A Free-Market Energy Blog

As the Kyoto Protocol Dies, Remember Those Who Called It (Part I)

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- December 26, 2012

“It’s the weakest text I have ever seen. It’s a travesty of the process and commitments. It can be summed up in two words: We’ll talk.”

– Farukh Khan, Pakistan lead negotiator, quoted in Lisa Friedman, “After A Bruising Parley, Climate Conference Veers Toward a Successor to Kyoto Pact.” E&E Climate News, December 19, 2012.

“The total efforts of the last 20 years of climate policy has likely reduced global emissions by less than 1 percent, or about 250 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year.”

– Bjorn Lomborg, “Climate Course Correction.” Foreign Policy, October 2012.

Notable voices with the conviction to speak truth to power predicted the futility of the global global-warming agreement of 1997, better known as the Kyoto Protocol. Of course, the rent-seekers applauded the prospect of new competitive space–such as Enron with its seven profit-centers. And so did anti-industrial environmental groups, who welcomed something over nothing and then tried to tongue-lash the world into believing that a post-carbon world was viable and thus the inevitable future. (It was neither.)

A review of insightful quotations from a decade or more ago is timely with the end of the original Kyoto compliance period (2008–12). Yes, several weeks ago at Doha, Qatar, the United Nations’ annual climate conference (COPS 18) extended the compliance period by five years. But with few nations under any real obligation, and even fewer in compliance, the Kyoto agreement is a dead man walking.

The quotations follow:

“The strategy behind the Kyoto Protocol has no grounding in economics or environmental policy.”

– William Nordhaus and Joseph Boyer, “Requiem for Kyoto: An Economic Analysis,” The Energy Journal, Special Issue, International Association for Energy Economics, 1999, p. 125.

“I can find virtually no one—in government, in the environmental community, in business or in the press—who thinks that the Kyoto Protocol has even the proverbial snowball’s chance in hell of coming into effect in anything approaching its current form. This is every bit as true internationally as it is in the United States.”

– Paul Portney, “The Joy of Flexibility: U.S. Climate Policy in the Next Decade,” Keynote Address, Energy Information Administration Annual Outlook Conference, March 22, 1999, p. 2.

“The challenge now is to renovate the baroque structure that the Kyoto Plan has become—or else scrap it and get ready to start all over.”

– Christopher Flavin, “Global Climate: The Last Tango,” Worldwatch, November/December 1998, p. 18.

“Even among industrial countries, the differences in emission levels, economic structures, and political philosophies are so wide that no single goal has universal logic. Once governments began differentiating the goals in Kyoto, the negotiations became a political free-for-all that undermined the credibility of the entire process. In addition, by bundling together six gases, and adding the highly complicated issues of sinks and trading to the protocol, the negotiators have created an agreement that will be nearly impossible to review or enforce, and that at best sends an ambiguous signal to governments and industries.”

– Chris Flavin, “Last Tango in Buenos Aires,” Worldwatch, November/December 1998, p. 18.

“European officials publicly condemned the U.S. action, but—in private—they may have breathed sighs of relief. Many governments could not deliver on their ambitious Kyoto promises. As the Canadian environment minister stated, ‘Europe adopted a position they knew would force the United States to pull out.’”

– Robert Stavins, “President Bush’s Withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol Provides Opportunity for Meaningful Action,” Policy Matters 01-11, AEI-Brookings Joint Center for Regulatory Studies, April 2001, p. 1.

“[The Bush Administration] believe[s] the Kyoto protocol could damage our collective prosperity, and in so doing, actually put our long-term environmental health at risk. Fundamentally, we believe that the protocol both will fail to significantly reduce the long-term risks posed by climate change and, in the short run, will seriously impede our ability to meet our energy needs and economic growth.”

– Larry Lindsey, Assistant to the President for Economic Policy, Speech to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, May 3, 2001.

“It is becoming increasingly clear that the targets in the Kyoto Protocol cannot and will not be met on the established timetable in the United States and elsewhere.”

– Eileen Claussen, “Kyoto—The Best We Can Do or Fatally Flawed?,” Speech before the Royal Institute of International Affairs, London, England, June 20, 1999, p. 4.

“The dim prospects for ratification center on how disruptive and how expensive it would be for countries, particularly the United States, to achieve their target reductions. . . . With the robust economic expansion of the past decade, the required U.S. reduction amounts to ‘a 30% reduction beneath business as usual,’ notes climate researcher Tim Wigley of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado. ‘Can you imagine the United States in the next 10 years doing that?’”

