New Labour think-tank says Kyoto is flawed

A major London think-tank with close ties to New Labour has highlighted the limitations of the Kyoto Protocol on climate change and thrown its weight behind a radical green policy based on equal rights to the atmosphere for the world's population.

August 1, 2003
4 min read

Research published on 7 August 2003 by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) describes the Kyoto approach as “flawed”, and argues that global agreements on greenhouse gas emissions should be based on the so-called “contraction-and-convergence” policy, involving equal per head “ownership” of the atmosphere.

This is the first time that a think-tank with strong ties to the government has advocated such a policy, which has previously been supported by more radical environmentalists.

Although recognising that Kyoto is an “important first step”, the research published in the IPPR journal New Economy says that Kyoto only delivers a marginal cut in emissions from industrial nations while total global emissions will increase by 70%.

Tony Grayling of IPPR said: “Kyoto will not stop climate change. The next international climate change negotiations must agree on a safe level of emissions in the long term and fair shares between nations. In practice, this should mean contraction of global emissions and convergence towards equal per capita emissions rights.”

The contraction-and-convergence policy was first put forward by the Global Commons Institute in the early 1990s. It requires an agreed international limit on greenhouse gas emissions that would avert the worst consequences of climate change, calculated on a global per capita basis. Countries would then work towards a convergence of their annual per capita emissions.

Grayling argued that the contraction-and-convergence approach to cutting emissions had a better chance of support from America, Australia and developing countries that have not signed up to the Kyoto Protocol.

Although environmentalists have discussed the contraction-and-convergence policy for a number of years, commentators were quick to hail its promotion by IPPR as significant, given the think-tank’s close links to New Labour.

Professor John Whitelegg of the Green Party said: “IPPR’s new statement isn”t hugely significant in itself. The Greens pointed out when the Kyoto Protocol was first agreed that although it provided a useful framework it would achieve nothing if it didn’t set meaningful targets.”

Whitelegg nevertheless conceded the IPPR statement was “something of a milestone, because the IPPR often serves to help draw the government’s attention to views that others have been advocating for some time. ”

A spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs told Red Pepper that the government still sees the Kyoto mechanism as the only international method that will deliver greenhouse gas emission reductions. The spokesperson said: “It is an essential tool in combating climate change. Any other policies which might well work will have to come on top of Kyoto.”

The spokesperson pointed out that unlike the Kyoto protocol, the contraction-and-convergence policy had not been internationally agreed, and said it was unlikely that it could be easily agreed with other countries.

The intervention by IPPR in the Kyoto debate was not applauded by all quarters of the environmental lobby however. Roger Higman, Senior Climate Campaigner at Friends of the Earth told Red Pepper: “It is extremely dangerous to say [Kyoto] is flawed. It is a first step, but it is not perfect. The most important thing is that Kyoto is ratified.”

“It has taken 13 years to come up with an agreement. A replacement would only start from where we are now. That is 13 years of pollution and nothing will be done to stop it.”

Higman said Friends of the Earth broadly supported the contraction-and-convergence model and believed that emission allocations for different countries should be reflective of different population levels. However, he said the “most important thing to stress to people is that Kyoto must be ratified and then we can move beyond it.”

The Kyoto Protocol was agreed by 180 countries in December 1997. Under the Protocol, the international community agreed to begin cutting emissions of greenhouse gases by using renewable energy schemes, increasing energy efficiency and developing technologies that do not emit CO2. Industrialised countries accepted targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions to an average of 5 per cent below their 1990 levels, by 2010, as a first step.

However, President George Bush unilaterally withdrew the USA from the Kyoto Protocol in 2001, arguing that the American economy would be undermined, and that it was unfair that developing nations such as China and India were not making cuts.

The mechanism of the Kyoto Protocol requires Russia, the second biggest CO2 polluter after the USA, to ratify the Protocol for it to come into force. Environmentalists around the world are nervously waiting to see if Russian President Vladimir Putin will make the necessary commitment to the Protocol. Without Russian support, the entire agreement is likely to fall apart.

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