Two degrees of separation The sustainability paradox from Kyoto to Bonn

Two degrees of separation The sustainability paradox from Kyoto to Bonn

Emissions reduction is at the core of global diplomatic action for the last three decades and 2017 marks the 20th anniversary of the notorious Kyoto protocol. Read through the first part of this article to know about the progress made so far and mitigation actions taken while we are busy promoting sustainability efforts.  

Adifference of only 2 degrees of Celsius today separates mankind from an impending natural disaster. This temperature increase above pre-industrial levels is estimated to occur over the next 30 to 50 years. In a few generations, mankind has created more damage than millions of years of natural history. Climate change is the most significant threat our world is facing, increasingly crucial for forums such as the COP summits, the G-7 and G-20. While you read these lines, the world bigwigs must have left the Bonn Summit, and the next appointment will be for December COP23. Emissions reduction and mitigation actions are at the core of global diplomatic action for 30 years, while 2017 marks the 20th anniversary of the notorious Kyoto protocol. Even as we are busy promoting sustainability efforts, can we truly admit to know about the progresses made at the global level? The macro perspective on climate change requires a long digression to clarify where the world stands in the challenge to preserve its own existence, to help us ponder over our role, as Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and sustainability professionals, in our daily commitment to promote better practices.

Climate change accords


1987: The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer phased out the limitation of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) used in air-conditioners and other appliances. The protocol has achieved a climate benefit. But CFC substitutes are on the rise with unquantified environmental impact.

1988: The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was created to review, assess, and synthesize global data and scientific information.

1992: The UN Conference on the Environment in Rio de Janeiro created the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) committing countries to “stabilizing GHG concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference” [Art 2 though doesn’t mention 2°C].

1995: In Berlin, the 1st Conference of Parties to the UNFCCC or COP1 outlined specific targets on emissions.

1997: (The Kyoto protocol): On December11, the first legally binding agreement to control emissions of the main anthropogenic greenhouse gases (GHG) was adopted in Kyoto, Japan.

The ratification obligations entail limitations by the first commitment period, Annex-I 2008-12, of the four major GHGs: carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O) and sulphur hexafluoride (S6), in addition to hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) and perfluorocarbons (PFCs) (and 1987s CFCs). The national or joint targets average 5 per cent reduction on 1990 emissions levels by 2012 and flexibility mechanisms that account historical contribution to climate change and ability to implement policies. Kyoto, in fact, introduced the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and the International Emissions Trading or a multinational carbon market, along with Joint Implementation, enacted through measuring, reporting and emissions verification (MRV) as well as the Adaptation Fund which incentivizes green investments in the developing world. Today, 192 countries have signed the agreement. Although rising GHG emissions demonstrated its failure, Kyoto represented the first critical global climate diplomacy step, with the positive effect of influencing domestic climate legislation across the world (e.g. UK’s 2008 Climate Change Act) (King, 2015) as well as setting the first carbon credits mechanism and green investment incentives. Nevertheless, its shortfalls were the missed inclusion of international aviation and shipping emissions, and mostly the absence of the world’s largest polluters, the United States and China, as well as BASIC countries (Brazil, South Africa, India and China), encouraged to adopt greener policies, but free from restraints.

2001-05: At the 2001 COP7, the Marrakesh Accords enforced the implementation of Kyoto, which in 2004 reached the 55 members needed to enter into force. On February 16, 2005, the treaty was ratified by almost 160 countries (not by the world’s largest emitters).

2007: The Bali Action Plan adopted new monitoring parameters for developed and developing countries to commit to measurable, reportable and verifiable mitigation. 

2009: The COP15 Copenhagen Accord in Denmark—including China and major developing countries—is a political agreement that recognizes the scientific view that increase in global temperature should be below 2°C, revealing strong political will to call for nationally appropriate (unspecified) mitigation actions with no legal bonder commitment to a second Kyoto. Copenhagen, marked by divisions but also unprecedented political attention, recognized the need to support developing countries with the goal to raise $100 billion per year by 2020 through the Green Climate Fund and the Adaptation Framework; established a process to enter mitigation pledges by 2010; pointed at deforestation, technology and MRV (Diringer, 2009). However, the much-needed implementation plan and post-Kyoto framework are deferred to South Africa.


2010: Some 76 developed and developing countries, responsible for 85 per cent of annual global emissions, made voluntary pledges in the COP16 Cancun Agreements to hold the increase in global average temperature below 2°C above preindustrial levels.

2011: The COP17 Durban Platform for Enhanced Action approved an extension of Kyotowith “legal force”. Durban formally included carbon capture storage in the absence of the US and while China, India, and Brazil suggested voluntary steps.


