NYTimes Gets "Lessons from Kyoto" Right

December 7, 2009 | Jesse Jenkins,

A new info-graphic from the New York Times, released today as UN climate talks begin in Copenhagen, looks at the "Lessons from Kyoto," the global treaty that's ongoing fate will be the focus of UN climate negotiations beginning today in Copenhagen, Denmark.

The graphic gets the lessons pretty much dead-on, including how little actual progress any nations have made towards meeting their Kyoto "obligations." As the Times notes, "The legacy of the Kyoto Protocol is mixed." Of the 36 wealthy nations who agreed under the 1997 treaty to cut their emissions by an average of 5% below historic 1990 levels, just 18 are on track to meet their targets, almost all of them in Europe.

Kyoto Progress.png


As the graphic illustrates, the bulk of these "successful" nations are former members of the Soviet bloc, and almost all saw deep economic declines after the fall of the Soviet Union, which conveniently occurred after the 1990 emissions baseline year used in the Kyoto treaty. Deindustrializing Eastern bloc nations, including East Germany, saw big cuts in their emissions and made compliance with the Kyoto protocol easy. Better yet, for these nations, exceeding their Kyoto "obligations" left them with excess credits under the treaty framework that they could sell to other nations struggling to cut their own emissions.

East Collapses.png

As the Times notes, 19 other nations subject to the Kyoto treaty are not on track to meet their emissions targets. Most have seen emissions grow with little hope of complying with Kyoto due to surges in economic growth and activity, including Canada (where emissions shot up through development of the Alberta tar sands for heavy oil extraction), Spain and Portugal (who's economies boomed over the last decade) and even green-minded Ireland and New Zealand (who's growing economies drove emissions up roughly 20% above 1990 levels).

The United States, meanwhile, never ratified the Kyoto Protocol, yet saw emissions grow at a slower rate than many Kyoto countries, including each of those mentioned above.

US v Kyoto Countries.png


Emissions have soared in rapidly developing China and India. Major developing nations were not subject to any requirements to cut emissions or drive clean development under the Kyoto treaty framework.

China.png


Essentially, as the Times info-graphic clearly illustrates, the "Lessons from Kyoto" are clear: economic trajectories, and little else, determined emissions outcomes under the targets and timetables focused Kyoto Protocol.

Without a proactive and massive shared global effort to sever economic growth from emissions by accelerating clean technology innovation and deployment, the Copenhagen summit now underway shouldn't be expected to produce a dramatically different outcome than it's Kyoto predecessor, despite likely "participation" from the U.S. and big developing nations like China this time around.

Check out the full, interactive info-graphic at the New York Times here. All graphics in this post from NYTimes.