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The Kyoto Protocol Progress

A brief account of the Kyoto progress from its early days in 1922

Summary of the Time Frame:
(Click if you want to see our introductory Reference article covering the Kyoto Protocol Background up to the end of 2000.)
1992: The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change signed.
1995: parties to the treaty decided to establish a binding protocol for the developed nations.
1997: meeting in Japan produced the Kyoto Protocol but issues outstanding.
1998: the issues were discussed but not resolved in Buenos Aires, Argentina
2000: a meeting intending to reach completion in The Hague, Netherlands.

The following are notes in the form of an ongoing commentary: (Picking up from November 2000)
  • November 2000 saw the end of the Hague conference but unfortunately it finished disappointingly with little, if any, resolution. It was notable for a finale in which the UK Deputy PM John Prescott had a personal disagreement with the French Environment Minister, Dominique Voynet. Pity really because John had achieved quite a lot in his own way up to this point and the UK is making a fair stab at reducing its emissions.
    The US (under Bill Clinton) had refused to submit for ratification unless meaningful commitments were undertaken by the developing countries (we guess China and India would figure prominently). This argument should not be dismissed, but unfortunately we suspect that it is only a window dressing and the real reasons are to do with American prosperity.
    Ratification in the US implies the acceptance of the terms by a two-thirds majority in the Senate and consequent legislation would probably need backing from the Congress where it was recognised there was serious opposition to the Protocol and the Democrats lacked the necessary control. Clinton's refusal seems to be logical since an abortive submission would have served no useful purpose.
    The view from outside the US was that a Democratic administration would be more sympathetic to agreement than a Republican one. At that moment in time the presidential election was teetering through its shameful procedures. With the prospect of George W Bush in the White House, the future for Kyoto did not look good for he is often regarded as having little grasp of international affairs and his politics likely to be motivated by American consumerism rather than third-party global concerns.
    This philosophy was summed up by the American Negotiator at the Hague, Frank Loy. He was reported as appearing on Radio 4, mid November 2000, to say he would do nothing "to jeopardise the American lifestyle". He argued that the world's best interests are served by American growth.
  • In June, 2001 it appears that, with Bush in power, environmentalist's worst fears have been realised; he has effectively renounced Kyoto and confirmed Loy's point of view. One good thing that has come from this about turn is that international interest in Kyoto has been focussed. His hand may be weakened by a slight but significant shift in balance of power in the Senate as James Jeffords moved from the Republican Party in May to become an Independent.
    George Walker Bush is touring Europe and judging by public demonstrations is not popular (the environment is only one of several international contentious issues). He is also meeting Russia's Putin.
    Leaders of some nations such as Sweden are quite outspoken and urging unilateral ratification of the treaty (see article on Kyoto Background for explanation of how). Such a unilateral stance depends on support from Russia and Japan and also solid commitment from all the European states. Italy is a potential weak link due to its right wing president. The UK is placatory but then Tony didn't get where he's at by rocking the transatlantic boat. Japan, surprisingly, shows signs of wavering without commitment from the US. GWB has many arms he can twist. Australia and Canada are two of the worst emitters (behind the US) and they are opposed to Kyoto at the moment.
    Any fragmentation with lack of support for ratification from those apparently committed could mean the end of the Kyoto process. If that happens, environmentalists will be looking for some alternative to replace it. However, since the Kyoto plan never aimed to tackle the problem in enough depth there is always hope that something better may evolve to fill the vacuum. Maybe the next plan could be Contraction and Convergence (so we've heard). But this last paragraph is purely speculation.
    In June we wait to see what will happen next month in Bonn, Germany.
  • In July, 2001 we realise that combining a diary of events with commentary is difficult. The ground keeps shifting. The news is that EU diplomacy has scored with an agreement being reached in Bonn (July 23) where it seems that all the nations except the US are going to adopt the Kyoto Protocol. The absence of the US no doubt helped and the work of Baghir Asadi (from Iran; head of the developing nations) was a positive factor. Some nations regret that the US was not involved but others are pleased to put the boot in. We note the new word 'adopt' which adds to the previous two, 'agree' and 'ratify'. The future of the KP still begs many questions.
