Tag Archive | "Kyoto Protocol"

North America Soil Moisture Projection Graphic

Critical Analysis: Reframing Climate Change

In November of 2014, The Group of Twenty (G20) met in Brisbane Australia to discuss the state of the global economy.  Global growth, climate change, and tax avoidance were among the major issues discussed.  The Australian delegation contested the inclusion of a statement on the climate which is reflective of the recent repeal of their own national carbon tax.  The current Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has stated that “we can’t pursue environmental improvements at the expense of economic progress.”  Prime Minister Abbott’s statement reflects a major obstacle to climate change mitigation worldwide.

While public statements may purport otherwise, many policymakers treat carbon taxes, carbon markets, and regulatory regimes as obstacles to economic development.  Framing the issue in this binary fashion reflects the shortsighted attitude that has been pervasive for decades.  The world’s economic leaders need to adopt a radically different perspective and re-conceptualize climate change as an impending environmental disaster.

North America Soil Moisture Projection Graphic

Photo Credit: NASA.gov

The international dialogue on climate change began in the late 1980’s and arguably took a foothold at the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro.  While international efforts like the Kyoto Protocol have received widespread support, implementation of climate reforms have not done enough to mitigate climate change.

At a press conference on November 2nd, 2014, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon urged leaders to act, otherwise the opportunity to meet the international target of 2º C “will slip away within the next decade.”  The temperature target of 2°C represents what many consider to be the tipping point for global climate change.  First set as a target by the European Union in 1996, the 2°C target was adopted in the 2009 Copenhagen Accord.

The issue of climate change cannot be confined to environmental impacts.  In 2006 the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change asserted, “climate change presents a unique challenge for economics: it is the greatest example of market failure we have ever seen.”   In 2013, speaking at the world economic forum in Davos, Lord Stern indicated that his 2006 predictions may have been underestimated with “some of the effects . . . coming through more quickly than we thought.”

The unaccounted cost of carbon emissions are predicted to have a dramatic impact on the environment, economy, and development.  A recent study by NASA suggests that if emissions continue at their current trajectory, the North American continent will very likely experience a ‘megadrought’ that could last up to 40 years.  The human and economic impacts of such a severe, sustained drought would be catastrophic.

While some leaders, like Prime Minister Abbott, view environmental impact as a secondary concern to economic development (if at all), the economic consequences of not altering the current carbon trajectory will be far worse than investing in change now.  Governments need to remove climate change from the back burner, do away with rhetoric, and illusory research and development projects.  Climate change needs to be treated like any other natural disaster should be – swiftly and decisively.

Jordan Edmondson is a 3L law student at University of Denver Sturm College of Law and a Staff Editor for the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy.

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Putting a Price on Carbon

This July, Australia abandoned its plans to implement a carbon tax. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd stated that the reason was to reduce the burden on consumers and small businesses. This news would seem to suggest that Australia wanted to avoid the repercussions of reducing carbon dioxide emissions; however, the tax was instead replaced by a market-based trading system (cap and trade) a full year ahead of schedule. Prime Minister Rudd called combating climate change “the greatest moral challenge of our time.” Australia’s scheme is just one example of the growing movement towards a global carbon market. While the Kyoto Protocol provided a framework for carbon trading, many regional systems have emerged in recent years. The success of these markets has varied, and creating a unified global market represents a huge potential both in economic and environmental terms.

smokestacks of a power plant

Power plants are just one contributor of carbon pollution (Audubon)

Both a carbon tax and carbon trading scheme create incentives to reduce CO2 emissions. A carbon market differs from a tax in that there are a limited number of credits or allowances for CO2 emissions and the market determines the cost thereof. A fundamental feature is that an overall reduction target limits the total amount of permitted emission. The Kyoto Protocol included the basis for a trading scheme to allow countries a mechanism to meet their obligations under the treaty. It has been largely ineffective due to the surplus of credits available as well as the U.S. not participating, Japan withdrawing, and China’s exemption. One of the most prominent carbon markets in the world is the E.U. Emissions Trading Scheme, which also suffers from an abundance of carbon allowances. A coordinated, global effort is needed to address the economics of carbon emissions.

Excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere can disrupt the carbon cycle for between 500 and 1000 years if left to natural processes. Because every region of the world contributes to CO2 emission, and once in the atmosphere, CO2 pollution from one region is indistinguishable from another, and because the impact is so far removed in time from the source of emission, it is entirely impossible for the free market to curb CO2 emissions without a cost imposed on such emission. A carbon market may provide incentives to reduce emission commensurate with the ambitiousness of overall carbon reduction, but it does not provide an accurate price for removing existing CO2 from the atmosphere. Carbon removal technologies are an assumption built-into many climate models which project that they are crucial to remaining below the 2°C threshold identified by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Atmospheric carbon removal will need financial backing and a profit-motive if they are to be viable.

Several technologies show potential in reducing atmospheric CO2. Direct carbon capture from the flue of sources like power plants is available but expensive with a high parasitic energy level. Alternatives are gaining ground: a combined CO2, SO2, NOx system with a net carbon reduction now exists for ships, artificial trees are currently being tested and scaled to larger sizes, while afforestation and biochar uses vegetation to disrupt the carbon cycle. Converting CO2 to calcium carbonate is also a potential method of sequestering CO2 rather than pumping it back into wells for enhanced oil recovery. New technology for cement production makes efficient use of such calcium carbonate (in addition to avoiding CO2 emission typical of ordinary cement production).

President Obama recently outlined his plan for combating climate change, and creating a viable carbon market through tax or other means that would recognize the long-term impact and costs of CO2 pollution and create opportunity for innovation and job growth, not to mention make alternative energy more appealing financially. Several Republican former administrators of the Environmental Protection Agency just endorsed such approach in an op-ed to the New York Times. Although CO2 pollution is a global issue that needs to be addressed at the international level accordingly, the initiative can begin domestically.


