Discussion: Assessment of Kyoto Protocol Negotiations Against Design, Process and Tactical Factors

In this chapter the process leading to the agreement on the Kyoto Protocol in 1997 at COP-3 and its entry into force in 2005 has been discussed in a largely chronological order with specific attention to negotiation themes, country positions and dynamics (Fig. 4.4). In this section, the negotiation process leading towards implementation of the Kyoto Protocol will be assessed against the three key negotiation factors as described in Chaps. 1 and 2: design of the negotiation outcome as a package to establish an international climate coalition, process of the negotiations for facilitating coalition building, and scope for tactical manoeuvres for reaching a final agreement.

Overview of key step during process of negotiating the Kyoto Protocol

Fig. 4.4 Overview of key step during process of negotiating the Kyoto Protocol

Negotiation Factor 1: Kyoto Protocol Design for an Effective International Climate Coalition

The key elements of the Kyoto Protocol design as it entered into force on 16 February 2005 were the following. Its geographical scope was clearly global, which has been substantiated by 192 countries which have ratified the Kyoto Protocol. During the negotiations the largest thematic focus was on greenhouse gas emission reduction efforts (mitigation); adaptation was discussed by countries but was never really a crunch issue to ‘make or break’ a negotiation step.

Among the key principles of the Kyoto Protocol is that of common but differentiated responsibilities. This was reflected by the fact that only developed countries adopted quantified commitments under the protocol, so that the actual coalition of countries with quantified emission reduction or limitation commitments had a size of 36 countries (listed in Annex B of the protocol). The actual participation of developing countries in the protocol has been more indirect via their possible involvement in greenhouse gas emission reduction projects via the CDM or via, e.g., technology transfer support programmes. Under the Berlin Mandate, some developed countries (mainly the USA) argued that also developing countries, especially those with rapidly growing economies, should adopt quantified emission reduction targets (even on a voluntary basis), but developing country negotiators managed to avoid this step at COP-3.

The main goal towards mitigating greenhouse gas emissions in the Kyoto Protocol was that all developed countries would jointly reduce their emissions by 5.2 % during the commitment period 2008-2012 compared to emission levels in 1990. This common goal was built up by individual country goals as specified in Annex B of the protocol. As explained in this chapter, this overall target and the differentiation of country targets was not based on scientific analysis; rather, it was the result of negotiation dynamics during the last days at COP-3. Having a longer term target (scheduled to be achieved ten to fifteen years after 1997), however, made it difficult for countries to clearly assess what would be the economic costs and other consequences of the negotiation results at ‘Kyoto’. Moreover, there could be a risk of non-compliance by countries should it become clear over time that compliance costs become too high. In order to reduce this risk, the Kyoto Protocol aimed at a five-year commitment period so that compliance costs could be spread across multiple years.

The Kyoto Protocol introduced a number of policy instruments to enable countries to comply with the protocol goals. The key instrument for determining quantitative commitments for developed countries was that of annually assigned amounts of greenhouse gas emissions per country (i.e. maximum emission levels or national emission budgets). These assigned amounts were tradable so that countries with surplus assigned amounts could sell these to other countries with a deficit. To their assigned amounts, countries could add credits which had been derived from JI and CDM projects. With these two mechanisms, it was aimed to increase the ‘surplus’ for developed countries to join the Kyoto Protocol coalition as it would enable them to broaden their assigned amounts with relatively low-cost mitigation options in other countries.

Next to the geographical flexibility and flexibility in terms of timing for developed countries to fulfil their commitments, the protocol also included flexibility in terms of commitments across multiple greenhouse gases. Instead of considering only CO2 emissions, assigned amounts were expressed in CO2-equivalents based on six greenhouse gases. Finally, flexibility was introduced under the protocol, and further broadened after US withdrawal from the protocol, through accounting of greenhouse gas emission reductions achieved with land use, land-use change and forestry measures.

With these forms of flexibility, the Kyoto Protocol offered a wider scope for developed countries to lower compliance costs as they could choose where greenhouse gas reduction measures would be relatively cheap, when taking actions would be most beneficial and which greenhouse gases would be most efficient to focus on when reducing emissions.

The compliance regime developed under the Kyoto Protocol to enforce developed countries to comply with their quantified commitments was rather weak. In fact, the regime enabled countries to postpone actions until after 2012. As a result, environmental NGOs criticised the Bonn Agreement by dubbing it a ‘Kyoto lite’ agreement (IISD 2001, p. 13). It could therefore be argued that the Kyoto Protocol design had lost part of its environmental integrity while trying to keep other developed countries on board (after the withdrawal of the USA) (Dessai and Schipper 2003).

In conclusion, the Kyoto Protocol negotiation process resulted in a design with greenhouse gas emission reduction or limitation commitments for the relatively small group of developed countries. As greenhouse gas emissions of developing countries were not capped by the protocol, the growing emissions of rapidly industrialising developing countries, such as China, India and Mexico, remained unaddressed. As a compensation, the net quantified abatement targets that developed countries faced (emission reduction with inclusion of accounting of carbon sequestration through LULUCF) were relatively low, with a rather weak compliance regime and a large scope for using the Kyoto flexibility mechanisms for carbon credit trading. At the same time, through the flexibility mechanisms (in particular the CDM), the Kyoto Protocol design enabled an almost global scope for greenhouse gas emission reduction measures.

In terms of the negotiation framework described in Chap. 1, Fig. 1.1, this chapter has shown how initially the design of the Kyoto Protocol moved to outcome B when it was realised that only quantitative commitments for developed countries were feasible. The turn towards outcome C, with increasing support by developed countries, was made by introducing flexibility in the protocol text (JI, CDM, emissions trading, a five-year commitment period and multiple greenhouse gases). An output close to point D was achieved by, among others, acknowledging that CDM projects would need to contribute to developing countries’ development priorities and allowing developed countries to partly meet their commitments through carbon sequestration land use, land-use change and forestry activities.

The deviation between D and ‘ideal’ situation A (in the hypothetical situation of Fig. 1.1) in the final Kyoto Protocol package can be explained by the weak compliance procedures and the fact that the protocol did not limit emissions of rapidly growing developing countries.

Therefore, it can be concluded that the negotiations successfully considered the several game theoretical aspects of country behaviour in order to have a globally supported agreement (as explained in Chap. 2). However, as the Kyoto Protocol was softened considerably after the US withdrawal, its final design was unlikely to result in strong global greenhouse gas emission reductions.

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