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Carbon Politics and the Failure of the Kyoto Protocol

We are pleased to present a new Routledge Sustainability blog post written by Gerald Kutney, author of Carbon Politics and the Failure of the Kyoto Protocol.

With a new entry every fortnight, blog posts written by various Routledge authors will be displayed both on the Routledge website and on our Facebook page. Each post within Facebook will be open to comments so please feel free to voice your thoughts! You can view all of our past blog posts here. 

Carbon Politics and the Failure of the Kyoto Protocol charts the framework and political evolution of the Kyoto negotiations in search for an answer to the international community’s failure to act on climate change. An objective of the book is to identify what went wrong with Kyoto and to clear up popular misconceptions on global leadership on climate change legislation. Without such knowledge, a way forward to reduce global emissions cannot be achieved.

Carbon Politics begins with the study of the history of climate science and the reaction, or lack thereof, of early government administrations. As external pressure grew for action, governments sent the ball back to the scientific court by demanding a consensus of the problem. A special organization to undertake this mission was created by the UN, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which was the official source of climate science for the Kyoto negotiators. An answer is provided on why the powerful science from the IPCC has not done more to motivate governments to reduce emissions.

Alleged scandals, colloquially known as “climategate” and “glaciergate,” rocked the foundations of both the IPCC and the climate change negotiations. These incidents set into motion a series of national inquiries into climate science that crossed two continents in 2010, which was an especially bad year for climate negotiations; the factors that caused this annus horribilis are analyzed. A root cause analysis of glaciergate is presented along with an overview of the response of the IPCC to the opportunities that this created. Intimately involved in these scandals were the climate skeptics. The political climate skeptic movement is a travesty of justice against the scientific community that is unprecedented in a democracy.

Next in Carbon Politics, we examine the actions and motivations of the major players towards climate change regulations. With China, the analysis presents an explanation of their position, which is based on the interpretation of the pivotal phrase in the negotiations: “common but differentiated responsibilities;” this phrase has been intensely debated for over two decades without resolution and is highlighted in Carbon Politics. Canada is unique among the members of Kyoto as it is the only country in the world to have withdrawn from it after ratifying the treaty. An analysis demonstrates that the Kyoto targets had placed an inequitable burden on the nation. The issues with the U.S. and EU are more intriguing. Market mechanisms drove American strategy to the detriment of more important issues. We must conclude that climate change negotiations by the U.S. is one of the great failures of international treaty discussions in modern times. They had been outmaneuvered by their European counterparts in a manner that would have impressed Machiavelli.

The media and scholarly literature imply that there is an “attitude” problem with some nations, especially the U.S., in regards to climate change legislation and carbon targets. My analysis of global and national GHG emissions suggested that there really was not much difference between these nations: the dominant macro-factor that influenced their political response was a more fundamental principle, namely economics. Even those nations who advocated strict emissions standards demonstrated little concern for the actual environment in their decision-making process. In particular, the single most important influence on the implementation of carbon targets was found to be international competitiveness, which was more influenced by the direction that national emissions were headed rather than the absolute emissions themselves.

Going forward will call for a new game plan. In the final chapter, a strategy to win the carbon game is proposed. A straightforward scheme is offered which some may criticize for being too simple, but which I believe will be more effective than the Kyoto Protocol. 

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  1. Carbon Politics and the Failure of the Kyoto Protocol

    By Gerald Kutney

    Series: Routledge Explorations in Environmental Studies

    Carbon Politics and the Failure of Kyoto charts the framework and political evolution of the Kyoto Protocol negotiations and examines the ensuing failure of the international community to adequately address climate change. The focus is not on the science or consequences of climate change but on the...

    Published December 19th 2013 by Routledge