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Dickinson to Durban » Climate Change, Environmental Justice, Environmental Politics, Featured, Key COP17 Issues, Mosaic Action, Student Research » Kyoto As A Symbol

Kyoto As A Symbol

Claire Tighe ’13

Anyone with common sense at this conference would agree that signing on to the Kyoto Protocol would not mitigate enough GHG emissions to prevent catastrophic climate change. Even though, as Dr. Pachuari of the IPCC stated during our breakfast yesterday, science and the COP negotiations have become ever disjointed, most parties present here understand that attempting to mitigate, is not enough.

So why are different groups, such as CAN, YOUNGO (see their interesting Ode to Kyoto video), and AOSIS holding on so tight to pushing through a second committment period of the Kyoto Protocol (hereafter referred to as KP2)? Because it’s a symbol. To anyone without the financial means to mitigate and adapt to climate change, agreeing to a KP2 means that they are committed to the UNFCCC process. They commit to participating in COP, whatever the outcomes are. Kyoto is a symbol of participation, not success. So, yes, I’d wear a shirt that reads “I <3 KP,” but I actually don’t heart KP. In fact, KP stinks. It has largely failed. Most countries have not even reached their targets. Nor has there been any discussion here at COP about possible consequences for not doing so. And even if they had pledged in the first place (ahem, the US), or even met their targets (everyone else), it still wouldn’t be enough.

I actually don't heart the Kyoto Protocol.

For countries who are a part of AOSIS, they have no other means of representation on a global scale with regards to this global problem that hits (literally) them right at home. Leading up to this conference, as well as during the last two weeks, many delegates have tossed around the possibility of the UNFCCC dying. Bilateral agreements between the US and China, or agreements made at the G20 may be more efficient for making decisions on climate change, but they are by no means fair (Saleem Huq, IIED). The most vulnerable, the developing, are not a part of those negotiations. Without the UNFCCC, without a symbol of cooperation and agreement such as the Kyoto Protocol, AOSIS, SIDS, LDCs have nothing. As President of the UNFCCC Christiana Figueres said with regard to ending the UNFCCC, “There is no other option.”

The meaning of signing on to Kyoto does not mean mitigating in time. It means developed and developing countries agreeing to “keep coming to the [negotiating] table,” so to speak. I argue that COP17, with regards to this whole KP mess, is a fail. We’re still going down quickly. That is, as sea level rises on the shores of the small islands.

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3 Responses to "Kyoto As A Symbol"

  1. Esther Babson says:

    I really agree with your post Claire! It’s so difficult to support KP2 when we all know that the first KP wasn’t effective! Yet at the same time, what will happen if we lose the whole system? As you quoted the President of the UNFCCC, “there is no other option”. It’s scary to think about completely starting from scratch when international agreement/organization can take forever.

  2. Elena Capaldi says:

    claire, I talked to Prof Luiz Filho this morning, who expressed a similar idea that the end of KP would not be the end of mitigation targets and actions from countries. It’s interesting to think of a world without a formal KP document, yet in reality something similar could come down the road and as he said, as long as countries continue to make targets and try to match them, we really haven’t “lost” the framework for what the KP STANDS FOR in regards to emissions targets.

  3. Timothy Damon says:

    I would like to make a factual correction to this post: most countries are, in fact, set to meet or exceed their KP1 targets. Collectively, KP1 will meet its aggregated target. Is this nearly enough to deliver the GHG reductions the science tells us we need? Certainly not; but KP1 did make a small step in the right direction.

    Analyst Jan Burck from Germanwatch – a group that has produced an annual country ranking index based on emissions for many years – confirmed this in my interview with him this morning. KP countries have reduced emissions relative 1990, while non KP countries have not.

    Are there deep flaws in the KP? Yes. Is it largely a symbolic document? Yes. Do we need much more? Yes. But as a process, it has delivered a useful first step. Not as much as all of us would have liked, but a KP2 is still a valuable endeavor, in my opinion.

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