Green Weenie of the Week: The Kyoto Keystone Kops

America’s tax system wasn’t the only thing that went over a cliff at midnight on December 31.  The Kyoto Protocol on climate change—the treaty I’ve called the most feckless and unserious act of international diplomacy since the Kellogg-Briand Pact—expired on December 31.

Despite all the best efforts of the worst people, there was no 11th hour rescue, no climate “grand bargain,” and not even a tax increase on the top 1 percent of emitters!  To the contrary, more nations announced that they would not participate in any successor treaty, starting with Russia (which only joined the first Kyoto when it looked like an opportunity to sell phantom carbon credits to western European suckers).  Ukraine may follow. Canada bailed months ago.

Want to know how big a farce Kyoto was?  Max Paris, the CBC’s environmental unit reporter, summarizes:

The controversial and ineffective Kyoto Protocol’s first stage comes to an end today, leaving the world with 58 per cent more greenhouse gases than in 1990, as opposed to the five per cent reduction its signatories sought.

Lorrie Goldstein of the Toronto Sun is even more direct:

As of today, the Kyoto protocol is a zombie treaty.  It’s a corpse that keeps moving, but it’s dead.

Kyoto died Monday at midnight when the greenhouse gas cuts it set for 37 industrialized nations between 2008 and 2012 expired.  But, just like the walking dead, it rose from the grave Tuesday because 195 countries at a UN conference in Doha, Qatar last month agreed to pretend it’s still alive.  They “extended” Kyoto, pending the ratification of a new treaty by 2015, to take effect in 2020.

In other words, they kicked the zombie down the road for a few more years, while agreeing to maintain the fiction among themselves that Kyoto is a “global” emissions treaty, when it actually covers only 15% of global emissions.

Notice something missing here, by the way?  Any notice from much of the American media.  The New York Times search engine comes up with no stories from the last seven days for the search term “Kyoto Protocol.”  Talk about epistemic closure.  But then media coverage of climate change in general continues to plummet:

Widespread drought, super-storm Sandy, and a melting ice cap failed to revive the media’s interest in climate change in 2012, with worldwide coverage continuing its three-year slide, according to a media database maintained by the nonprofit journalism site The Daily Climate.

The decline in the number of stories published on the topic — 2.4 percent fewer than 2011 — was the smallest since the United Nations climate talks collapsed in Copenhagen in 2009.

Meanwhile, Nigel Lawson (that Lord Lawson of Blaby to you and me), who served as Margaret Thatcher’s finance minister, won a bet with a leading climate campaigner, as the Global Warming Policy Foundation relates:

Oliver Letwin, David Cameron’s chief policy adviser, has conceded defeat in a £100 climate policy bet with Nigel Lawson which they had agreed four and a half years ago.

Towards the end of a climate debate between the two Conservative heavy-weights in the July 2008 issue of Standpoint, the following exchange took place:

Oliver Letwin: Nigel can’t know whether there is going to be a successor to Kyoto.

Nigel Lawson: Well, look, there’ll be an international agreement in the sense that there will be platitudes. The acid test is: will there be an agreement to have binding cutbacks for all participants on their carbon emissions? Instead of arguing about it, we could have a wager on it.

Oliver Lewtin: I’d be very happy to have a wager, and I offer you a £100 bet that before either of us is dead, whichever is the first — our estates can pay — we will see a very substantial agreement on carbon reduction.

Nigel Lawson: But I don’t think I want the bet to be “in my lifetime” because I’d like to get the £100. I’m sorry it’s such a modest amount you’re prepared to wager — it shows how unconfident you are — but I would like to be able to collect before I die. So I think we should say “by the time Kyoto runs out”, because there is meant to be no hiatus; there is meant to be a successor to Kyoto. So “by 2012 we will have the agreement” — maybe I’ll die before then, of course —but 2012 is the acid test.

Oliver Letwin: On the same basis, Nigel, I’m perfectly willing to take that bet too. The reason I’m willing to take the bet is that I know that the only way it can be made to happen is if we try to make it happen and if we build up the moral authority to make it happen by taking the steps ourselves.

Oliver Letwin has now conceded that Lawson has won the bet.

Lord Lawson comments:

“I made the bet because I knew I would win. It has always been blindingly obvious that the positions of Europe, the United States and China were much too far apart for a truly global successor to Kyoto to be negotiable.”

But here’s another bet you can win if you can find a sucker counterparty: the UN climate circus won’t fold up its tent and go away as it ought to.  Good times!  They’ll get shelves of Green Weenies down the road.

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