Kyoto versus Major Emitters Meeting

by Julie Walsh on September 20, 2007

The Bush Administration is hosting a meeting of Major Emitter Nations in Washington on September 27-8.  The oft-stated claim is that this meeting is not meant to compete with the upcoming negotiations for a second round of Kyoto reductions at the annual UN meeting in December, which this year is being held in Bali.  Instead, the major emitters meeting is supposed to contribute to the Kyoto process. 

That’s the official Bush Administration position, but it looks more and more like the major emitters meeting, together with the Asia Pacific Partnership, is a plausible replacement for the Kyoto Protocol when it expires at the end of 2012.  

Kyoto calls for industrialized nations to cut greenhouse gas emissions 6% below 1990 levels by 2008 to 2012.  From the start in 1997, however, Kyoto has been a mess. China, now the world’s #1 emitter, and other rapidly developing nations, such as Brazil and India, ratified Kyoto but did not undertake any commitments to reduce emissions.

Although Kyoto’s targets are supposed to be binding, the European Union, Canada, and Japan are not meeting them.  Emissions are rising and in some countries rising rapidly.  The EU’s performance since 1997 lags that of the U. S.  It’s not clear how a second round can be negotiated under these circumstances.  In this context, the major emitters meeting looks like an alternative path.

A hint of where that path may lead was given by the recent APEC summit in Sydney, where it was agreed that there should be long-term “aspirational” emissions targets.  The purpose of the Washington meeting is reportedly to set this voluntary long-term goal, plus adopt intermediate goals and then create a number of teams to work on specific issues.

The European Union will oppose this approach and try to keep Kyoto going, but it appears that Japan and Canada have already jumped off the Kyoto bandwagon.  China and some of the other big developing nations appear to have a foot in each camp.  On the one hand, China and India support a second Kyoto round if it will result in continuing and increased transfers of wealth from industrialized nations to them.  On the other hand, they remained adamant in refusing to undertake mandatory emissions reductions themselves and have welcomed the idea of aspirational targets.

It may be that Kyoto and Kyoto’s replacement can both limp along for a few years, but at some point it seems almost inescapable that China, India, Brazil, and the other rising economies will have to choose one or the other.  As long as no country can demonstrate that it can cut its emissions without damaging its economy, it seems likely that Kyoto will continue to wither and the major emitters process will become the only game around.  

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