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Thursday, October 06, 2011
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Key Steps on Global Warming Agreed in Cancun… Now What?

By Guest Author, Jonathan Smith, Yale Law School, J.D. '12; Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, M.E.M. '12

The binding international greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets of the Kyoto Protocol are set to expire next year, but global greenhouse gas emissions show no signs of halting themselves.  All eyes are focused on this December’s Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Durban, South Africa to see how, if at all, the emissions reduction targets of Kyoto will be extended past 2012. The Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy invited NRDC’s International Climate Policy Director, Jake Schmidt, to talk about recent developments in international climate negotiations, and what we can expect from Durban, as part of the Center’s new Climate Change Solutions: Frontline Perspectives from Around the Globe webinar series.

Jake’s presentation, entitled Key Steps on Global Warming Agreed in Cancun… Now What? (recording available here) focused on the major unresolved issues from last year’s conference in Cancun that are likely to be discussed and negotiated at Durban, including the transparency of each country’s emissions data, accountability of each country’s emissions reduction targets, and new funding pathways such as the Green Climate Fund. But of course, the elephant in the room is the conclusion of the Kyoto Protocol obligation period. With Kyoto as the ostensible driver of national greenhouse gas emissions reduction commitments the world over, significant changes to, or non-continuation of, Kyoto has the potential to throw a wrench in the best-laid plans of politicians, negotiators, and activists.

But, as Jake highlighted, many countries have recently been taking decisive emissions reduction action seemingly without direct relation to obligations under Kyoto. For example, neither of the top two emitting countries, China and the United States, has binding reduction targets under Kyoto, but both are nevertheless taking political action to reduce domestic greenhouse gas emissions. China is a party to Kyoto but not listed as an Annex I country, and thus has no binding emissions targets. Yet its most recent Five-Year Plan has made emissions reduction promises formed at the Copenhagen conference into binding domestic law, and Chinese investment in clean energy technologies continues to rise. The United States, which has not ratified the Kyoto Protocol, is nevertheless also following through with policies to reduce emissions such as higher fuel efficiency standards and revising emission standards for power plants. The U.S.’s energy-related CO2 emissions have decreased since 2005, and the U.S. Energy Information Administration predicts that just with the policies of today, emissions will stay below 2005 levels until at least 2035.

Globally, clean energy investments increased 30% from 2009 to 2010, and 2010 was the first year that nearly half of new energy capacity was non-fossil in nature. It is statistics like these, and proactive national emissions reduction actions like those above, that provide glimmers of hope for climate policy post-Kyoto. As Jake notes, the question is no longer if countries will take action, but rather how much action will they take?

Posted in: Environmental Law & GovernanceEnergy & Climate

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