Kyoto: What’s to celebrate?

Here’s what’s really sad: the Kyoto treaty on global climate change which takes effect this week–minus the US, the world’s major producer of greenhouse gases by far–doesn’t even significantly address the problem, activists charge. In fact, some measures are downright counter-productive and could "open up a Pandora’s box of impacts we can’t even guess at,” according to Anne Petermann of the Vermont-based Global Justice Ecology Project.

In a Feb. 15 open letter to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, an international alliance of activists, the Durban Group, protests that the Kyoto Protocol’s call to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 5.2% below 1990 levels by 2012 falls far short of the 60% goal on an earlier timetable put forth by the scientific community as necessary to avert disaster. Worse still, the Protocol establishes a system of "carbon trading" whereby corporate polluters who exceed Kyoto’s standards can sell the right to spew carbons into the atmosphere to the highest bidder. Just last month, Danish power utility Energi E2 sold hundreds of thousands of dollars in pollution rights it had been granted free by Denmark’s government to Shell Oil after mild temperatures kept the utility’s carbon emissions below expected levels. Corproations can also earn pollution rights by sponsoring "carbon sinks" elsewhere around the world. Such sinks could include profit-making industrial plantations of genetically-engineered trees. Jutta Kill of the UK-based Sinkswatch scoffs at the concept: “You simply can’t verify whether a power plant’s emissions can be ‘compensated for’ by a tree plantation or other project." Ricardo Carrere of the World Rainforest Movement adds that “so-called carbon sink plantations will result in the further spread of monoculture tree plantations, which are already having enormous impacts on people and the environment.” In other words, this so-called environmental treaty gives corporate giants a license to pollute in exchange for projects in the developing world which are themselves environmentally destructive. “We’re creating a sort of ‘climate apartheid,’ wherein the poorest and darkest-skinned pay the highest price—with their health, their land, and, in some cases, with their lives—for continued carbon profligacy by the rich,” said Soumitra Ghosh of the National Forum of Forest Peoples and Forest Workers in India.

And this is the treaty which is being demonized as green totalitarianism by the Bush boys and professional free-market ideologues.