Climate Summit in New York: The Lessons of Kyoto

Most probably the final result, after the negotiations that make the ratification of the Paris Agreement possible, will be an even weaker agreement.

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On Friday, April 22 2016, the headquarters of the United Nations in New York received the representatives of the member states for the opening ceremony of the signing of the Paris Agreement. The ceremony was more symbolic than anything else, as it inaugurated the period of one year that the countries have as the space to proceed to the formal signing of the agreements approved by the COP21 in Paris last December.


As a symbolic act, the ceremony was a success since 175 countries signed the Agreement. Nevertheless as an effective act, the event does not mean much. The importance of the new stage of the Paris Agreement is not so much the signing as the ratification, which is what will make it possible for the agreement to come into effect. For this, it is necessary for at least 55 countries, that together represent at least 55% of the global emissions, to ratify it.


Of the 175 countries that signed the agreement, only 15 small developing countries presented their instruments of ratification and these all together do not represent a significant percentage of emissions [1].


The history of the Kyoto Protocol has left many lessons. Among them, that the period from the signing to the ratification of the document is the cruelest and most ruthless period of the negotiation [2].


Between 1997 (signing of the Kyoto Protocol) and 2001 (approbation of the Marrakesh Agreements) there were four COPs and various intersessional meetings and others of Subsidiary Bodies, to fine tune the mechanisms and means of implementation of the Protocol. These discussions were so drawn out and complex that, in a unique decision in the history of the convention, the COP6 of the year 2000 had to take place in two parts since the time was not sufficient: one in November 2000 and the other in July 2001.


As is the case now with the Paris Agreement, the Kyoto Protocol requires the ratification of at least 55 countries that together represent at least 55% of global emissions.


Russia and the United States (added to some of their allies such as Japan, New Zealand and Australia) amounted to more than 45% of the global emissions, which gave them, acting together, a virtual power of veto in order to impose their conditions. The United States finally left the Kyoto Protocol, but Russia obtained a transcendent victory in that they were allowed to duplicate the quantity of absorption that they could justify in their forests (from 17 to 33 MtCO2). This enormous volume of CO2 (part of what was known as Russian "hot air") ended up being utilized in the Emissions Trading System of the Protocol in order to compensate for the insufficient reductions of other developed countries. This led to weakening the engagements assumed and resulted in making compliance with the Kyoto Protocol an empty letter (3).


But there were other things that weakened the Kyoto Protocol in those later agreements.  A few examples in a non-exhaustive list are: the ample use of activities of the use of land and forestry to compensate emissions in the industrialized countries; the introduction of the use of reforesting to obtain certificates of emissions reduction in the Clean Development Mechanism; the almost unlimited use of carbon markets; the absence of a limit to the buying and selling of Russian "hot gas", among others. All of this was called in its time "the holes in the Kyoto Protocol".


The Paris Agreement is a lax agreement, which does not have commitments or obligations with respect to emissions from each country. There is a global goal -- a maximum of two degrees of temperature increase -- but the reduction of emissions necessary to reach this objective is not distributed among countries. Thus there is no way to demand from anyone the quota that corresponds to their responsibility. In this sense, the Paris Agreement is weaker than the Kyoto Protocol, that at least had specific goals for some countries.


What we shall see in the next few months will be a cruel and ruthless negotiation to define the instruments and means of implementing the Paris Agreement. In this period, the countries that are the greatest emitters will tend to have a greater power of negotiation, while their absence will impede the implementation of the agreement.


The ceremony that we have just seen in New York is, in the best of cases, an attempt of the General Secretary of the United Nations to provide a political impulse to the new climate agreement. But beyond its propagandist impact, this New York meeting has no concrete incidence in the central theme: the decision to reduce the emissions in order to avoid climate change.


The Paris Agreement continues to be an irrelevant text to detain the emissions of greenhouse gases. And most probably the final result, after the negotiations that make the ratification possible, will be an even weaker agreement, where doubtless the "holes in the Paris Agreement" will appear.


There is nothing to celebrate after this inaugural ceremony and much to worry about for the Convention. 


(Translated for ALAI by Jordan Bishop)


- Gerardo Honty is an analyst with CLAES (Centro Latino Americano de Ecología Social)


[1] Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Somalia, Palestine, Barbados, Belize, Fiji, Grenada, Samoa, Tuvalu, Maldives, Santa Lucia, Mauritius and Saint Kitts and Nevis.

[2]  A more detailed analysis can be seen in:

[3] For greater detail on this point see:

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