  • October 3, 2001 Tony Blair made his New-World-Order speech. He said (amongst many other things of course) "We could defeat climate change if we chose to. Kyoto is right. We will implement it and call upon other nations to do so"
  • February, 2002 we realise that it is the 10th year since Rio. In that time the world has increased its dependence on fossil fuels and the CO2 emissions have increased significantly. Politicians and big business magnates (who ought to set an example) show scant regard for the global environment. We may look forward to the next Earth Summit in Johannesburg in August this year, but with what optimism?
  • May 31, 2002 was John Prescott's birthday. What a marvelous present for him when he was 'phoned with the news that Japan and the EU had ratified the Kyoto Protocol that day. This raises the percentage of industrialised countries' emissions to about 35%. Only another 20% to go and if Russia come in as promised the target will be very close. Good news too just before the summit in August.
  • Early August, 2002 there's a right kerfuffle with the next Earth Summit in Johannesburg only days away. Tony's spin king (Alistair Campbell) decided to cut the numbers attending the summit. So he did, and left out Michael Meacher. Environmental groups couldn't believe it, and volunteered to pay his way, however, 2 days later (8 August) Michael was reinstated. We could have been the only one of 174 nations without our environment minister present (think about it!).
  • August 26-September 4, we were incommunicado at the time and later were underwhelmed with reporting on any progress. Anyway, we fall back on a summary by Paul Brown (Guardian Ed. Supp. 6 May 2003): "... everyone agreed that matters had gone downhill fast since 1992 and the problems were accelerating. The Bush administration and associated oil and heavy industries took most of the flack for this state of affairs, although all the world's politicians should bear some of the blame." Apologies for lifting this quote but, sadly, we could have made it up for ourselves. On a better note we believe that many people are much more aware of sustainability, probably as a result of publicity on the topics.
  • Early December, 2003 we read that Russia is refusing to ratify the Protocol, and since the US (more accurately GWB and his mates) will not either, this scuppers the chances of the KP becoming a binding agreement at this time. Maybe this will change but Russia is starting to develop (hence producing more emissions) and that means it has less to gain from emission trading. The EU is not doing too well with its targets except Sweden and the UK (bless you Tony). The UK announces a financial boost (said to be worth £2 billion) to the renewable energy industry, together with extended time horizon, this should please the banks and therefore the power industry. On top of this there is progress in increasing wind generation particularly off the UK coast (see Wind in our Alternative Energy section).
  • August, 2004 Kyoto adoption still looks remote but some nations are addressing the problems in a fragmented way. We now believe that two things are evident. First, abnormal climate change is already taking place and will continue for some considerable time even if the Kyoto ideals were to be realised soon. Second, George W Bush has demonstrated beyond any doubt that he is comprehensively ignorant, dangerously inarticulate and uncompromisingly selfish and has seriously undermined hopes to adopt the KP internationally. We try not to be political so it is only fair to say in his favour that he hasn't tried to cover up his unique qualities and he is not alone in being a shameful national leader.
  • October, 2004 suddenly, Vladimir Putin decides to move to ratify Kyoto; should be worth billions to Russia's economy. Its a welcome decision but only one small step for mankind on its marathon journey. Assuming ratification follows, at least we can be happier that GWB will be isolated in his contempt.
  • 22 Oct, the Russian government voted to ratify. The USA still thumbs its nose at Kyoto.
  • 18 November, receipt of the Russian Federation’s instrument of ratification by the UN Secretary-General meant that the Kyoto Protocol would at last come into force from 16 February 2005.
