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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.
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Chapter 5: The Failure of Principled Discourse

Interests and the Failure of the Kyoto Process

Sonja Boehmer-Christiansen and Aynsley Kellow


In 1991 there was conflict between experts at the US-based World Resources Institute (WRI) and non-Western scientists at India’s Centre for Science and Environment (CSE). WRI research focused on current GHG emissions, which, if they were to be cut, would place a higher burden on developing countries than would have been the case with a ranking based on cumulative emissions over a longer time. The burdens would have been different again if calculated as per unit area or per capita, or even per income group. The troublesome issue of ‘equity’ had been raised. The CSE group went so far as to argue that WRI’s methodology was flawed. It disregarded not only the West’s higher per capita emissions, but also placed the ‘essential’ agricultural emissions of the world’s poor (‘subsistence emissions’) on a par with ‘non-essential’ emissions from the world’s wealthy (‘luxury emissions’) (Jasanoff, 1998, 179–80; see also Hammond et al., 1991; Subak, 1991; Agarwal and Narain, 1991). It was not that a significant group of wealthy Indian citizens did not also emit at high levels per capita, but the general point was made: the reasons for emitting had been ignored and therefore given equal value. The ethical debates surrounding the climate change issue are more complex than this distinction allows, of course. The middle classes in industrializing countries are growing, so the distribution (not just the average per capita) of emissions among income groups inside countries should be part of any genuine ethical debate; anything else becomes a mere...

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