International Environmental Policy

International Environmental Policy

Interests and the Failure of the Kyoto Process

Sonja Boehmer-Christiansen and Aynsley Kellow

The Kyoto Protocol has singularly failed to shape international environmental policy-making in the way that the earlier Montreal protocol did. Whereas Montreal placed reliance on the force of science and moralistic injunctions to save the planet, and successfully determined the international response to climate change, Kyoto has proved significantly more problematic. International Environmental Policy considers why this is the case. The authors contend that such arguments on this occasion proved inadequate to the task, not just because the core issues of the Kyoto process were subject to more powerful and conflicting interests than previously, and the science too uncertain, but because the science and moral arguments themselves remained too weak. They argue that ‘global warming’ is a failing policy construct because it has served to benefit limited but undeclared interests that were sustained by green beliefs rather than robust scientific knowledge.

Chapter 4: The Kyoto Process

Sonja Boehmer-Christiansen and Aynsley Kellow

Subjects: economics and finance, environmental economics, environment, environmental economics, environmental politics and policy, politics and public policy, environmental politics and policy, european politics and policy


In June 1988 Canada sponsored an international conference on ‘The Changing Atmosphere: Implications for Global Security’. This was attended by 340 people from 46 countries, including two heads of state and more than 100 government officials, but it was not an officially sanctioned intergovernmental conference and government participants attended only in their personal capacities. Also attending were many scientists, industry representatives and environmentalists. Despite having no official status, the Toronto Conference issued a statement calling for a global framework convention, the establishment of a ‘World Atmosphere Fund’ to be part-financed by a levy on fossil-fuel consumption in industrialized countries, and an ambitious 20 per cent reduction in global CO2 emissions from the 1988 level by 2005. (A target of 60 per cent had been discussed, but Wolf Häfele argued against such a demanding target because the fast breeder reactor would not be ready in sufficient time to achieve this goal.) As we saw in the preceding chapter, nuclear interests were never far below the surface at this conference. This close relationship between interests and negotiating positions can be observed throughout the whole process, in particular in the negotiation of the Kyoto Protocol and subsequently. While much of the rhetoric surrounding these negotiations suggested that only the fossil fuel industry, OPEC countries and the Umbrella Group were driven by economic interests, such interests were inextricably woven through the positions of all parties. All were seeking both to maximize their interests in the development of international agreements and to reduce the...

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