Replacing Kyoto - Making the Right Decisions

The Kyoto treaty was ratified in 2004 and mandates that industrial and mandates that industrialized nations reduce their emissions 5 percent below 1990 levels between 2008 and 2012. Between 1990 and 2000, the emissions from industrial nations had dropped by 3 percent, a statistic that by itself would have suggested that the developed nations were aware of the threat and taking action. A closer look, however, reveals that the lion's share of that reduction was the result of the closing of antiquated and inefficient coal-fired industries in Russia in the years following the collapse of the Soviet Union. With Russian data excluded, industrial emissions rose 8 per cent in the same period. The fact is that only a few EU nations will meet their targets, and industrial nations will most likely be 10 percent above 1990 levels by 2010. Worse, from the point of view of meaningful action, the world's largest and second-largest emitters of CO2, the US and China, are not subject to its provisions.

The Kyoto treaty is the result of political negotiation and diplomatic compromise and on the surface not a lot more than short term promises to reduce emissions that make politicians look good, but that their successors cannot possibly keep. It is a promissory system to reduce greenhouse gases but does little to deliver the technical and economic means to carry them out. All it did was define flexible mechanisms including carbon trading and the clean development mechanism (CDM). In many countries carbon trading has practicably morphed to a much less flexible and more manipulable cap and trade system. Our views on cap and trade versus tax systems.

The Kyoto treaty was flawed from the start in many ways and particularly because it did not provide sufficiently for the development of vital technical alternatives. Both carbon tax and cap and trade systems are based on legal rather than real market forces and somehow global warming was to be solved by using them to reduce emissions in spite of a 100% correlation between them and real world industrial product[1].

Kyoto will not work. It has no technical plan, and no plan at all to address the dependence on energy. It is a highly inequitable and inefficient agreement which will do little to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Radical alternatives are being called for and the common denominator is the need for technical change.

There was the joint communique from the World Business Council for Sustainable Development and the International Chamber of Commerce from the 2007 Bali conference which at point 4 said "Technology is key, for addressing the climate challenges. There is a need for scaling up of R&D jointly between Governments and Business as well as accelerating the deployment of technologies."[2]

A few months later in January 2009 the Independent Newspaper in the UK published a survey of 80 international specialists in climate change who made it clear that "an emergency plan B using the latest technology was needed[3]. The call has been repeated by economists Gwyn Prins[4] [5] and Steve Rayner [5] who confirm that "The Kyoto Protocol is a symbolically important expression of governments' concern about climate change. But as an instrument for achieving emissions reductions, it has failed". According to these authors target based emissions reduction was not going to work and what we need to do is make supply side change requiring a shift from the politics of restriction to the politics of opportunity.

These calls have recently been joined by an increasing number from the US including from Prof Jeffry Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia and members of the Breakthrough Institute.

Because of the constraint principle is inherent in the response of many countries to Kyoto many view implementations of the treaty as just another layer of tax. Some go so far as to suggest that the protocol was conceived to shift wealth from developing nations to the third world[6] which in effect it does through the CDM. No wonder the Kyoto process is resisted by many countries and big business.

All the Kyoto process has done is provide a useful forum for negotiation regarding its all important replacement. A replacement that must adopt a new direction as there is little doubt that we have wasted the years since 1997 when the Kyoto treaty was signed with useless debate as we are now tracking worse than all IPCC scenarios[7]. Assuming Kyoto commitments are met (which is very unlikely) one estimate is that global emissions will be 41% higher in 2010 than in 1990[8]

Professors Prins [4] [5] and Raynor [5] have at least recognised that supply side change is required. John Harrison our managing director has put it another way for some years and talked about changes in technical paradigms redefining materials resource flows and hence underlying molecular flows. He quotes Pilzer's first law whereby simply put the technology paradigm defines what is or is not a resource. John believes is that technical change is required on the supply side and this will involved not only energy intensity, energy efficiency and energy sourcing but massive sequestration as well.

