The Kyoto Protocol
By Doug Schouten, November 2002
It seems like global bureaucracy was in vogue this past century. Following suit with its fashionable counterparts, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) adopted the Kyoto Protocol (Kyoto) in 1997. Kyoto imposes emissions regulations on all the signing countries with the aim of reducing, by 2012, the so-called “greenhouse gas” emissions to pre-1990 levels. Kyoto also creates a number of new international bodies to oversee its implementation. Now, rather than just relaying some concerns about Kyoto, perhaps a brief outline of global warming trends and the method with which Kyoto seeks to combat these trends is first in order here.
Every combustion reaction involving fossil fuels produces carbon dioxide (CO2). So every time we run a car, generate electricity by burning oil or coal, or even build a campfire we generate CO2. This much is known. The global warming theorists (such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) then assert that solar radiation (primarily infrared light) is absorbed by CO2 and other similar greenhouse gases (such as halocarbons, sulfur compounds, methane and nitrous oxide) thus warming the atmosphere. This is the model with which they explain the temperate climate on earth compared to other planets that are lacking earth-like atmospheres. This is also the reason why – according to them – temperatures have risen, on average, by about 0.6 oC over the past century as greenhouse gas emissions have increased. The “Climate Change Information Kit” put out by the UN, the World Health Organization, and the World Meteorological Organization states that temperatures are predicted to rise by between 1.4 and 5.8 oC by 2100 with potentially “catastrophic results” as low-lying nations are swamped by rising oceans (due to melting glaciers) and as climatic zones (forests, tundra’s etc) shift towards the poles.
Kyoto’s response to this perceived threat – put emissions caps on all industrialized nations:
“The Parties [shall ensure that] carbon dioxide equivalent emissions of the greenhouse gases…do not exceed their assigned amounts, calculated pursuant to their quantified emission limitation and reduction commitments…with a view to reducing their overall emissions of such gases by at least 5 per cent below 1990 levels in the commitment period 2008 to 2012”.
– Kyoto Protocol Article 3, Paragraph 1 (1997)
Each country that signs on to Kyoto is given a number of emissions credits (relative to their respective outputs and other considerations as recorded in 1990) and the states can then decide whether to use them or sell them to other countries (thus allowing the buying state to pollute more).
Trying to unravel all the technical knots in the Kyoto protocol is too monstrous of a task to be performed here but some real concerns are readily established with only a surface-scratching analysis. The largest problem is that Kyoto sets different standards for different countries since countries that are not considered to be developed nations are not required to fulfill Kyoto commitments. Rather, they can pollute as heavily as already developed nations (such as the USA, the UK, Canada etc.) did and have been doing until now. The claim is that to impose strict environmental restrictions on developing nations would be unfair since these restrictions were not present when other countries were developing their own industries. However, any claim of establishing global industrial fairness is suspect in a document like Kyoto since Kyoto’s task is to try and find solutions to the global warming trends and not to assist developing nations in establishing industry. Besides, if the Kyoto argument is carried to it conclusion, one would realize that a lack of environmental concern is precisely the thing that got us into this “mess” in the first place. It wouldn’t make sense to allow everyone else to make the same mistake all over again.
Also, publications of the UNCFF such as the “Guide to Climate Change” reveal the true philosophy that is behind Kyoto. The people responsible for constructing the Kyoto protocol believe that mankind is not just attempting to fix (through initiatives like Kyoto) a mistake of poor stewardship, but that we are progressing to the eventual achievement of so-called “sustainable development”. What they really mean is that we will find a way to develop unhindered or progress forever – perhaps not as individuals, but as a “species” in general. In short though, “this ain’t gonna happen”. We are imperfect, the natural world is rife with imperfections, and any human developments will inevitably also be imperfect. We know that the earth is not going to exist forever and we most definitely do not believe in fairy tales like “sustainable development”. We do, however, believe in proper stewardship of this earth that God has given under us (Genesis 1) and that this should be the philosophy driving any move for emissions control.
Granted, however, that something good may result from something flawed, we must not put our stock in the makers of Kyoto or Kyoto itself to provide sound answers to any global warming trend – whether it is a perceived or a real threat. One positive in this whole business is that any member nation which signs on has a three year period to withdraw from Kyoto. So even though action to oppose Kyoto may not be necessary now, if we find that its consequences flow from its philosophy – that its result is botched – we should, as Van Prinsterer said, “throw ourselves into the political fray in order to try to call a halt to the observance of opinions we deem so harmful” as the “useful and mandatory thing to do” (Van Prinsterer, Unbelief and Revolution, p. 9).