Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Kyoto: Hard Law Failure, Soft Law Success?

{Even if George W. Bush manages to save some face by pulling out a Middle East Peace Deal, he will deserve to be remembered as the world figure most responsible for undermining the Kyoto Accord as a binding international treaty, totally abdicating leadership on, and responsibility for, climate change--in effect denying the seriousness of the issue-- for more than 6 years. It should be remembered, however, that Kyoto has nonetheless provided the world with practicable, scientifically-based global standards on carbon and GHG emissions for a decade and that these have guided policies of many governments and non-state actors, particularly in the United States of America. While the Kyoto Accord has failed to bind most major industrial countries, it has affected most of them, and has provided a single universal yardstick for all of them-- a yardstick by which the U.S. has done considerably better than Canada has. The "bright side" of the American situation is well described by Patricia Pearson in her column "Good News" , reproduced below.--MC}

Green America
Friday, November 30, 2007 10:23 AM ET

The other day, a friend and I were nursing some drinks in a bar and feeling morose about the latest UN report on climate change. I don’t know if you caught the warning, about how, if the United States and other major carbon emitters didn’t swiftly subscribe to Kyoto-style regulations, the world would soon resemble something ‘out of science fiction.’
“Only scarier,” I believe is how Indian scientist Rajendra Pachauri put it to the press.
His analogy is actually a bit unfair, inasmuch as sci-fi is often both highly imaginative and very hopeful. Humans exist in the future, for one thing, and have interesting vehicles and outfits.
But my friend was rendered terribly disconsolate.
“What are we supposed to do?” she lamented. “If the Americans won’t even budge on this we’re … well …” she threw up her hands, and began musing that she needed to move some place quiet and practise survivalism.
I reassured her by pointing to the good news: the United States is, by nature, irrepressibly entrepreneurial and inventive. It is also highly decentralized, and this fact sometimes escapes us. Hundreds of American jurisdictions at the state, county and city levels have ignored Washington’s spectacular indifference to environmental crisis, which is what we see in terms of the international treaties, and are moving ahead by leaps and bounds to curb greenhouse gas emissions and forge a profitable green economy regardless of what goes on in Washington.At last count, for example, more than 700 American cities had become signatories to the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, which is meant to bring them into line with the emissions cuts called for by Kyoto. Collectively, they govern more than a quarter of the U.S. population.
They don’t care what the Bush administration thinks. Not even some of the largest American corporations are in line with Washington at this point. A remarkable consortium of them officially begged Bush last summer to regulate greenhouse gases.
Meanwhile, the states of California, Washington and Oregon have entered into their own little pact called the West Coast Global Warming Initiative, which mandates a whole set of regulations and restrictions.
“Arguably,” notes Patrick Mazza, research director at Climate Solutions in Washington state, “Northwest states and cities are several years ahead of the American curve as a result,” and are “already beginning to level off global warming pollution.”
Indeed, California – under Republican ‘governator’ Arnold Schwarzenegger – has brought in the toughest emissions and energy efficiency standards in the country. (Has Stephen Harper been inspired by this fellow conservative’s example? No, he has not. Harper wouldn’t recognize a global opportunity if it stood up in his soup.)
California’s non-partisan think tank “Next 10” recently issued a study of the state’s efforts called “The Green Innovation Index,” which shows that California’s per capita energy consumption has now fallen below 1990 levels. Next 10 also reports that, when polled, 85 per cent of Californians have been persuaded that prosperity can go hand in hand with lowering greenhouse gas emissions. Eighty five per cent, that’s a huge number of people out of a population of 30 million, minus children and starlets.
Not surprisingly, Americans being Americans, the whole crisis has taken on an air of entrepreneurial optimism. At a speech in Seattle in early November, former president Bill Clinton told his audience that the challenge of climate change was “a godsend. It is,” he explained, “in my personal view, for the United States, the greatest economic opportunity since we mobilized for World War II.”
To get some sense of the dynamism at play here, it’s worth paying a visit to a handful of websites. Check out, for instance, worldchanging.com and treehugger.com, two sites out of Seattle and New York, respectively, that have become must-reads for people captivated by possibility rather than gloom.
Worldchanging.com is a wonderful compendium of news from around the world about innovations and trends in building a sustainable future. This month’s topics include “Green building in small-town America,” “Costa Rica and New Zealand on Path to Carbon Neutrality,” “Eating Local During the Dark Days of Winter,” and “the Eco-Friendly, Net Zero Energy Potato Chip.” (You’ve probably never thought of the energy expenditure of a potato chip. I have. Last summer, out of idle curiosity, I placed a Pringles on the edge of my marshmallow toasting fork and lowered it into a bonfire. To my perturbed amazement, it proceeded to flame for a good three minutes like an oil-soaked torch. I think Worldchanging was referring to the production process, not the hitherto unrecognized potential for reading by chip lamp. But I’ve been meaning to tell someone about the Pringle.)
The self-mockingly titled Treehugger, meanwhile, is a site founded by ex-patriate Canadian Graham Hill, who says he was inspired after reading David Suzuki. Here you can find a slew of practical guides about how to lighten your carbon footprint. Treehugger also highlights news and innovations, (the booming American market in biofuel; how the Chinese are going nuts for solar panels; a newly unveiled edible shoe cream.) But its strength lies in its how-to guides. You can learn – if you must – “how to green your baby” or “how to green your wedding.”
Obviously, Americans are gaily learning how to green their wallets, and that, for all the foibles and missteps that are bound to happen along the way, is welcome news indeed


ilexpert said...

Hmmm, quite interesting ... iam a student of law and a blogger on law and economics from India. we in india love to chide the Americans for not falling in line but we never were aware of the positive side that you brought out

btw,i blog on thenewagegrotius.blogspot.com where i discuss solutions to global warming

thenewagegrotius said...

thats gr8; iama blogger from india and am presently doin some posts on global warming. we in the developing states did not know ofthe decentralised nature of American polity that can help the fight against the GHG emissions.

kudos! i blog at thenewagegrotius.blogspot.com

Mark Crawford said...

Thanks, grotius! Just today I was in the travel agency and talking to an agent about purchasing offsets. She said that there was a group called cleanerclimate.com that has partnered with that agency and which provides a useful page for travellers to calculate how much their GHGs are and how much suitable offsets would cost.

See eg flighcentre.ca