Climate Change Treaties: Do They Work?

The Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement are the two “Big Boy” climate change treaties from the 2000s. Have they been working as efficiently as we need them to?

The unfortunate short answer to the question above is: no. Not really anyway. In this day and age, there’s no way you can deny that the climate is changing, rapidly, and not necessarily in a positive or progressive way. The ice caps are melting, the water levels are rising, bla bla bla — you’ve heard it a million times over.

According to a report released by the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), we literally have about 12 years left until it’s mayhem and we find ourselves fighting over things which we currently consider are a constant given; fresh water, for example. If you weren’t already convinced that the planet, then the IPCC’s report should definitely have captured your interest in how we can avoid a “climate Armageddon”….However, not all hope is lost my friends, even as we continue to toss gasoline on the fire (literally in some cases)! Chances are the government from wherever you may be reading this has signed or ratified some sort of climate agreement. You know, the Kyoto Protocol? The Paris Agreement? No? Alrighty then. Let Auntie Mel tell you a thing or two of the climate treaty scene and what’s been going on.

Let’s start with the Kyoto Protocol. Drafted in — you guessed it — Kyoto, Japan, the Protocol went into force in 2005 and is divided into two parts, or “commitments”: the first ranging from 2005 to 2012, and the second from 2013 to 2020. States who agree to become parties of this agreement have set targets for how much they will reduce their carbon emissions. You know how they say “different strokes for different folks”? Well in this case, it’s “different rates for different states”. But because you’re a curious bunch (we know our audience), the average percentage cut every country was aiming for was 5%. The majority of states have signed into it, except from the USA who never did(not very surprised there to be honest, you can’t tell ‘Murica what to do), Canada who withdrew before the end of the first commitment period, and Japan, New Zealand, and Russia who have decided not to take part in the second commitment period. But wasn’t the treaty drafted in……Nevermind.

The Kyoto Protocol first commitment period ended with a mix of successes and failures. Most European countries signatories to it saw a positive change, in that their emissions dropped. In that category, we can find countries like the UK, France, Greece, Poland, Austria, Italy, Latvia, Norway, Ukraine — you get the picture. If you’d like to see the full picture though, feel free to click riiiiiiight here.

However, because they’ve set different targets for different states, it’s not an easily comparable chart. You should also keep in mind that the Kyoto Protocol is aimed mostly at developed countries who have contributed more than significantly to the rapid change in climate we’ve experienced in the last decades (see: industrial revolution). In addition to this, the fact you can apparently pull out of the agreement kind of doesn’t make any sense, especially because it concerns something which would affect everyone regardless of age, gender, class, nationality…We’re all children of Mother Earth after all! While the first commitment of the Kyoto Protocol wasn’t an overall success, it still shone a light on the fact we need to be a united front when fighting for the climate. The clock is ticking my friends, and it’s ticking FAST.

Which is therefore not surprising when there were talks of a second climate agreement being drafted in Paris. The Paris Agreement, which went into effect in 2016, has an overall goal of keeping global warming below 2ºC above pre-industrial levels, and continue to make sure the temperature doesn’t increase to 1.5ºC above pre-industrial levels. Basically, the Agreement recognises we are walking an extremely thin line and asking states who are signatories to it to step up and limit your carbon emissions. What we think this Agreement actually shows though is just how political and controversial this “war” on climate has become. We’ve seen a rise in fascist and right-wing movements and parties in the last few years, to the point where Brexit is happening based on bullshit, Trump became president based on bullshit, and Bolsonaro, Brazil’s newest president, is ALSO full of bullshit (seriously, look it up, this guy is something else…), as he has essentially sold the Amazon to whoever is willing to pay for a spot. This means increased deforestation, displaced indigenous tribes, and breaking down an ecosystem which is already high at risk of being wiped out. Meanwhile, Trump withdrew from the Paris Agreement as soon as his toupée could catch up to his red tie.

So what’s the point of having these treaties and agreements with states if, a) you can withdraw out of them if you see it fit, and b) it doesn’t actually matter if you decide to sign them or not because you’re not at risk for being penalised if you don’t? People criticise diplomacy as weak and essentially a bunch of big words said by big people but with no results. In this sense, I’m going to have to agree. The United States, one of the world’s biggest polluters, is a part of neither of these agreements. Well, technically they’re still a part of the Paris Agreement thanks to the safeguards in the text, but as of 2020, the US would be able to completely withdraw from it. How are they possibly going to be held accountable if they don’t even recognise the need for their participation? Perhaps it’s time to take this issue from an international diplomatic stage to a more nationally focused one.

This is when our friends at Extinction Rebellion come in. Extinction Rebellion is an international movement working to fight against the potential of climate collapse. They are demanding governments and the media to tell the truth about climate change, that they become carbon neutral by 2025 and for a Citizens’ Assembly to oversee these changes. They’re advocating for that middle ground between “Oh I recycle my yoghurt pots!” to “we, as a country, have reduced our carbon emissions by X%”. In the UK, for example, there are over 50 various Extinction Rebellion (“XR” for short) groups, working towards those same goals but appealing to their local representatives to bring this matter to the big table, as a group, and find a solution, as a group, for policies more in line with climate preservation and the turn to renewable energy.

Friends, families, loved ones, or ones we don’t really like but like, still interact with: don’t worry. Well, you should worry, ’cause time’s-a-tickin’ and we need to get movin’. International treaties like the two we mention in this article can’t work to their full potential because national interests, or individual personal interests of those in our governments, get in the way. We try to come together, and yet somehow rarely see the result of these efforts. But there’s a million and one ways you can get involved and do your part for our planet.

Obviously keep recycling your trash, don’t take 2 baths everyday, and try taking the bus or cycling or even just walking to get where you need to, avoid single use plastic, bring your own shopping bags to the grocery store, get yourself a reusable water bottle; we can all agree those are small, everyday tasks are good for the planet. But there is so much more we can do, and not just with XR (although we obviously have a soft spot for them). We urge you to write to your MPs saying you want more environmentally responsible policies to be adopted, for example. Or better yet: check out Extinction Rebellion’s website for more ways you can get involved, whether it be participating in a roadblock or learning to become a facilitator for their workshops, or even starting your own local XR group! The way to move forward now is by getting and working together, it’s time to take matters into our own hands! The ways to get involved are like Cady Heron’s Mathlete question from the iconic movie “Mean Girls”:

The limit does not exist. The limit does not exist!

Until next time, stay fresh stay beautiful stay positive. Love one another and help one another, ’cause: we ain’t dED yet.

Peace & Love,