Alex Milgroom is a 3L at the University of Denver and the Online Editor-in-Chief of the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy.

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Sources: CNN, NY Times, BBC, The Guardian, Wash. Post, Reuters

News Post: What About Kyoto? Canada’s Withdraw

By: Alexis Kirkman

“Kyoto, for Canada, is in the past,”[1] stated Peter Kent, Canada’s Minister of Environment.

On Monday December 12, Kent announced that Canada would withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol shortly after returning from South Africa.  The decision by Canada’s Conservative Party government has long been expected, as the Conservative government has never disguised its disdain for the treaty.  Kent cited numerous reasons for the country’s withdrawal, namely the possibility of huge fines for Canada’s failure to meet emissions targets.  Kent said that Canada’s failure to meet the targets under Kyoto would cost Canada $14 billion[2] in penalties, or $1,600[3] from every Canadian family.

Furthermore, extreme measures would be required by Canada’s population under the Kyoto agreement.  Kent said, “To meet the targets for 2012 would be the equivalent of either removing every car, truck

Sources: CNN, NY Times, BBC, The Guardian, Wash. Post, Reuters

Sources: CNN, NY Times, BBC, The Guardian, Wash. Post, Reuters

, AV, tractor, ambulance, police car and vehicle of every kind from Canadian roads or closing down the entire farming and agricultural sector and cutting off heat to every home, office, hospital, factory, and building in Canada.”[4]

Kent stated that despite this cost, greenhouse gas emissions would continue to rise, as the world’s largest polluters, the United States, China, and India, were not covered by the Kyoto agreement.[5] The Kyoto protocol, a 1997 treaty to reduce greenhouse has emissions, has been widely criticized for its failure to require developing countries like Brazil, China, and India to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.  Canada declared four years ago that it did not intend to meet its existing Kyoto commitments of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 6%[6], and instead its annual emissions have risen by about a third since 1990.[7]

The Conservative government has called Canada’s ratification of Kyoto a legacy of an incompetent Liberal government, and has further noted that the former Liberal Party had agreed to the treaty “without any regard as to how it would be fulfilled”[8] or intention of meeting its targets.

Kent criticized the Kyoto Protocol saying that Canada produces “barely 2 percent”[9] of global emissions and the Kyoto Protocol itself presently covers only 13%[10] of global emissions. Kent stated that Canada would work toward developing an agreement that includes targets for developing nations, adding, “What we have to look at is all major emitters.”[11]  Kent insisted that Canada is committed to addressing climate change in a fair way that covers all nations.

Conversely, the Conservative government does not want to hurt Canada’s large oil sands industry, which is the fasting growing source of greenhouse cases in the country and the third-largest oil reserves in the world.[12]  Canada’s withdrawal from Kyoto has been associated with former President George W. Bush’s refusal to ratify the Kyoto Protocol in 2001.[13]

The Canadian economy and U.S. economy are integrated, with Canada being the largest supplier of oil and case to the United States, sending 75% of its exports to the U.S. each month.[14]  Bush’s move in 2001 gave U.S. competitors an unfair advantage and continuing to adhere to its targets would severely hinder the Canadian gross domestic product.[15]

Paul Heinbecker, a top diplomat who aided in Canada’s accession negotiations, stated, “In my judgment the person who really torpedoed this whole enterprise was George Bush.  Had the Americans participated…by now there would be enormous pressure on the Chinese and the Indians to be accepting Targets.”[16]

Canada’s decision to withdraw has been condemned at home and abroad as “irresponsible” and “reckless”[17].  Kent has been criticized as making extreme misrepresentations and misstating the figures.  In fact, Matt Horne, the director of climate change at the Pembina Institute, said the financial penalties would have been must less, around $6 billion,[18] with others stating there would have been no penalties for Canada under Kyoto.[19]  Canadian media has described the announcement as “shameful”[20] and a “total abdication of our responsibilities,”[21] and “more concerned about protecting polluters than people.”[22]

China, which agreed for the first time to legal limits on its emissions, criticized Canada’s decision as “preposterous”[23] in its state media and called it “an excuse to shirk responsibility”[24].  A UK government spokesman said, “It’s true that taking action to reduce emissions requires substantial financial investment but is far less expensive than the cost of inaction.”[25]

Under Kyoto, Canada must formally give notice of its intention to withdraw by the end of this year or else face penalties after 2012 and Kent indicated Canada’s intention to do so.

Canada’s announcement came at an interesting time, just hours after returning from a United Nations conference in Durban, South Africa aimed at reaching a new climate change agreement to come into effect in 2020.[26]  The 200 nations represented at the conference agreed to begin a long-term process of negotiating a new treaty, but without resolving the key question of whether its requirements will apply equally to all countries.  At the conference Canada was given the “colossal fossil”[27] award for its “reckless arrogance”.[28]  Christiana Figueres, UN climate chief, said, “I regret Canada’s withdrawal and am surprised over its timing.”[29]

Canada’s withdrawal also raises several questions about both the future of the Kyoto Protocol and the success of the future treaty initiated at Durban.  In reality, the Kyoto Protocol has very few enforcement mechanisms beyond international diplomatic censure, but many fear that Canada’s decision will jeopardize any gains made at the Durban meeting.

Kent assured the world that Canada is still interested in negotiating a new deal as long as it covers all major polluters.  Whether other nations are interested in talking to Canada is another matter.[30]  Although many no longer see Canada as trustworthy, many believe that Canada is still bound by what they agreed to in Durban and will still partake in working towards a new treaty.

Christiana Figueres said, “Canada has a moral obligation to itself and future generations to lead the global effort.”[31]

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University of Denver Sturm College of Law