As climate change treaty comes into force, UK research group calls for change of approach

As the Kyoto Protocol at last comes into force, UK-based research group The Corner House has published a statement on climate change which calls for a radical rethink of the way in which the huge environmental catastrophe facing the world should be tackled.

In response to a call for submissions for an enquiry conducted by the UK Parliament's Environment Audit Committee, The Corner House and two other groups, SinksWatch and Carbon Trade Watch, have submitted written evidence arguing that one of the cornerstones of the Kyoto Protocol is simply not going to work. The enquiry, entitled "International Challenge of Climate Change: UK Leadership in the G8 and EU" will look in particular at the feasibility of emissions trading systems as a framework for negotiating a post-Kyoto Protocol international climate agreement.

According to the three groups' submission, international emissions trading systems as currently conceived are not feasible. This is because, they say “all trading systems in which the state allocates large quantities of free emissions rights to business” will turn out to be ineffective, while “inegalitarian” features will lose them political support.

At the same time, mixed trading systems – where both allowances for the emissions of carbon dioxide from fossil fuel combustion and credits for reducing or offsetting such emissions are available to be traded – generally involve “an additional regressive global redistribution of land, water, air, forests and other goods, which also renders them politically and environmentally unsustainable.”

An alternative, more egalitarian way of conducting carbon trading, known as “Contraction and Convergence” at least “reflects the need for effective climate action over realistic time periods.” The only problem is, it wouldn't work, and in any case the current neoliberal domination of international relations means that genuine equality will not be built into any system likely to be accepted.

In fact, this is the basic problem. While it might be possible to design a carbon trading system which did work, this is not going to happen in the current political-economic climate while, as the submission points out, “numerous more effective, more efficient, and more egalitarian alternatives exist both to emissions trading systems and to the particular types of emissions trading system currently in vogue.”

A real attempt to tackle climate change, and one which might actually be effective, must begin with the halting of subsidies for “continued exploration, extraction, exploitation and burning of fossil fuels.” Instead of such subsidies, governments should “support and foster communities' and local authorities' existing attempts to follow low-carbon ways of life; institute deeper cuts in carbon use; respect regional decisions to exclude mining or refining of fossil fuels, power production, and so forth; and support energy efficiency, renewables, non-fossil-fuelled technologies and responsible tree-planting without trading them for continued fossil fuel extraction.”

If the UK truly wants to exercise “leadership” it should give up “the objective of maximizing the flow of fossil carbon” - coal and oil - “whether through subsidies” or “indirectly, through emissions trading.” Instead, “the ending of subsidies for fossil fuel extraction and exploitation must go hand in hand with an abandonment of emissions trading, particularly mixed trading systems, and with new support for efficiency, renewables, and community-based sustainable energy.”

To read the full text of the “Memorandum on emissions trading systems and international climate agreements” go to

The Environmental Audit Committee's website is at

See also – 47k,10,04.htm