It’s time for everyone to move past the Kyoto Protocol.
For those not familiar with the details, Kyoto imposes specific emission-reduction targets for each industrialized country over a five-year “commitment period” of 2008-2012. Targets were defined for total emissions of CO2 and five other greenhouse gases: the required emission reductions were 8 percent for the European Union and a few other European nations; 7 percent for the United States; 6 percent for Japan and Canada; and zero (i.e. hold emissions at their baseline level) for Russia and Ukraine. If all nations met their targets, the total emission reduction from these nations would be 5.2 percent below 1990 levels.
Given the time it takes to reduce emissions and the fact that the commitment period starts in about a year, it would be impossible for the U.S. to make the necessary reductions to comply with Kyoto. The only option for the U.S. would be to buy credits from countries like Russia. This is not a good solution because Russia’s emissions are far below their baseline level, so the U.S. would be buying credits for emissions that never would have occurred in any event — thus there would be no real reduction in emissions.
Thus, Kyoto is done. Finished. Last week’s news. The U.S. is never going to ratify it, and at this point, that’s probably sensible. Instead, we should be focusing on what the world is going to do after 2012. What will the follow-up agreement look like, and how can the rest of the world engage the U.S. and China in it?
There is, however, a reason that advocates continue to focus on Kyoto. Many opponents of Kyoto actually oppose all mitigation efforts, but focus their attacks on Kyoto because of its many problems. By setting up the false choice between Kyoto and doing nothing, they can use Kyoto’s many weaknesses to appear to discredit any mitigation program. This is similar to the false choice that Republicans attempted to set up between “stay the course” and “cut and run.”
Those false choices willfully misrepresent the problems. So while Kyoto has clear problems, those problems do not discredit future mitigation efforts. This needs to be made clear to everyone who’s still arguing about Kyoto. The debate needs to move past that agreement and start focusing on the future of mitigation.