Only a few days into the Doha climate negotiations and the prospects for meaningful action seem dim. Russia, Japan, New Zealand, and Canada have already expressed their resistance to extending the Kyoto Protocol, the only legally binding agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Without an extension, Kyoto will expire at the end of this year. Continued climate financing for developing countries also seems uncertain, leaving many countries facing a “climate fiscal cliff.” At a time when extreme weather patterns are increasing, the climate stalemate is unacceptable.
Developed countries justify not signing on to Kyoto because the treaty doesn’t cover all countries. Developing countries are given allowances to burn emissions, partly to help their economies grow and partly because they did not contribute to the current climate crisis. Now, however, some developing countries, like China and India, are huge emissions contributors. In fact, China is the world’s largest emitter. Given their emissions levels, countries like China and India should be included under the Kyoto emissions limitations. Other developing countries, however, contribute just a fraction of emissions and would benefit greatly from a functioning clean development mechanism (CDM) that could transfer knowledge and capital. The current CDM, however, is actually encouraging bad behavior and needs to be substantially reformed.
Though it is flawed, the Kyoto Protocol is at least a start and should be extended. Countries like Russia and Canada are using the emissions argument as a cover but the real reason they don’t want to sign on is likely because they are huge fossil fuel producers. Canada’s tar sands expansion produces large quantities of greenhouse gases and is likely one of the main reasons it withdrew from Kyoto last year. Russia’s oil production is hitting record levels and with its own record levels of oil and gas production, there is no way the U.S. will sign onto a Kyoto extension.
So, where does this leave us? One the one hand, we are faced with a climate reality that will cause substantial economic damage worldwide and likely cause a climate refugee crisis. On the other hand, we are faced with a political reality that leaves countries staring at each other to make the first move in curbing emissions. A good first step would be widespread adoption of a carbon tax, which would both incentivize decreasing carbon emissions and raise revenue that could be directed towards adaptation and mitigation measures. Several countries have already adopted a carbon tax and it is actually politically popular in the United States.
It may not be a Kyoto extension, but meaningful climate action has to come out of Doha. There won’t be many more chances to act before it’s too late.