Kyoto Protocol Called Inadequate to Halt Global Warming

LONDON, United Kingdom, August 7, 2003 (ENS) - The Kyoto climate protocol will not deliver the deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions scientists say are necessary to control global warming, according to research published today as temperatures soared and heat records were broken across Europe. Londoners experienced the hottest day in the city's history Wednesday, and the heat wave is forecast to continue at least into next week.

The new study published in "New Economy," the journal of the London based Institute for Public Policy Research, contends that the Kyoto approach is "flawed." It advises that future international climate policy must be based on global agreements on a safe level of global greenhouse gas emissions and convergence towards equal ownership of the atmosphere.

Tony Grayling, the institute's associate director and guest editor of "New Economy," said, “Kyoto will not stop climate change. The next international climate change negotiations must agree on a safe level of emissions in the long term and fair shares between nations."


Factories, like this one in Northumberland, England, produce greenhouse gas emissions by burning fossil fuels. (Photo by Ian Britton courtesy FreeFoto)
"In practice," Grayling said, "this should mean contraction of global emissions and convergence towards equal per capita emissions rights. This approach also has a better chance of bringing America, Australia and the developing nations on board."

Calling the Kyoto Protocol an important first step, Grayling points out that even with full implementation the Kyoto Protocol delivers only a one to two percent cut in emissions from industrial nations while total global emissions will increase by 70 percent over the same time period.

The 1997 Kyoto Protocol is an international agreement under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change which requires 37 industrialized countries, known as Annex I Parties, to reduce their emission of six greenhouse gases an average of 5.2 percent of 1990 emissions baseline during the five year period 2008-2012.

The rules for entry into force of the Kyoto Protocol require 55 Parties to the Convention to ratify the Protocol, including Annex I Parties accounting for 55 percent of that group’s carbon dioxide emissions in 1990. To date, xx countries covering 44.2 percent of the emissions target have ratified or otherwise accepted the protocol.

Under the administration of President George W. Bush, the United States backed out of the Kyoto Protocol originally signed under President Bill Clinton. With about five percent of the world's population, the United States emits some 25 percent of the world's greenhouse gases.

The world is now watching the Russian Federation, with its 17.5 percent of the emissions target. The Russian parliament, the Duma, is expected to vote on ratification this year. That vote may come in time for the World Climate Change Conference scheduled to be held in Moscow from September 29 through October 3.

But even if the Kyoto Protocol does come into force, the greenhouse gas reductions it requires will barely make a dent in the blanket of heat trapping gases forming in the Earth's atmosphere, says the top Australian government climate scientist.

In a paper released Monday for the ongoing Internet conference In Search of Sustainability, Dr. Graeme Pearman, chief atmospheric research scientist with CSIRO, the government science body, says slowing the rate of emissions of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere will not stop the increase of its concentration and as a result will not affect climate change.


Dr. Graeme Pearman, CSIRO's chief atmospheric research scientist (Photo courtesy CSIRO)
Scientists know, Pearman wrote, "that when a molecule of carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere, it effectively resides there for almost 100 years. The very important message arising out of this finding is that slowing the rate of emissions of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere will not stop the increase of its concentration and thus climate change.

"We can show that reductions of 70 percent or more in current global emissions are necessary in order to stablize concentrations," Pearman wrote.

"This challenge is so demanding that one can safely conclude that there is no single solution," he wrote. "Rather, there is a need for a portfolio of activities that each delivers part of the answer."

On July 28, climate scientists at the UK Meteorological Office (Met Office) released a report outlining new evidence that humans are to blame for climate change, not only on the global level, but over individual continents as well.

Scientists from the Met Office's Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research have compared temperature rises since the beginning of the last century, over six continents, with simulations from climate models. They believe that the effect of human caused greenhouse gases can be seen over the past few decades in every continent, including Europe, but is especially clear over North America, South America and Africa.

Dr. Peter Stott, who leads the team at the Hadley Centre, said, "The continental warming of the past few decades cannot be explained by natural factors such as solar changes, volcanoes or natural variability. But once we factor in the effects of human activity, we find we can explain the warming that is observed."

Global average temperatures have risen by about 0.6 - 0.7 degrees Celsius over the last 100 years. "Identifying the effect of human activity on the global scale is difficult due to the noise' of natural climate variability - on a continental scale the noise is even greater," Stott said.


Wind turbines like this one at the Kirkheaton Wind Farm, Northumberland, are becoming a more common site across the UK. (Photo courtesy FreeFoto)
Dr. Stott has used the Hadley Centre's climate model together with advanced "optimal detection" analyses, to show that the effects of greenhouse gases from human activity, such as carbon dioxide from fossil fuel burning, can be detected. He also showed that cooling from sulphate aerosols, small particles also generated from fossil fuel emissions, counteracts some, but by no means all, of the greenhouse warming.

This issue of "New Economy" includes an article by Sir Tom Blundell, chair of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (RCEP), supporting the contraction and convergence approach to limiting climate warming to no more than two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit).

This approach was the basis of the RCEP’s recommendation for a 60 percent cut in UK carbon dioxide emissions by 2050. In an energy policy paper published in February, the Blair government adopted the RCEP recommendation on carbon dioxide emissions as an "aspiration" but did not acknowledge the contraction and convergence approach behind it.

“Given the dire consequences and irreversibility of climate change, we should be guided by the precautionary approach," wrote Margaret Beckett, UK secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs, in "New Economy."

"In my view," Beckett wrote, "this means adhering to a course of action that will keep temperature increases to no more than two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.”

John Whitelegg, professor of sustainable development at York University and a senior policy advisor to the Green Party UK, says the government is still not addressing climate change seriously enough. He said, "The world needs to cut CO2 emissions by 60 percent by 2050, and that means Britain cutting by more like 90 percent."