Fire / Feu

Le protocole de Kyoto:
Une entente qui ressemble au statu quo

Selon la Commission d’enquête inter
-gouvernementale sur le réchauffement climatique (IPCC), il faudrait réduire les émissions de gaz à effet de serre de 50 à 70 % afin de stabiliser leur concentration dans l’atmosphère.

Au Sommet de Kyoto l’année dernière, les 159 pays participants se sont entendus à réduire globalement de 5,2 % les émissions de gaz toxiques pour l’an 2012, au plus tard.

Ces mesures, pourtant très insuffisantes, constituent déjà de graves problèmes pour plusieurs pays. Le débat porte en ce moment sur la quantité des réductions de gaz à effet de serre dont les différents pays sont responsables plutôt que sur le besoin urgent de freiner le réchauffement climatique. Pendant ce temps, les gaz à effet de serre continuent à s’accumuler au profit d’un jeu politique.


Other CIDA funded articles:

Pedal Power in El Salvador

Climate Change

A Return To Diversity

The Kyoto Protocol:
About Saving the Climate or
Preserving Status Quo?

Maria Athena D. Ronquillo
September 1998


It was difficult to tell exactly what time it was after having been confined in the negotiating halls for 14 days. I knew only that it was sometime during the wee hours of the morning of December 10, 1997. Chairman Hiroshi Ohki, State Minister and Director General of the Environment Agency of the Government of Japan, emerged from the chambers of the Kyoto International Conference Hall. The President of the 3rd Session of the Conference of the Parties (CoP-3) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, considered the most important and historic environmental gathering of 1997, has just tendered his resignation in the biggest plenary session so far, stunning hundreds of official delegates and observers. What was purportedly a historic pact to curb the pressing issue of global climate change is on the brink of collapse. Ohki simply could not make it happen, nor could he get his own team (some coming from the industry camp while others represent the environmental protection agency) to agree to common terms on Japan's emission reduction targets. The fossil fuel industry, which was successful enough in muddling the already complex negotiations, was about to party.

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It was politics at its best. The environment as the main agenda has been swept under the rug.

In a last ditch effort, Argentinean ambassador Estrada (now rumoured to be a potential presidential candidate), as the current Chairman of the Committee of the Whole, managed to pull the pieces together. Shortly before 7:00 a.m. of December 11, the Kyoto Protocol was finally adopted amidst tears, joy, anger and frustration from delegates, NGO observers, media practitioners and industry lobbyists.

The world now has the first legally binding agreement which mandates industrialized countries to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by an average of 5.2% below 1990 levels during the period 2008-2012.

Digesting the Protocol

The world hailed it as a historic agreement. It was a significant first step to addressing one of the most threatening global environmental phenomenon -- human induced climate change. The fossil fuel lobby was devastated and their chief lobbyist was seen reprimanding a couple of governmental delegates from oil-producing states for failing to stop consensus and agreement. The "green energy" industry and the progressive insurance bloc stressed that the protocol will send a very strong signal to global markets and boost confidence in climate-friendly investments. The non-governmental sector had mixed feelings: some called it a disaster, others agreed it was a historic pact and a significant first step.

Let's step back a bit and do a reality check here. Five years after the framework convention was signed in New York, and after so many preparatory meetings and negotiating sessions in between, governments have miserably failed to craft an agreement that is intended to save the climate and the species dependent on it. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in order to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at present levels, emissions must be reduced by 50-70%. If these recommendations are ignored, the world faces dangerous temperature increases of almost 3 degree Celsius by the year 2100. Clearly, the targets set forth by the Kyoto Protocol are inadequate. The chances of avoiding a doubling, or even a tripling, of carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere are thus remote unless deeper cuts by all parties are undertaken in the first few decades of the next century.

The Impacts of Climate Change: Developing Countries at Risk

Despite the orchestrated attempts of climate sceptics to muddle the on-going debate on human-induced climate change and crush all efforts of countries to undertake precautionary action, the most visible signs of global warming have taken center stage as they become measurable and noticeable. Whilst it is true that scientists are still faced with numerous uncertainties, the concern has increasingly grown beyond whether global warming is happening but how bad it will be. The three hottest years on record were noted in this decade (1990, 1995 and 1997). Recently, the US NOAA declared July 1998 as the hottest year on record since the 1400s. The collapse of what used to be known as James Ross Island into a full-blown lake, and the huge cracks in the Larsen B iceshelf in the Antarctica are very alarming visible signs. The threat of sea-level rise is very real for most of the countries in the Asian region due to their extensive and highly populated coastlines. Extreme coral bleaching in some of the most pristine coastal areas of the Pacific, Southeast Asia and the Pacific have been recorded as a result of sea temperature increases. The frequency and severity of recent El Nino episodes, including the latest 97/98 episode which brought prolonged droughts and extreme weather events, have also been cited by scientists as linked to human induced climate change.

Ironically, the "historic" Kyoto Protocol has yet to prove its environmental effectiveness..."

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(photo: NASA)

So while the debate lingers on politically as to how much reduction measures countries are willing to adopt, the global climate is changing at an alarming pace and affecting all countries, whether major contributors to historical emissions or not. A stark contrast appears, though, in that industrialized countries have the most resources, technology and knowledge to deal with these emerging signs and impacts. On the other hand, developing countries which are economically marginalized, having high population densities, are least able to cope and are now faced with the difficult challenge of adapting to climate change. This, to my mind, is the saddest, if not the most worrisome of all climate-related dilemmas -- action needs to come from the industrialized world first and the political will to do so rests solely on their own -- while the most threatened and vulnerable developing countries can only hope for leadership and early action to come sooner rather than later.

Questioning Kyoto's Environmental Effectiveness

Ironically, the "historic" Kyoto Protocol has yet to prove its environmental effectiveness in terms of actually yielding results in overall GHG reductions. The reason for the slow progress is simple enough - the main players, who have benefitted from burning massive amounts of fossil fuel while using the atmosphere as a giant wastebasket for greenhouse gases, are the same ones who have called the shots in the entire Kyoto negotiations. In fact they have successfully muddled some of the most important provisions of the protocol, rendering it open to virtually any kind of interpretations or misinterpretations. The US, backed up by an "ad hoc" political grouping known as the JUSCANZ (Japan, US Canada, Australia and New Zealand), made sure that it is a protocol with lofty principles but without any teeth. Fair enough, with the loose provisions on emissions trading, joint implementation, the clean development mechanism and "sinks", it is clearly a protocol negotiated on the basis of purely political interests without due regard for science and environmental objectives.

Post-Kyoto: En Route to CoP-4 in Buenos Aires

Come November, the COP-4 in Buenos Aires will again gather the same players who hammered the Kyoto Protocol into adoption. Rendering the protocol useful and effective is the pressing agenda of the day. This requires the closure of what is popularly known as "Kyoto loopholes". These are flexibility mechanisms, such as trading, which may actually result in an overall increase in emissions by industrialized countries if not governed by strict rules of transparency, accountability and verifiability. Getting science back to the negotiating table is equally important and must form the basis for any decision-making. And of course, as climate impacts become more and more visible, governments will hopefully exercise leadership in negotiating deeper emission reduction targets and revisit the current timetable to press for early action, as early as 2005.

Inaction will have real repercussions; small islands disappearing, human lives and ecosystems devastated as a result of extreme weather events. If the forecast of the "green energy" industry is true, business as usual will hopefully be over soon. It is time for change. It is time to act.

"Produced with the support of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA)";
«Produit en collaboration avec l'Agence canadienne de développement international (ACDI)»