– Richard Kerr, “Can the Kyoto Climate Treaty Be Saved From Itself,” Science, November 3, 2000, p. 920.

“Nobody is going to give away the farm in Kyoto. It is not anybody’s to give away. And even if the United States Senate would actually ratify a bad treaty, anything called for under the treaty would require legislation passed through both houses.”

– Thomas Schelling, “Commentary,” Charls Walker, et al., eds., The Impact of ClimateChange Policy on Consumers: Can Tradable Permits Reduce the Cost? (Washington: American Council for Capital Formation, 1998), p. 19.

“If the relatively rich participating countries want to stabilize atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases, they will have to pay at least some poor countries to reduce their emissions. Achievement of substantial reduction in this way implies international transfers of wealth on a scale well beyond anything in recorded history. There is no effective political support for such a Herculean effort, particularly in the United States.”

– Henry Jacoby et al., “Kyoto’s Unfinished Business,” Foreign Affairs, July-August 1998, p. 60.

“Kyoto is likely to yield far less than the targeted emissions reduction. That failure will most likely be papered over with creative accounting, shifting definitions of carbon sinks, and so on. If this happens, the credibility of the international process for addressing climate change will be at risk.”

– Henry Jacoby et al., “Kyoto’s Unfinished Business,” Foreign Affairs, July-August 1998, p. 64.

“The general nature of the commitments contained in the [Climate] Convention would, in any case, prove difficult to enforce. These factors explain why parties have not endowed the supreme body of the Convention, the [Conference of Parties], with the authority to impose legally binding consequences on a Party in the event of non-compliance. Thus at present, no legal body exists to enforce compliance in the climate change context.”

– Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Climate Change 2001: Mitigation (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2001), p. 432.

“When developing domestic policies to meet their emissions limitation commitments under the Kyoto Protocol, some Annex I Parties may wish, or be under pressure, to impose less stringent obligations on some industries to improve their competitiveness.”

– Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Climate Change 2001: Mitigation (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2001), p. 438.

“The difficulty of achieving a global agreement on climate change underlined in the previous sections depends on four main factors: The heterogeneity of countries with respect to the causes of climate change, the impacts, and the mitigation and adaptation costs. . . . The strong incentives to free-ride on the global agreement and the lack of related sanctions. . . . The absence of environmental leadership . . . [and] the focus on a single international climate agreement.”

– Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Climate Change 2001: Mitigation (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2001), p. 627.

“When all countries agree to control emissions, a defecting country achieves the whole benefit, because its incidence on global emission is marginal (with a few exceptions) and pays no cost. Hence a defection with respect to a large coalition is the optimal strategy if there are no sanctions. However, credible sanctions are difficult to design. Emissions themselves are hardly a credible sanction, because countries are unlikely to sustain self-damaging policies.”

– Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Climate Change 2001: Mitigation (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2001), p. 627.

“Instead of its usual cautious diplomatic tone, [the International Energy Agency] is telling its members, this time in plain language, that the Kyoto goals will be very hard to reach, that action will involve both cost and pain and that there is no time to lose.”

– Robert Priddle, “There Is No Time To Lose,” Petroleum Economist, May 1999, p. 6.

“With each passing year the difficulty of meeting any fixed quantitative target increases progressively. Moreover, plausible estimates of when the Protocol would go into effect leave such a small window of time before the first commitment period that achievement of the Kyoto targets will eventually pass out of reach.”

– Henry Jacoby and Ian Sue Wing, “Adjustment Time, Capital Malleability and Policy Cost,” The Energy Journal, Kyoto Special Issue, p. 73.


  1. Ed Reid  

    The entire IPCC process is an example international rent seeking gone berserk.


  2. Ed Reid  

    IPCC above should have been UNFCCC in this context.


  3. Robert Hargraves  

    Did you know that the Kyoto Protocol (just renewed) prohibits nations from meeting CO2 reduction commitments by substituting nuclear power?

    “To recognise that Parties included in Annex I are to refrain from using certified emission reductions generated from nuclear facilities to meet their commitments under Article 3.1”

    This international political insanity has continued for a dozen IPCC sponsored meetings from Kyoto to Copenhagen to Durban to Doha. The only way to solve the climate/energy/poverty crises is not treaties but better technology — energy cheaper than coal.



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