing their emissions. These targets are set via ‘toing and froing’ to reach a compromise, with strong political pressures involved.

The system itself is quite complicated, as each country is free to develop its own mechanism to reduce emissions to achieve their individualized target—such as through taxes or emissions trading schemes, or a combination of both. For flexibility, the Kyoto Protocol allows Annex I parties to exceed their initial assigned amount through creating or purchasing carbon credits. Each credit is equal to one ton of CO2, and is obtained through specified activities such as afforestation and reforestation.

The focus on developed countries means that developing countries, such as China and India, are exempt from having binding targets. This exclusion is the reason why the US will not ratify the Kyoto Protocol at all. Other countries are also not overly enthused—with Japan, NZ and Russia participating in the first round (2008-2012) but deciding not to take on new targets in the second. Canada withdrew completely after the first round.

Without the US and China—the world’s largest and fastest growing economies—it’s argued that the Kyoto Protocol was doomed from the start. This massive loophole challenges the effectiveness of the protocol, as any reduction in greenhouse gases by parties involved in the protocol can simply be absorbed by increases in emissions of those who do not. It also creates an economic disadvantage for the countries who do take part.

In order to achieve any credibility and effectiveness, the UN’s focus needs to be on creating an emissions scheme which equally involves both developing and developed countries. The reality is that governments are more heavily invested in their economic well-being than their environmental well-being. Any approach taken needs to, at the very least, not be an economic disadvantage to participating parties.

Furthermore, the mechanisms need to be highly simplified and transparent so that we as global citizens can show our support for globally-conscious countries with our buying power. And it wouldn’t take everyone to do it: we’ve shown time and time again that it only takes a strong and persistent minority to create change (think of the slave-grown sugar boycott in 1792).

The key in reducing carbon emissions is not appealing to the good morals of governments, but in considering the economic consequences of any prospective protocols. And remember, we can always create economic consequences ourselves with how we spend our money.


Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
Kyoto Protocol Reference Manual on Accounting of Emissions and Assigned Amount.
United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change: Status of the Doha Amendment.
Parliament of Australia: The Kyoto Protocol.



3 Things we Need to Know about Climate Change before COP21, & 3 Things We Can Do.


Author: Denise Mills

Editor: Caitlin Oriel

Image: Christopher Dombres/Flickr

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