10/29/2007 10:32 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Kyoto a Go-Go

In Canada, the governing party has humiliated its opposition by forcing them to back down from their commitment to the Kyoto Protocols. The current pro-business, Big-Oil Prime Minister has deftly silenced the largest block of his opponents for the foreseeable future by threatening them with an election at the height of Canada's current prosperity.

Environmentalists are reeling at this sudden change in federal policy. Canada's Al Gore, Dr. David Suzuki, sent a copy of his influential book Sacred Balance to each Member of Parliament before the vote, urging them not "to ignore the...causes of our destruction of the planet and...[our] path to a sustainable future." In this important book, Suzuki argues that, "the environment...must transcend politics and become a central value of all members of society."

Despite Dr. Suzuki's overwhelming influence, however, the Canadian vote went against Kyoto. But following these events, other world leaders reaffirmed their commitment to the Kyoto targets. New Zealand's Prime Minister, David Parker, acknowledged that it is really a country's reputation that is at stake in holding to Kyoto commitments until a realistic replacement can be found. "New Zealand will have no brand image left...if we renege on...Kyoto", he said.

Currently, the scientific community is of two minds about the Kyoto Protocols. While everyone believes action on global warming and climate change is essential, many informed observers believe that Kyoto is just not working. In Nature this week, social scientists Gwyn Prins (LSE) and Steve Rayner (Oxon.) write that there is:

no evidence of Kyoto actually leading to reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, much less of stimulating the fundamental technological...required...Climate change is not amenable to an elegant solution because it is not a discrete problem. It is...a symptom of a particular development path and...It is impossible to change such complex systems in desired ways by focusing on just one thing.

(Nature, vol 449, p 973)

Meanwhile in New York, the United Nations released the genuinely frightening Global Environment, Outlook-4 report which claims that around the world water, land, air, plants, animals and fish are all currently in an "inexorable decline." The world's population, the report claims, has now reached a point where "the amount of resources needed to sustain it exceeds what is available." The collapse of fish stocks and worldwide extinction of species, it says, "may threaten humanity's very survival." It notes that by 2025, 2 billion people will suffer absolute freshwater scarcity around the globe.

Tactically, this report should not fall on deaf ears, since Kyoto's main opponents, the United States and Australia, are now in the grip of unprecedented, long-term droughts. The stern language of the UN's Outlook-4 lends considerable weight to the call by environmental ministers of many countries for standards of global environmental policy that will be much tougher than those of the Kyoto Protocols.

In December, the United Nations will host negotiations that are intended to create a replacement for the Kyoto Protocols that died definitively here in Canada yesterday. Bali is a good choice for such negotiations since Environment Minister Rachmat Witoelar warned in January that Indonesia could lose 2,000 small islands by 2030 due to a rise in sea levels as a result of climate change. Jakarta and Surabaya face similar threats. No one that comes here to negotiate the fate of the world this December will be able to ignore the cost in human life of our careless carbon consumption.

Kyoto is dead, but we will have Bali. Will it be enough?