Sunday, August 31, 2014

Lessons from Kyoto: a Vision for Effective Global Action on Climate Change

The tiring process of climate negotiations. (Credit: Spencer Schecht) Click to enlarge.
Climate change is essentially a crisis of the global commons that requires unprecedented collective action on the international level (Jinnah, 2013, “Governance”).  The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was established in 1992 with the explicit objective of stabilizing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere "at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system."  However, even with this rhetoric agreed upon by over 190 nations, GHG emissions have continued to rise virtually unabated.  Atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide reached 400ppm in 2013 for the first time in human history (IPCC, 2013); a threshold many scientists have warned is the tipping point of catastrophic interference with the climate system.  The task before humanity is therefore how to act quickly and effectively in reducing greenhouse gases while adapting to the changes already guaranteed by human changes to the planet.

With the end of Kyoto’s first commitment period in sight and no serious action on global GHG emission reductions actualized, the deadline was set at the Conference of the Parties in Durban in 2011 so by the year 2015 a new UNFCCC agreement would be reached that will take effect in 2020 (Jinnah, 2013).  Whether it is improved upon or altogether scrapped, the Kyoto Protocol (KP) as is no longer accommodates for the state of the global economic landscape and what that means for distributing responsibility fairly.  Will countries be held to blanket commitments such as under the KP or will each country decide domestically what actions are appropriate according to their own circumstances?  Who will provide the funds to the poorest countries and to what projects?  What happens if we fail to act in time and climate change begins irreversibly altering weather patterns, livelihoods, and coastlines?  We are living through a tremendously transformative period where for the first time humanity is attempting to answer these questions and to cooperate in redefining the fundamentals of economic prosperity to safeguard the global environment from irreversible damage.

This analysis reflects on the lessons that can be derived from the successes and failures of the Kyoto Protocol to conjure collective global action on climate change.  From these lessons, along with scholarly perspectives and critical analysis from the author, a new structure for global climate governance will take shape.

Lessons from Kyoto: a Vision for Effective Global Action on Climate Change

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