A world historical event occurred in Montreal in the hours before dawn on December 10. What? You didn’t notice? I’m not surprised. The American media gave it little coverage and missed its significance entirely.
Luckily, London’s quality newspapers hardly ever miss world historical events. Here’s what the Independent on Sunday wrote: “The fight against catastrophic global warming scored its greatest success to date yesterday, when negotiators from more than 180 nations unexpectedly agreed to develop far-reaching measures to combat climate change. In the process, the delegates to the climate summit in Montreal dealt a humiliating blow to President George W. Bush’s five-year attempt to destroy the Kyoto Protocol…. Many delegates — including Margaret Beckett, the UK’s Secretary of State for the Environment — were openly in tears when agreement was finally reached yesterday morning after two successive all-night sessions.”
Sounds very big indeed, but now for the details. Diplomats from the 39 nations that have agreed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions under the Kyoto Protocol agreed to a new round of negotiations to set new emissions targets after Kyoto expires in 2012. They didn’t agree to what those limits will be. They didn’t promise to agree to them in the future. They only agreed to hold formal negotiations beginning in May 2006.
This is undoubtedly great news for the thousands of diplomats and other government employees who will be involved in these negotiations: several years of full employment, lots of meetings in very nice places, staying in first class hotels. And it’s also great news for the thousands of employees of environmental pressure groups promoting Kyoto and the thousands of people employed by projects and programs implementing Kyoto. But where exactly does this agreement to negotiate rank among world historical events?
The Kyoto Protocol, which was negotiated in 1997 and went into force last February, requires that new negotiations to set post-2012 emissions targets begin no later than the December 2005. So the diplomats attending the United Nations’ annual global warming pow-wow in Montreal this month merely agreed again to what they had already agreed to when their nations ratified Kyoto. But since these new negotiations were supposed to begin this month, they are already six months behind schedule.
Prospects for these new negotiations to actually agree on new emissions targets don’t look too rosy. In a speech to the delegates in Montreal, Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin told President Bush to start listening to the “global conscience” and re-join Kyoto. Sadly, Mr. Martin and the other leaders of nations that have ratified Kyoto aren’t hearing the “global conscience” very clearly, either.
While U.S. greenhouse gas emissions are up 13% since the baseline year of 1990, Canadian emissions are up 24%. Emissions have gone up even faster in several European Union nations. The question arises, if these morally superior climate action leaders are not going to fulfil their Kyoto commitments, then how are they going to negotiate a second round of further emissions cuts?
If hardly the historic triumph claimed, the Montreal meeting did provide a world stage for European Union officials and the environmentalists to bash President Bush for being the one obstacle preventing the U.S. getting back on board the Kyoto bandwagon. The Bush bashing reached its low point when former President Bill Clinton made a surprise appearance on the last day of the conference.
In his speech, Clinton said that anyone (you know who) who argued that cutting emissions would damage the economy was “flat wrong.” He claimed that replacing coal, oil, and natural gas (which together provide over 80% of the energy used in the U. S. and globally) with existing conservation and alternative energy technologies would allow us to easily surpass the Kyoto targets and strengthen our economy.
Clinton then mildly chastised the delegates for spending so much time arguing about setting targets instead of actually developing projects that will reduce emissions. Leaving aside the irony of our former nonstop-talker-in-chief extolling actions over words, Clinton has apparently not noticed what the Bush Administration has been doing.
In July, the United States, Australia, India, China, Japan, and South Korea formed the Clean Development Partnership to develop and share new energy technologies. Since these six countries make up more than half the world’s economic output (and consequently over half its greenhouse gas emissions) and their share is rising, it is clear that the real action has already bypassed Kyoto.
So the new agreement negotiated in Montreal to hold more negotiations is not “historic” as Greenpeace claimed, but Kyoto is indeed already history.
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