To cut carbon, give up Kyoto

Jason Snead and Jason Snead

Negotiated in 1997, the Kyoto Protocol provided the world with a cause for hope. At long last it seemed the international community had a framework on which the passion of individuals and the tools of nations could be built into a mechanism of change. And yet Kyoto proved to be a fool’s errand. Creating a system of complacency and rhetoric, Kyoto allows the first world to placate its guilt over pollution and exploitation without creating a viable plan of attack to address the cataclysm of global warming. To date 169 nations have signed and ratified the treaty, leaving the entire world with the deceptive notion that great strides are being made in reducing the carbon footprint of the human race.

And yet, despite the grandeur of its goals and mission, Kyoto was created with such gaping loopholes that any gains made under the treaty will be quickly undone. Large, industrializing, expanding nations like China and India, accounting for ever-larger portions of global greenhouse gases, are left untouched by the treaty. Their status as “developing nations” leaves them exempted from the caps imposed on other countries, despite the fact that China is about to become the world’s largest polluter, topping even the United States.

Conditions inside China open our eyes to the esteem in which the environment is held by the communist regime. Only 1 percent of China’s billion-person population breathes what we would consider to be clean air. Whole cities are covered in such great clouds of smog and soot it is necessary for the residents to wear protective face masks. And each week a new coal-fire power plant is brought online in China, belching thousands of tons of new carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year. An unregulated, uncapped China will quickly fill the carbon gap left by pollution-reducing nations, including the United States.

Further decreasing the effectiveness of Kyoto are the so-called “carbon credits.” Concerned for the large cost associated with reducing emissions, the drafters of the treaty created a system whereby a nation or a company unable to meet its quota could purchase credits from other nations or companies that have successfully reduced their own emissions. The availability and profitability of these credits has become so great that entire markets have arisen that deal solely in the trade of these lucrative allowances. Providing a mechanism to allow nations and industries to buy themselves out of the doghouse is far from the tough policy needed globally to arrest warming before we reach a point of no return. Carbon credits should be abolished, or barring that, made far less available, and thus so prohibitively expensive there would be little recourse but to pay the price for our addiction to cheap carbon.

Clearly a situation such as Kyoto is untenable if we are to seriously address the potential cataclysm of global warming. A new treaty must be drafted, one that will propose a genuine strategy for reducing in the near term our carbon emissions. And above all, this new treaty must adopt new standards for exemptions from emissions caps. It is ludicrous to exempt the world’s soon-to-be-largest polluter from any sort of emissions standards because they are still “developing” and have not yet reached the level of opulence enjoyed in the first world. Per capita measures of emissions as tools of assigning responsibility, useful in situations of approximately equal national populations, must be abandoned and replaced with an analysis of the aggregate pollution of a nation, lest China be held unaccountable for its horrible environmental policies until it produces four times the levels of pollution as we do here in America.

Until these standards are recognized and enforced internationally, the United States cannot and should not endorse any treaty calling for us to reduce our emissions. The costs to our economy, the lost jobs and revenues, and the huge expense are not beneficial if any and all cuts to potentially be made would produce no net decrease in global pollution. Worse still, by ratifying a toothless treaty like Kyoto the United States would be endorsing the policies of the treaty, ending any discussion of the need for change. Rather, the political capital that would be expended domestically to ratify the failed Kyoto Protocol could be spent passing domestic legislation allowing the United States to make a concerted and effective effort at reducing our own pollution. By setting an example of how to go about battling global warming, the United States by not ratifying Kyoto could in fact do far greater good for the world.

One thing is certain: If the world does not radically alter its strategy for reducing emissions, Kyoto could become one of the costliest debacles in world history. If we do not replace apology with action, we stand only to deceive ourselves into oblivion.

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