Cancún climate change deal falls flat, Kyoto Protocol on life support
Two weeks of Cancún climate change talks ended Saturday, with a vague deal to help poor countries deal with climate change and the original Kyoto Protocol all but dead.
The climate change conference in Cancún appears to have sealed the fate of the Kyoto Protocol, the only legally binding treaty to combat climate change, and left countries squabbling over the substance and form of a new treaty for the future.Skip to next paragraph
During the two-week meeting in Cancún, which ended Saturday, Japan said it would not commit to reducing greenhouse-gas emissions under the protocol after the first term of obligations for industrialized countries expires at the end of 2012. In effect, that means any emissions reductions by major industrial nations will be voluntary and at their own discretion – a far cry from the enduring, global commitment to reduce global warming agreed to in Kyoto 13 years ago.
“If we here throw the Kyoto Protocol into the garbage dump, we would be responsible for ecocide … indeed, for genocide … as we would be harming humanity as a whole,” Bolivia’s President Evo Morales said at the conference.
Presently, climate negotiations are carried out on two “tracks.” The first already has emission-reduction targets from developed countries under the 1997 Protocol, and the second is a long-term plan for combating climate change involving all countries.
Other countries such as Russia, New Zealand, Canada, and Australia also wanted a single new treaty that puts binding obligations on all major emitters, but the prospect of that happening any time soon – with a US Congress filled with politicians who argue that forced emissions reductions would do too much economic damage, and China saying economic growth to pull millions of its citizens out of poverty is more important than emissions controls.
“Last week, big industry associations ... opposed [the] extension of the Kyoto Protocol,” says Masako Konishi, senior climate policy adviser of the World Wildlife Fund, Japan. “Unfortunately the Japanese government is listening to the big industry voice rather than a plea from the world.”
The Kyoto Protocol is a divisive and emotional issue. A great deal of distrust exists since developing countries suspect that developed countries are trying to abandon their commitments under the treaty.
Developed countries certainly don’t want to be stuck with steep mitigation cuts, and the European Union has said that the US needs to take cuts comparable to the Kyoto Protocol. The early death of Kyoto is most likely to lead to less ambitious, and less effective, agreements in the future, analysts say.