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Another year; another ineffective climate conference


Earlier this month, the Doha (Qatar) UN Climate Conference came to a halt, and dispirited delegates from 194 countries went home. Doha was the latest of several climate meetings in places like Copenhagen and Cancun which have followed the 1998 Kyoto meeting which produced the Kyoto Protocol. The Kyoto Protocol binds 52 industrialized countries, including 15 from the European Union, to limit or reduce their emission of green house gases (GHG) by various amounts below 1990 levels. The Protocol was set to take full effect in 2005 and expire in 2012, unless renewed. Developing nations made vague promises in Kyoto to undertake similar reductions.

European nations have made the most progress in GHG reductions, but overall world emissions are rising. Annual world carbon dioxide(CO2) emissions were 23 billion tons in 1990, the target year total for reductions. In 2011, human activity sent 34 billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere. China is the leading emitter with CO2 emissions rising from 3 billion tons in 2000 to 8.9 billion in 2011. U.S. emissions are declining slowly from 6 billon tons in 2000 to 5.4 billion in 2011, as electric power changes from coal to natural gas, and more efficient vehicles limit gasoline consumption. The average car emits about 5 tons of CO2 annually from its tail pipe.

The U.S. signed but did not ratify the Kyoto agreement, expressing concern that major emitters like China and India, as developing nations, were not party to firm GHG emission targets. Russia, Canada, and North Korea signed in Kyoto, but later withdrew from their commitment.

On 8 December 2012, at the end of the Doha conference, an agreement was reached to extend the Kyoto Protocol to 2020 and to set a date of 2015 for the development of a successor document, to be implemented from 2020. The 2015 agreement is intended to bind all nations to significant reductions in GHG emissions. The Doha meeting did assure that the Kyoto Protocol would continue for another seven years. But there was little progress on the need to rapidly reduce emissions to have any hope of staying within the 2 degree centigrade rise that most climate scientists think is the limit of safe warming.

The issue that continues to affect progress is the view of developing nations that developed nations are responsible for a history of GHG emissions. It is therefore not fair to limit economic progress for developing nations by restricting their growth through emission limits. Developed nations owe a “climate debt” in the view of emerging countries like India and China. A meeting of developing nations before the Copenhagen Climate conference set forth a theme that has guided negotiations since.

“Developed country Parties shall provide financial resources and transfer technology to developing country Parties to make full and effective repayment of ‘climate debt’, including adaptation debt, taking responsibility for their historical cumulative emissions and current high per capita emissions.”

The final Copenhagen Accord set a goal of $100 billion annually in aid for developing countries from developed countries such as the U.S., Japan, and most of Europe. The notion of sending aid to industrial China, which poses as a developing nation, has not appealed to the U.S. Congress. With the world’s budget problems, few of these aid funds have been appropriated.

International climate agreements since Kyoto have relied on voluntary contributions towards climate protection. That amounts to a kind of collection-plate principle, by which each state gives what it considers appropriate. And the plate has remained nearly empty.

New reports from Price Waterhouse and the International Energy Agency show that heroic efforts will be needed to keep warming within the 2C target. A new World Bank report shows the consequences of exceeding it, and they are not attractive.

ROLF WESTGARD, a resident of both the Deerwood area and St. Paul, will teach the class “America’s climate and energy future; the next 25 years” for the University of Minnesota Lifelong Learning program this coming spring quarter.