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Losing the Global Climate Change War

Industrial CO2 Emissions

One thing is crystal clear from the climate change summit that ended last week in Durban, South Africa – world governments are rapidly losing the economic and political will to fight global warming.

The latest crack in the armor came yesterday with Canada’s announcement it is dropping out of the Kyoto Accord.

This is only one in a long, long series of setbacks for the fight against global warming that began back in 1988 with the formation of the United Nation’s International Panel for Climate Change (IPCC).

The battle against global warming is being lost. What went wrong? Where will we go from here?

Why is Canada Dropping out?

According to Reuters, Canadian Environment Minister Peter Kent said this about Canada’s decision to drop out:

To meet the targets under Kyoto for 2012 would be the equivalent of either removing every car truck, all-terrain vehicle, tractor, ambulance, police car and vehicle off every kind of Canadian road.

The writing on the wall for Kyoto has been recognized by even those countries which are engaging in a second commitment.

Specifically he cited these reasons Canada is exercising its right to formally withdraw from Kyoto:

  • Kyoto is unworkable because it omits many significant polluters
  • Kyoto standards it agreed to are unrealistic and cannot be met
  • Kyoto standards cannot be met without severe economic hardship
  • Canada should not have signed an agreement it knew could not be honored

To meet its Kyoto commitment Canada would have had to reduce its CO2 emissions by 17% between 2005, when Kyoto was formally adopted, and 2012.

Canada now believes it could not meet its commitment before 2020; and not without economically damaging sacrifices not required of other countries like China and India, the world’s biggest and 3rd biggest polluters.

To understand why we are losing the global war against climate change we have to understand what has been done so far and how we got where we are today.

The UNFCCC and the Kyoto Accord

In response to findings by the IPCC, the first Earth Summit on global climate was held in Rio de Janeiro in June 1992.

It led to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) which defines the political standards and goals set for CO2 emissions that governments must meet to stop and reverse the effects of global warming. The scientific basis for those standards are provided by the IPCC.

There have been annual UNFCCC global climate summits ever since to refine and develop the standards. In climate change lingo they are called “Conferences of the Parties” or COPs.

Durban, just ended, is the 17th COP summit in the series.

The most important outcome so far to date came out of COP-3. It is The Kyoto Accord of 1997 (formally called The Kyoto Protocol).

The Kyoto Accord is an international treaty signed by 192 countries that went into effect in February 2005. The United States is the only country who signed the treaty that never ratified it. It sets legally binding CO2 emission reduction standards for 37 industrialized countries. They are called Annex 1 countries.

The first emission reduction goal was very simple… reduce CO2 emissions to 6% BELOW each country’s 1990 industrial CO2 emission levels by the end of 2012.

No country besides Russia can meet that standard. So it was decided at this year’s Durban COP-17 to push back the date of compliance 5 years to 2017.

The Achilles Heal of Kyoto

World's 14 Largest Polluters (Source: CDIAC)

Of the top 14 polluters in the world only 6 countries are now legally bound to meet CO2 emission standards set by the Kyoto Accord, now that Canada is dropping out.

The 8 other top polluting countries which are not bound by Kyoto emit 55.5% of all the Earth’s industrial CO2 greenhouse gases.

Only Japan and Europe have taken the Kyoto Accord seriously.

Of the 14 top polluters, countries unbound by Kyoto include China, the United States, India, Iran, South Korea, Mexico and Saudi Arabia. In order, they are the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 8th, 10th, 11th and 14th largest polluters in the world.

Now add Canada, the world’s 7th largest polluter, to the list .

The United States never ratified Kyoto so it not bound by it.  The U.S. couldn’t have met the standard if it had ratified the treaty anyway.

Kyoto specifically exempts “emerging nations” (non-Annex 1 nations) that would be severely handicapped economically by imposing CO2 standards on them. China, India, Iran, South Korea, Mexico and Saudi Arabia are on that list.

Yup, that’s right, stinking rich Saudi Arabia and the world’s 2nd and 9th largest economies are considered “emerging nations”.

It will shock many to learn that Russia, the 4th largest polluter in the world and famously earth’s worse environmental offender, is one of those 6 agreeable nations.

What is even more surprising is Russia’s ratification of Kyoto in November of 2004 propelled Kyoto over the agreement limit required of Annex 1 countries to make the accord internationally binding. Kyoto went into effect less than 4 months later.

But Russia is a special case. Since Russia’s collapse as a super power in the 1980s, its CO2 emissions has dropped off dramatically, well below its own 1990 levels. In fact, Russia was instrumental in setting 1990 CO2 levels as the gold standard in the Kyoto Accord.

The United States and Global Warming

With much pomp and circumstance, President Obama, fresh from his elective mandate to fight global warming by building a bold new green energy economy, burst onto the world environmentalists stage at the Copenhagen COP summit in 2009.

In another of his legendary speeches the President proclaimed:

This is a new day. It is a new era. And I am proud to say that the United States has done more to promote clean energy and reduce carbon pollution in the last eight months than at any other time in our history.

He, of course, was referring to his own short Presidency.

We never heard a peep out of President Obama about this year’s Durban COP. Only a low-level government bureaucrat attended this year’s summit and the United States made no substantive proposals.

The United States has never ratified the Kyoto Accord. President Clinton signed it in 1997 but it was never ratified in the Senate.

President Bush outright rejected the treaty. President Obama made no effort to ratify it in his first two years when he held a super majority in the Senate and it could have easily sailed through.

Even with huge majorities in both the House and Senate, President Obama failed to get his cap and trade legislation passed that was based largely on concepts first put forth in the Kyoto Accord.

Nowadays the United States is criticized by the world community for blocking significant progress in the war against global warming.


Politics and stark economic reality has set it.

Global climate change politics, institutionalized within the Kyoto Accord, has doomed it as much as anything.

The political decision to exempt some of the wealthiest and largest polluters in the world from Kyoto as “emerging nations” – like China, India and Saudi Arabia – was ill-advised.

Russia only signed on because they knew they were already well below the 1990 emission standard that they themselves suggested and could not be hurt economically by the treaty.

The United States is impotent to curb its own greenhouse gas emissions and that is why it never ratified the Kyoto Accord.

55.5% of the world’s industrial CO2 pollutants aren’t even regulated under Kyoto.

And of the 6 major top polluting countries that are still committed to Kyoto – Russia, Japan, Germany, the United Kingdom, Italy and South Africa – they’ve had their first phase compliance already pushed back 5 years.

How can you reverse the effects of global warming if better than half the CO2 greenhouse gas emissions aren’t even covered and you kick the can down the road for the others?

Its no wonder Canada is dropping out.

It doesn’t help to realized that cow flatulence, in the form of methane gas, is responsible for nearly as much planet warming greenhouse gases as industrial CO2 and it isn’t regulated at all.

It also doesn’t help to realize that unpredictable natural events, such as volcanic eruptions, have far greater impact on global climate change than man’s puny CO2 emissions. The geologic record documents wild atmospheric temperature shifts of 20 degrees or more in less than a decade’s time, and sea levels rising or falling hundreds of feet… all long before man ever came on the scene.

Yet here we talk about stopping global warming at just 2 degrees and hope to prevent sea levels from changing a couple feet with half-hearted political efforts.

Its never gonna happen. What will be, will be.

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