It must be December. No, I am not referring to the ubiquotous Christmas advertising (which has been here since November 1st), the high-octane-sugar-laden seasonal specials at Starbucks, or the brief arrival of -30 degree weather in Edmonton. Rather, I am referring to the annual climate change discussion that seems to peak this time of year. For example, in December, 2010, the news was abuzz with the Cancun Summit (here). Then, in December, 2011, Canada followed Environment Minister Kent as he indicated we would not participate in Kyoto's next commitment period (here). This time around the news is coming out of Doha, Qatar, where approximately 200 nations agreed to extend the Kyoto commitment period until 2020 (here).
The problem that has plagued the Kyoto Protocol has not changed appreciably since Kyoto opened for signature in 1997, and it goes a little something like this: how does the international community account for the principle of Common But Differentiated Responsibility, as agreed to in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change? Essentially, how does the international community cooperate to ensure that developing nations (which currently account for the lion's share of CO2 emissions) deviate from the development-stlye employed by the developed nations over the last 200 years?
Unfortunately, Kyoto continues to fragment the international community instead of unify and/or galvanize it, and has possibly hindered the production of an effective response to this lingering commons problem. From America's initial negative reaction and indication that it would not ratify Kyoto unless hard commitments were set for China, to the statements from Canada and New Zealand that they will not ratify the Kyoto extension, Kyoto seems to be pulling us apart.
Furthermore, the reality is that nearly 85% of global greenhouse gas emissions will not be captured by the current incarnation of Kyoto. The more fragmented the response, the less effective the Protocol, which, in turn, incentivizes increased deviation. This sounds strangely like one of those positive feedback loops the climate scientists keep warning us about.
Perhaps a best-case scenario is that Kyoto serves as the stop-gap needed to hammer out an effective, inclusive international response. If this remains the goal, then I am all for resuscitating Kyoto. If not, I am afraid that the status quo is highly unsatisfactory.