Academic journal article The George Washington International Law Review

Carping at Kyoto

Academic journal article The George Washington International Law Review

Carping at Kyoto

Article excerpt

The Collapse of the Kyoto Protocol and the Struggle to Slow Global Warming David G. Victor. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2001. PP. 178, $19.95 (Hardcover).


To the surprise of many observers, international climate change negotiators reached agreement on most of the key political issues relating to the implementation of the Kyoto Protocol at the meeting in Bonn, Germany, in July 2001. The agreement involving 178 nations (with the important exception of the United States) opens the door to the possibility that the Protocol might enter into force in time for the tenth anniversary of the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, where world leaders first embraced the need for global action to protect the climate.1

One would not know any of this-nor would one suspect that such a development was even possible-from reading David G. Victor's The Collapse of the Kyoto Protocol and the Struggle to Slow Global Warming.2 While it must be noted that Victor's book was published several months before the July 2001 meeting, the author dismisses outright the ability of the nations of the world to reach consensus on many of the key issues that were, in fact, resolved in Bonn. Negotiators still must iron out a number of technical matters, but the state of accord in Bonn throws cold water on the claims of Victor and other nay-sayers that the Kyoto Protocol could not be completed and ought to be scrapped entirely in favor of alternative approaches.

Victor does, however, offer some valid criticisms of various aspects of the Kyoto Protocol. For example, he argues very forcefully and very correctly that the emissions reductions targets in the treaty are overly ambitious. In addition, Victor's recommendations for additional research and more funding for adaptation initiatives are all sound and worthwhile. In the end, however, The Collapse of the Kyoto Protocol itself collapses under the weight of the author's dogged yet overwrought effort to create a Kyoto alternative that is no better and, moreover, might be worse than the original agreement.


First negotiated in 1997 in Kyoto, Japan, the treaty commits industrialized countries to legally binding limits on their emissions of greenhouse gases, which most of the world's top scientists now agree are an important factor in global climate change. The Protocol was in direct response to the fact that very few countries were engaged in serious efforts to reduce emissions contributing to global warming voluntarily, as they had agreed to do under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) adopted at the Earth Summit in 1992.

The Kyoto Protocol therefore requires countries to reduce or limit their emissions of greenhouse gases in relation to 1990 levels, with different countries agreeing to different emission targets. The Protocol also includes an initial outline of how countries can achieve their targets, for example, by making emission reductions at home, trading emission credits with others and using "sinks" such as farms and forests to remove carbon from the atmosphere.

Even after three years of hard work, however, the rules that would allow the Kyoto Protocol to enter into force were still unfinished when the representatives of 182 governments gathered in The Hague in November 2000 to begin the latest round of negotiations. This is around the time that Victor was wrapping up work on his book.

As if to prove correct Victor's pessimistic assumptions about the Protocol's fate, the talks in The Hague broke down over such seemingly arcane but critically important questions as how to define forest and soil management and how to count these activities toward a country's emission reduction target.3 The breakdown of the negotiations in the Dutch capital was followed just four months later by the Bush Administration's announcement that the United States had no interest in seeing the Kyoto Protocol enter into force. …

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