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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Kyoto Pronounced Dead, Makes Room for New Kaya-Direct Framework

Originally posted at the Breakthrough Institute

More than a year after Breakthrough's Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger pronounced the Kyoto Protocol dead in "Scrap Kyoto," the rest of the world may be catching on as pressure mounts to produce a workable climate treaty that will encourage global action. National Public Radio wrote its own obituary, of sorts, with regard to international opinion on the framework last week:

"The landmark Kyoto climate treaty, a global warming pact negotiated 12 years ago, is unlikely to live on after its 2012 end date. During climate talks in Bangkok last week it became apparent that after the treaty's initial term ends, a new treaty will almost certainly take its place."

While developing countries have expressed anger that negotiations in Copenhagen may not focus on a Kyoto framework, the legitimacy of this anger is questionable. After all, a major reason that the Bush administration refused to sign the agreement was that Kyoto did not require participation from developing nations. Thus, while such countries are not wrong in arguing that they are not to blame for current carbon emissions levels, it still is illogical to build another treaty based on a dated framework that deals with only a subset of countries, instead of all of them, regardless of culpability. As top U.S. negotiator Jonathan Pershing told NPR:

"The notion that we should have an agreement which looks explicitly and exclusively at a handful of countries, doesn't seem right. The whole purpose of this is to move the world to a better place, not to move one set of countries down that road."

So, while Sudanese diplomat, Lumumba Di-Aping told NPR that scrapping Kyoto will be like "throwing away your baby and saying, 'No, I will have a new one," viewing the Kyoto Protocol as a so-called baby or brain-child is lip service to its creators, but not relevant to what will actually provide a foundation for an actionable global strategy to mitigate climate change. Not to harp, but legislation is not comparable to children in any way, since there is no obligation to remain loyal to a global treaty that not only failed to achieve global agreement, but also failed to achieve most of its desired results.

The U.S. never supported the Kyoto Protocol, but now even European signatories seem to see the advantage in allowing the pact to expire. But, as Michael Levi notes in the piece, a modified version of Kyoto will not suffice. The onus is on delegates to come up with a new framework that will not only be agreeable to the U.S., but to the world's rapidly developing nations as well, in order to craft a deal that is actually global in terms of the scope of nations it involves.

A recent suggestion that countries commit to "national schedules" in which each nation employs what Prins et al consider a Kaya-Direct approach by outlining a workable, verifiable strategy for reducing emissions by decreasing carbon and energy intensity - and protect and enhance natural carbon sinks like forests. This alternative shows considerable potential in terms of inclusiveness and efficacy because it would allow countries to commit to actions they are realistically capable of achieving and that are consistent with the nation's economic development goals. This sort of approach, if pursued aggressively, decouples emissions reductions from economic growth by providing nations with a framework from which to battle climate change via means that are not economically destructive, but in fact productive, such as investing in the research, development and deployment of clean energy technologies and improving the efficiency of key industrial sectors.

Even if a new strategy may slow negotiations in the short-term, Levi points out that's not necessarily a bad thing:

"Will it take time to negotiate? Yes. Will it mean we don't have a deal by this December? Yes, but we weren't going to have a deal under Kyoto this December, either."

Now that it is clear that Kyoto is essentially dead in the water, delegates must turn to the creation of a Kaya-Direct international climate framework that is global in its impact, not simply its symbolism. Kyoto or otherwise, any framework that does not internalize both the scale and the varying interests inherent in this global problem, is doomed to fail. Even if an agreement in Copenhagen is not finalized, pursuing this new route will be indicative of more progress than simply accepting the failed Kyoto framework.

As Nordhaus and Shellenberger concluded in "Scrap Kyoto" we now face a clear choice:

"Continue with the failed policy agenda of the last 15 years, one that offers an unpromising mix of bad politics, poor policy outcomes, and at best very modest and incremental progress on climate change. Or strike out boldly in a new direction - one that aligns America's economic aspirations with its ecological interests [and] invests directly in the energy technology we need ... The choice should be clear."

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