Although energy use efficiency is rising the resulting gains will be nowhere near sufficient to make much difference[9] because of increasing affluence in China, India and parts of south America and of course population growth. Affluence is arguably desirable if for no other reason than that it promises to curb population growth however the problem is that in spite of improved efficiency gains high energy use is required to achieve such affluence and over 95% of this energy is still derived from fossil fuels.

There has been some switching to non fossil fuel sources of energy and nuclear is predicted to grow but the basic problem remains of a coupling between fossil fuel energy and affluence. This coupling is the main reason for the failure of the Kyoto process as restraint by corollary is economically restrictive. Calls for emissions reductions by the US or for that matter so called third world nations are falling on deaf ears.

A further strategy is to add sequestration to the mix of measures to combat global warming however this is not, at least until the TecEco Gaia Engineering platform is understood and implemented, as simple as it seems. This subject is discussed in detail on the TecEco web page Solutions to the Global Warming Problem where it is demonstrated that geosequestration is at best a very short term alternative fraught with danger and any leakage will result in failure within a few hundred years.

It seems that everybody in the world are missing the point. We will not get there on a plan like Kyoto based on promises. Humans are basically on the whole too greedy and self centered for constraint to work and besides the third world are entitled to and many are rapidly achieving the level of affluence we have. The plan must include means for these countries to achieve affluence without the same per capita carbon cost that we have had in achieving our standard of living. Rather than promises there must be a plan to take us into the long term future that takes into account the way we are, that turns greed and selfishness which are currently a major impediments into a driving force for solving the carbon problem. Put simply the solution must make money. The world must adopt such a plan or as Stern, Prof Garnaut in Australia and many others have pointed out, the cost will be huge. The impact on civilisation of increased drought, famine, floods and hurricanes will be enormous compared to the cost of action.

We must accept our long term role of maintaining “spaceship earth” as planetary engineers and find ways of maintaining the level of carbon dioxide, oxygen and other gases in the atmosphere at desirable levels and we cannot possibly arrest the alarming increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide currently occurring through efficiency, emissions reduction (constraint) or substitution alone. There must also be massive sequestration.

Nature is the greatest economist of all and we have a good chance of preserving the future if we mimic her by finding profitable uses for carbon and other wastes. A solution that puts profit in the pocket of a large number who will as a consequence wish to engage is required otherwise it cannot be implemented on the massive scale required.

Our Gaia Engineering involves sequestration as man made carbonate in the built environment and is a new technology platform that has the promise of profitably sequestering massive amounts of carbon because the markets created in building and construction are insatiable, large enough and indefinitely continuing. Sequestration is achieved pursuant to our Gaia engineering technology platform by building with man made carbonate and most likely presents the only option we have for saving the planet from runaway climate change until such time as safe and reliable forms of energy alternative to fossil fuels can be developed.

[1] di Fazio, A. "The Fallacy of Pure Efficiency Gain Measures to Control Future Climate Change." 2008.

[2] Reported by TecEco in Newsletter 75

[3] Conner, S. and C. Green, Climate scientists: it's time for 'Plan B', in The Independent. 2nd January 2009, Independent Newspapers.

[4] Prins, Gwyn, The road from Kyoto, The Guardian, Friday 4 April, 2008 at http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/apr/04/climatechange.carbonemissions

[5] Prins, Gwyn and Raynor, Steve, Time to ditch Kyoto, Nature 449, 973-975 (25 October 2007)

[6] We suggest just google "Kyoto shift wealth to the third world" and many many references will come up. e.g Global Warming, Globalization and the Kyoto Accord - Opinions and Conjecture at http://www.k5kj.net/gwarming.htm

[7] Whetton, P., Climate Change: What is the Science Telling Us? 2008, CSIRO: Presentation for the Australian Cement Federation Conference, 14 September, 2007, Melbourne.

[8] 1. Ford, M., et al. Perspectives on International Climate Change. in Australian Agricultural and Resource Economics Society 50th Annual Conference. 2006. Sydney: Australian Agricultural and Resource Economics Society

[9] There are thermodynamic limits to energy efficiency. See the TecEco economics and political pages and reference [1] above