Analysis of the Kyoto Global Climate Conference
December 12, 1997
Return to this forum's introduction.
in this forum:
A report from a correspondent in Japan. What reductions does the Kyoto agreement call for? Why has "global warming" become a big issue? Why were developing nations excluded from the agreement? Is there consensus amongst global leaders that global warming is for real? How should competing scientific claims about global warming be judged? Can the Kyoto Protocol be ratified by the Senate? Viewer comments.
December 11, 1997:
Two U.S. Senators discuss whether the Kyoto agreement will be ratified by the Senate.
December 10, 1997:
A member of the Clinton Administration reports on the negotiations in Kyoto.
December 9, 1997:
India's Ambassador to the U.S. explains why the developing nations should not be mandated to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.
December 8, 1997:
The European Union's delegate to the U.S. talks about the rift between the EU and the U.S. at the Kyoto conference.
December 5, 1997:
A business leader questions the science behind global warming.
December 4, 1997:
A look at the the science and politics of global warming.
November 10, 1997:
An Online NewsHour forum on the U.S. plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
October 22, 1997:
A discussion of President Clinton's plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
June 25, 1997:
President Clinton is backing the EPA's push for tougher air quality standards, but critics say they're too costly.
February 18, 1997:
The federal Environmental Protection Agency has proposed new clean air standardsthat have been criticized by some industry, state and local officials.
March 6, 1997:
The fastest rise in temperature for perhaps ten thousand years is having a dramatic effect on the brittle ecosystem of Antarctica.
January 4, 1996
British meteorologists report that the Earth's surface temperature was higher than the average in 1995.
Browse the NewsHour's coverage of science and the environment.
EPA on global warming
Global Climate Information Project
Environmental Defense Fund
The Environmental Defense Fund's page on global warming.
Sierra Club's page on global warming
Global Change, a database of articles on climate change.
Curtis Sommer of Tempe, AZ, asks:
The developing countries have a legitimate dispute with the developing countries with respect to emissions reductions. We expect them to stay impoverished while the industrialized world wallows in its indulgent, materialistic and high consumption life-style.
Have the delegates of the conference considered offering the developing nations the technology and assistance for the development of alternative fuels as an incentive in return for their acceptance of the agreement?
Of course we can hardly expect them to make sacrifices if we're not willing to make any ourselves; given that the U.S. comprises less than 25 percent of world population but consumes 75 percent of all resources.
Prof. Charles Weiss of Georgetown University replies:
The great majority of the man-made greenhouse gases in the atmosphere today got there as a result of the activities of the advanced countries. This is why the developing countries argue that the rich countries ought to take the first steps to control emissions. Besides, many countries think it unseemly that a country of sports utility vehicles like the U.S. should tell a country of bicycles, like China or India, to change its life style.
On the other hand, the yearly emission of greenhouse gases by the developing countries is expected to catch up to that of the advanced countries around 2030. By about the year 2100, the cumulative contribution of the developing countries is expected to reach 50 percent of the total. So the developing countries will have to control their emissions eventually, and many Americans (including a unanimous U.S. Senate) think that they should start right away. This is not a scientific issue, but one of ethics and equity.
There is already a $800 million international fund, called the Global Environmental Facility and administered by the World Bank and other U.N. agencies, to be spent over four years to help developing countries to conserve energy by facilitating the introduction and subsidizing the cost of energy-conserving technologies like photo-voltaic cells and compact fluorescent lights. The U.S. has contributed $94 million to this fund, but is about $77 million in arrears on its original pledges.
Prof. David Downie of Columbia University replies:
The "legitimacy" of developing country arguments is a complex issue. One can discuss it with respect to many different different reference points but wo appear particularly salient: the fairness issue, especially with respect to historical emissions; and scientific issue, especially with respect to current and future emissions.
Before entering into these debates, however, one must be clear regarding what "developing country argument" we are discussing. Assuming uniform positions among all the Annex III countries on any issue represents a gross overgeneralization of the complexities of climate change politics. There are many important issues and diverse opinions exist on each -- among both developing and developed countries. Indeed even on the central issue of binding targets and timetables, the AOSIS bloc (the Association of Small Island States) is the strongest proponent of deep and binding global cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. The oil exporting states have consistently attempted to block adoption of any binding controls in developed or developing states. So we must be clear that in this case we are discussing the position of the strongest bloc of developing countries, led by China and India (and endorsed in a show of negotiating unity by the entire G-77) -- that developed countries must commit to significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions before developing countries even consider similar, or less severe controls. No one at Kyoto argued that developing countries should remain "impoverished" so that citizens of industrialized countries could "wallow" in their "indulgent, materialistic" lifestyles. That is taking it too far. Rather, the issue centered on the pace and degree of their participation.
From a "global fairness" perspective, China and India have a point. The data argues clearly that the industrialized countries have placed the world in its current ecological position. Developed nations have emitted, and continue to emit, far more greenhouse gases than developing countries, despite having much smaller populations. Per capita emissions are even more uneven. There can be no arguments on these points. There position is also supported by an important principle of domestic environmental law, "the polluter pays" principle, and a fundamental principle of international environmental law, the principle of "common but differentiated responsibilities". Given the tremendous poverty in many developing nations, particular China and India and their comparatively low per capita emissions, one must acknowledge the legitimacy of developing country claims that they cannot be expected to sacrifice much needed economic growth solely to achieve the same level of cuts in greenhouse gas emissions as developed countries.
However, from the perspective of future emissions, a strong scientific claim can be made that these countries must participate in the regime as soon as possible. Although their per capita emissions are low, their total, national emissions are already scientifically significant and should pass those of the United States relatively early in the next century. Unrestrained greenhouse gas growth in these countries could result in ecological disaster. From this perspective, their arguments for significant delays in implementing binding controls appear less compelling.
From my perspective the pattern achieved in the Montreal Protocol appears appropriate. As agreed in Kyoto, the industrialized countries should take the first, significant cuts. These efforts are then followed, after a appropriate grace period of 10 years, by similar steps on the part of developing countries. A system of emissions trading combined with some aid could be established to assist the transition in developing countries and promote appropriate technology transfer.