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Warming to the Crisis

Kyoto countries miss their targets, but scientists say climate change was already unstoppable.

Fortnightly Magazine - May 2006

to develop, fund, and implement “zero- and lesser-emitting generation technologies,” in tandem with “voluntary” measures to reduce the size and intensity of carbon emissions. (Yet even Morris would appear to favor a slow, long-term effort, as he noted that such moves should take into account the “economic turnover” of capital stock.)

Perhaps technology, not trading schemes, is where the country should focus its efforts. Certainly, many of the world’s top greenhouse-gas emitters have chosen a more technology-focused path.

The expansion of green technologies to meet an increasing demand for energy is the principal focus of the Asia Pacific Partnership for Clean Development and Climate, involving the United States, Australia, China, India, Japan, and South Korea. The Asia-Pacific Partnership is a voluntary, technology-based multinational agreement. Of course, there is debate whether the program will undermine or complement the Kyoto Protocol.

In the meantime, a British government report published in late March said the United Kingdom was unlikely to meet its target of reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 20 percent by 2010. In acknowledging this setback, British Prime Minister Tony Blair called for a “technological revolution comparable to the Internet to slow global warming.”

Why Kyoto Has Failed

European Union members are far behind on meeting their initial targets for greenhouse-gas emissions. However, even if they do eventually make their goals, it’s debatable whether that would be enough to mitigate global warming. The United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has predicted an average global rise in temperature of 1.4° to 5.8° centigrade (2.5° to 10.4°F) between 1990 and 2100. Current estimates indicate that even if successfully and completely implemented, the Kyoto Protocol will not provide any substantial reduction in temperature. Because of this, many critics and environmentalists view the Kyoto Protocol as only a first step, with subsequent measures following in the future to mandate deeper cuts in carbon-based emissions.

Whether China, India, and the United States would sign on to an agreement with more severe emissions cuts after the 2012 expiration of Kyoto—as British Prime Minister Tony Blair has called for—is unknown.

What is more, because the Kyoto signatories have not been able to meet their original targets, many wonder whether more significant cuts can be accomplished.

The European Environment Agency reported in April that the 15 longest-standing members of the EU are likely to cut emissions to just 2.5 percent below 1990 levels. That would fall well short of their cumulative target of 8 percent.

Blame growth in European air travel for the poor performance. In addition, according to a new report on Europe’s environmental health, emissions have been rising since the year 2000. European Environment Agency data shows that the “EU 15” was expected to exceed its 2010 emissions target by 4 percent; compare that to Kyoto’s mandate for an 8-percent reduction below 1990 levels.

Moreover, even if European efforts could achieve Kyoto targets for 2010, research from the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), published in March in the journal Science, finds that global climate change would still occur.

NCAR found that even if the world had been