Toward a Real Global Warming Treaty

Mosaic created in Montreal to pressure negotiators to accept and enforce the Kyoto Protocol, Canada, November 29, 2005. Christinne Muschi / Reuters


In December 1997 the world's nations met in Kyoto to grapple with the problem of global warming. The Kyoto conference garnered a wide variety of assessments, ranging from "a notable success" through "a useful first step" to "a grave disappointment and setback" for those concerned with the future of the planet. Whatever one thinks of Kyoto in terms of environmentalist politics, the troubling fact remains that its underlying approach is bound to fail. Because it is premised on setting national emissions targets, the Kyoto strategy will not be able to solve the alleged problem of global climate change resulting from greenhouse gas emissions. The likely failure of Kyoto should be used as the impetus for a hard look at the prospects for a treaty on global climate change.

The Framework Convention on Climate Change signed in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro drew wide international attention to the danger of gradual global warming from humanity's use of fossil fuels and other activities. Rio committed signatory governments to do something about global climate change, but it did not commit them to take any specific actions. Since Rio, governments of most rich countries undertook to reduce their levels of carbon dioxide emissions to estimated 1990 levels-within the relatively near, but unspecified future. In 1995 the rich nations further committed themselves to agree at Kyoto in 1997 on a set of binding emissions targets to last beyond the year 2000.

Since Rio, actions actually taken to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases--carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and chlorofluorocarbons--have not matched stated intentions. Emissions of CFCS have slowed due to the Montreal Protocol of 1987 to protect the ozone layer, and carbon dioxide emissions are growing less quickly because of lower-than-expected economic growth since 1992 in Europe, Japan, and the former Soviet Union. Nevertheless, one projection shows that energy-related carbon dioxide emissions will grow by fully 30 percent between 1990 and 2010.

At Kyoto, the 24 rich members of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) as of 1992 and the European countries of the

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