  • 6-17 December, COP 10, the Tenth Conference of Parties took place, fittingly, in Buenos Aires soon after the critical ratification. The impending enforcement focussed minds, the targets having became real rather than idealised and there was some clucking in the henhouse (please pardon our irreverence). A lot of effort seemed to go into avoiding expansion of promises especially beyond the key date 2012.
  • 20 January, 2005, George W inaugurated for his 2nd term of 4 years. With his sponsors and main henchmen still around and with his particular religious bent we dread what 'stuff will happen' next.
  • 16 February, 2005: the Kyoto Protocol is officially in force. No great wind of change but an important symbolic step. Now the real efforts must be made.
  • November-December in Montreal, the Bush administration was drubbed after the discussions got heated and the obdurate American delegates walked out. The irony is that the isolationists found themselves truly isolated. Most of the world's major nations simply waved the Bush tribe goodbye and made it clear they would go it alone. Their unity was so dramatic, and world opinion so well defined, that it wasn't long before the traumatised US team were back in the room. These talks were not expected to produce any meaningful advances, but behold they did. Above all was the agreement to extend and strengthen the Kyoto agreement beyond 2012, and there were more than 40 resolutions aimed at reducing global warming. The star of the show was not even present; Bill Clinton said on TV that the US could surpass the Kyoto targets and still strengthen its economy. Bill being such a likeable and respected chap, this had the effect of making the US delegation run around like headless chickens. So they're back at the table, sulking of course, but there anyway, and before 2012 Bush should be far out of sight, returned to his cage maybe. Another star, in Montreal, was Margaret Becket successfully leading the EU negotiators. By inference, Tony Blair who clearly sees her as a safe pair of hands must also attract some credit despite wasting the chance of a lifetime through 2005 as the G8 and EU leader. The Canadian hosts also deserve praise for their forthrightness.
  • December 2007: nothing significant specific to Kyoto over the past two years although there has been a distinct increase in international awareness of climate change and green issues, and a recent new administration in Australia (which, so far, has blatantly refused to accept the Kyoto spirit). This month the Bali (Indonesia) meeting of 180 nations gets under way. Very much a meeting to arrange meetings with the aim of reaching a global agreement in a couple of years and eventual action spanning forty years. The US are not expected to fall into line but G W Bush should go soon and that may change. The developed countries should be expected to set examples and bear the brunt of emission reduction and rightly so. The developing countries (eg China, India, Brazil, Indonesia and Mexico) must be persuaded to make changes but are expected to be partisan. The poor countries are smaller offenders in the carbon emissions stakes but ironically likely to be the worst hit by climate change. Putting this all together convinces us that it is vital that the rich countries really do set very good examples or we shall sink more quickly to extinction. Unfortunately this does not seem to be the view of individuals we have met. Typically their view is 'what difference can we make when enormous nations are burning coal like there's no tomorrow'. While we understand their argument we have no doubt that they are wrong.
  • 4 December, 2009: things haven't yet changed fundamentally but there have been several important developments in the last year or so. In the US Dubya has gone and Obama is a welcome replacement. Nevertheless his powers are limited with a morally questionable senate to contend with. In the UK Brown has replaced Blair and Brown shows a streak of moral compassion (often well hidden) which might bode well, although it appears his political influence may be quenched soon. Canada remains the most outstanding and obdurate culprit amongst the deniers and Australia, which seemed to be changing for the better is threatening to go back to its' old ways (due to a well supported opposition leader). China is showing a most welcome and surprising improvement in attitude together with a host of other countries. In general it will come as no surprise that there is much clucking and elbowing as usual.
    We think that, although Kyoto appeared to be gutless, it has been responsible for focusing attention and therefore achieved quite a lot. This may be the last entry under the Kyoto heading because Copenhagen will be the byword for future, international climate change strategies. It should be more successful than Kyoto because the reality of global warming is beginning to take shape for every one to see and experience; we wish it every success.
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Originated: Early 2001,   Last amended: 8 May, 2013