Unlamented Kyoto Protocol staggers into next stage

The first stage ended on New Year's Day with only 15% of world emissions covered for the next period through to 2020.

The Kyoto Protocol aimed at curbing global greenhouse gas emissions has entered its second stage as only a shadow of itself and generally considered a failure.

The first stage ended at New Year, leaving the world with 58% more greenhouse gases than in 1990, as opposed to the 5% reduction its signatories sought.

Since it was adopted in Kyoto, Japan, in 1997, the protocol’s number of signatories has plummeted with only 36 industrialised mainly European countries plus Australia staying committed.

They account for just 15% of the world’s emissions that are blamed for global warming.

The remainder of the 200 ratifying nations, including New Zealand, Canada, Japan and Russia, have either dropped out or are not covered.

This has labelled the protocol as ineffective because it never included the countries that account for most emissions, such as China, India, Brazil and the US. 

The protocol has always been contentious. Opponents denied the science of climate change and claimed the treaty was a socialist plot. Others decried its lack of ambition and warned of dire consequences for future generations.

Background to Kyoto
The Kyoto Protocol was an initiative that came out of the 1992 Rio Earth Summit. It recognised that climate change was a result of greenhouse gases created by human industrial activity.

The idea was that rich nations, which had already benefited from industrialisation, would reduce their greenhouse gas emissions in the first part of the treaty and developing nations would join in later.

Although the protocol was adopted in 1997, it didn't to come into force until 2005. In the intervening eight years, countries set reduction targets for themselves and ratified the agreement.

But the seeds of failure were planted at the beginning. The US, the world's biggest emitter at the time, signed up but never ratified.

Other countries, such as Canada, ratified the treaty but had targets that were unachievable

New Zealand’s climate change minister, Tim Groser, announced this country’s decision not to sign on for another stage to 2020 back in November, saying instead it would sign up to the United Nations convention framework from January 1, 2013.

"We will remain full members of the Kyoto Protocol. There is no question of withdrawing," he said at the time.

In December, he announced the government would also join Climate and Clean Air Coalition, a new initiative focused on climate pollutants such as black carbon, as well as greenhouse gases including HFCs and methane.

While the protocol continues with about 200 countries agreeing to extend it at the recent climate change conference in Doha, it is now largely irrelevant as other solutions will be worked out under the UN framework.

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