Kyoto – A Retrospective

Posted on Wed 07/30/2008 by



In one of the earlier posts (Kyoto 32) there was a comment made and the comment was a relatively simple one.

“I hope Kyoto will not fail.”

The actuality is that in all probabilities it already has failed, not because we have deliberately set out to make it fail out of sheer bloody-mindedness to purposely harm the environment, but because the original premise, (an ideal we could all aspire to) was inherently flawed.

Why is it flawed?

The very nature of the developed World is that it is industrialised. Because of that, vast amounts of electrical power are required. You may think I am concentrating a lot on electrical power when other areas of industrialisation also produce greenhouse gases, (in this case CO2) but the actual generation of that power accounts for 36% of that CO2 and is the largest single area producing that gas, in the main produced by burning coal in large coal fired power plants. This vast industrialisation means that 62% of that power is required in that sector while the lesser amount, only one third really, is used in the residential sector by households, this effectively being personal use, something we not only take for granted, but is now actually a staple of life.

To keep all that industrialisation going, that amount of power is required absolutely. It keeps us all in jobs, and without it, life effectively would just grind to a halt. This isn’t done to destroy the environment. It’s a by product, and I understand that sounds flippant, but that is not the intention.

To actually comply with the provisions of the Kyoto Protocol, you would need to shut down almost one third of all those coal fired power plants, and then find replacements for them. If the US produces nearly half its power from those coal fired plants, then effectively, that’s a cut of 15% of the total production of power. Now shutting all that down is not an option. It has to be replaced by less CO2 intensive means, so a way has to be found to replace them.

As I detailed in those 51 posts, this is something that might be able to be achieved, but it will come at an enormous cost and will take a very long time.

That doesn’t automatically mean this is a hopeless task, because it is being worked on within the US. People just have to get used to the idea that this is going to be achieved at that tremendous cost.

So, Kyoto itself. Why flawed?

(There is a distinct differentiation between the two words, developED, and developING, so keep that in your mind as you read here.)

The thrust of the Protocol is that those First World developed countries need to cut back their emissions. Those developing Countries, (automatically assumed to be the Third World) by their very nature are not industrialised, and because of that they do not produce a fraction of the electrical power that those First World countries do produce. Kyoto said that those developing countries are not subject to the Protocol other than to report their emissions.

Therein lies the dilemma, and what that then throws up is a further dilemma on two fronts.

If those developing countries are exempted from actually working towards a cleaner environment, then what actual physical difference will it make if we in those developed countries do cut back emissions, if as fast as we do it, those developing countries ramp up their emissions, replacing more than we cut back.

Stemming directly from that, two other things arise.

The first is this. We in the developed World will then effectively be cutting back on our standard of living if we cut back on power usage. For those replacement plants to come on line, if they can be introduced at all on a scale as large as what will be required, it will probably take decades, and that’s not just a worst case scenario, but the actuality of it. The theory has yet to be proved for large scale implementation, and only then can the scaling up and the construction take place. In the interim, our way of life will just have to change if we are to comply with Kyoto.

The second point is this. If we follow the premise that it is no good us doing this if the rest of those countries don’t also then do it, who are we to deny those countries the opportunity to move towards that better way of life. Here, consider the biggest two of those developing countries, China and India. They are not subject to Kyoto other than to report their emissions. However, only one family in six in both those countries has access to reliable electricity, or if the truth be known, has access to any electricity at all. Are we to say that they cannot have what we now take as a staple of life. See the point there.

Both those countries are ramping up their construction of power plants so that they can become like we already are. To that end, they are constructing the cheapest of all plants to build, (and here that means cheapest at the front end, because when the cost of the fuel, coal, is taken into account, then they are effectively more expensive than other forms of power production.) those coal fired power plants, the ones that produce the bulk of that greenhouse gas CO2. These plants, large by their very nature are also the quickest to construct and bring on line producing that electrical power.  Both China and India are currently bringing one of these large plants on line every seven to ten days, and that’s one in China AND one in India.

Effectively, within the US, to follow the outlines of the Kyoto protocol, you will be asked to shut down and somehow find replacements for 50 large coal fired plants. Those 50 plants might take up to 20 years to replace. Just China and India alone will bring on line that same number of coal fired plants in six to eight months.

If the US takes those twenty years to replace those plants, and that time is a best case scenario, then China and India, at the current rate of construction, will have added not only those 50 plants the US has shut down, but a vast number more, probably a multiplied factor of 30 times that many.

The Protocol is in force until 2012, when hopefully, a new Protocol will be introduced, and we can only hope that it is a better option than the one already in existence.

Even so, in that time, until Kyoto expires,  both China and India, if they continue at that current rate, they will have brought on line a further 300 coal fired power plants. This sort of puts the whole thing into stark relief right about now. Even then, the vast populace of both those countries will still not have access to reliable electrical power because as with the US, the bulk of that power will be required by Industry and commerce. So, for the people to actually get to the same level of power usage that we take for granted, construction of those plants will still have to go on at the same rate, and in other directions also, not just in the coal fired sector.

So, the two things again stand out. We go back a level in our standard of living, at enormous expense, and for a long time, or we ask that those developing countries be directed to follow our lead, and in so doing, we are then effectively denying them access to what we already have, a case of “Sorry, but you can’t have what we already have, for the sake of the environment.”

Either we go back to the dark ages or we allow them to move, not into the twenty first century, but into the last century.

If we ask them to cut back, we effectively condemn them to live in the poverty they are now living in, and to stay there forever.

Now the dilemma of Kyoto can be seen. It might seem like a win win situation, but in actual fact it’s a lose lose situation.

Anything we do will be utterly cancelled out, and long before it is even off the drawing board here.

Kyoto is flawed, not because of who it includes, but for who it leaves out. It’s a great thing to aspire to, but it is effectively unachievable in every respect. This is not an us and them situation.

Those amongst us who say that we need to show leadership and to start doing something like this are too sanguine in their outlook. We can make a start and show leadership, but if it is as bad now as we are being told, then if those developing countries do not come along with us, and the fact is that they cannot, then the start we make will be futile, saving the merest fraction while, through no fault of ours, or theirs, the situation becomes comprehensively worse.

That is the dilemma. What we the people need most is to be told the truth about the situation, and not just being scared into following an ideal that will cost us more than we have, and will come to no effect.

This is not the fault of The United Nations who implemented the Kyoto Protocol, because they can probably see the inherent futility of asking those developing countries to become used to the fact that they are resigned to living in poverty. This is the fault of those who might think it convenient not to tell us the whole truth.

I don’t have the answer. I’m just a tiny fish in a huge pond. The thing I really want to do is to bring the real implications to the forefront of people’s thinking, to try and inform people that just hoping Kyoto will not fail is not enough unless you know just what it really means.