2012: Before Annex-I expiration, the COP18 Doha Accord or Doha Amendment extended the Kyoto protocol to a second commitment period (2013-20). Thirtyseven countries agreed on binding targets: the 28 EU states, Australia, Belarus, Iceland, Kazakhstan, Liechtenstein, Norway, Switzerland and Ukraine. The United States, Japan, Russia, Canada and New Zealand regretted participation; while other countries without commitments under Kyoto made voluntary pledges up to 2020. Further negotiations are postponed to Paris.


2013-14: The Green Climate Fund (GCF) in Songdo, South Korea, managed the Cancun commitment to raise $100 billion per year by 2020. In November, the COP19 Warsaw Mechanism for Loss and Damage set means for industrialized countries to render assistance to the developing world for adaptation to climate change. The Lima call for climate action adopted in the 2014 COP20 encouraged the 192 Kyoto parties to ratify the Doha Amendment.


2015 (The Paris Agreement): Adopted on December 12 at the COP21, the Paris Agreement is a separate instrument under UNFCCC rather than a Kyoto Amendment. Into effect since November 4, 2016, signed by 195 countries and ratified by 145, it is so far the most comprehensive climate agreement focused on limiting the temperature increase to 1.5°C and zero GHG emissions between 2050 and 2100 (Art 12; UNFCCC, 2017). Individual countries’ nationally determined contributions (NDCs) shall be the highest possible ambition (Art 3), although voluntary and politically-encouraged [rather than legallybound] and registered by the UNFCCC with MRV requirements or global stock take to assess implementation and progression over time through technical and peer review every five years.

2016: The first meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement (CMA1) at the Marrakech COP22 set 2017 as the deadline for operational consultation on NDCs, MRV and other negotiations.

2017: Last week, Bonn hosted the Paris Agreement side session, looking forward to the COP23 in December. Bonn is the countdown to turning the Paris vision into a reality in 2018, a pivotal technical and political consultation focusing on the stocktaking design (set for 2023) and the Rulebook of effective Paris’ implementation, within the uncertainty of President Donald Trump, the upcoming G-7, and doubts on the commitment and determination of countries around the world, especially in a period of financial crisis.



Looking at this historical account, we can easily admit that little has been done in the past 30 years to efficiently address climate change. The World Bank (2014) warned that present emission trends will plausibly enact a 4°C warming by the end of the century. IPCC reported that worldwide GHG emissions increased 35 per cent from 1990 to 2014. Kyoto, while putting climate change at the top of global issues, failed to effect concrete restrains, resulting in an overall emissions peak between 2005 and 2007. Role model countries are Costa Rica, Ethiopia, Morocco, Bhutan and Gambia (CAT, 2016)—too little if we consider that the top five emitters China, United States, European Union , India and Russia account for more than 65 per cent global emissions. Nonetheless, there are signs of improvement. The United States, second largest world emitter, reported in April that while overall GHG emissions increased 3.5 per cent from 2009 to 2015, 2015 was 11 per cent lower than 2005 (with fossil fuel combustion accounting 93.3 per cent of all CO2) while a greener industry trend is the most notable change over the past six years. The emissions of EU, global leader on climate change, reduced 24 per cent between 1990 and 2015, approximately 1.1 per cent per year (CAT, 2017). However, the 2030 goal to reduce domestic emissions at least by 40 per cent and the 2050 target of 80-95 per cent is far ahead.

The 147th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi in 2016 was chosen by India to ratify the Paris Agreement and the 2030 commitment to 20-25 per cent emissions intensity reduction of GDP on 2005 levels. While the ratification subdues carbon commitments to poverty eradication, India reported 12 per cent decrease in 2012 compared to 2005, although Climate Tracker notes that efforts are not consistent with Paris, whilst transparency is debatable. As the Economist noted, climate change diplomacy resulted in slow, dilatory and disappointing outcomes made of high profile commitments, poor implementation, and lack of international enforcement and dismissal of the world’s major emitters (2014). In addition, emissions reduction policies cannot be addressed without including topics such as deforestation, renewables, carbon capture and storage technology, global enforcement, effective domestic policy reforms both in developed and developing countries, and the involvement of the corporate world as prime actor. While corporate, non-profits and NGOs promote their sustainability efforts, governments around the world are busy harmonizing the correct semantics that may prevent a consistent responsibility for the collective good. The slowdown in applying Paris commitments will therefore require faster and consequently costlier national actions. Operationally, emissions control policies entail global, regional and national actors in a framework of short- and longterm strategies drastically affected by nationalism, weak enforcement, funding not commensurate with the challenge, slow political will, absence of the greatest emitters and financial uncertainty. As citizens of this world and parents of the new generation, we have the duty to understand what the global diplomacy and our nations have achieved in terms of protecting our Mother Earth. The next step of this conversation is analyzing the absence of corporate actors in the global climate change discourse and understanding their role in a global debate that affects each and every one of us.