Wednesday, 27 March 2019

How Kyōtō needed to be done – an Australian perspective

In a recently-updated post from over three years ago, I pointed out that the Kyōtō Protocol failed because it was formed from alliances of nations with diametrically opposed interests regarding regulation of man-made greenhouse gas emissions.

As Key (1949) has demonstrated, a disorganised politics favours the “haves” over the “have-nots”. During the the Kyōtō Protocol, disorganisation of international alliances permitted the fossil fuel “haves” – Australia and the Gulf States with already the world’s highest per capita emissions – carte blanche to increase their emissions. A properly organised system of alliances would have seen these wealthy resource-exporting nations outnumbered and under fierce pressure from LDCs, SISs, high mountain states and the high-technology industrial nations for deep and rapid emissions reductions.
Per capita greenhouse gas emissions including land use change in 2000, around the time of the actual Kyōtō Protocol
As things stood, two greenhouse sceptic organisations – The Climate Council and Global Climate Coalition (Oberthür and Ott, 1999, page 45) – were able to control OPEC’s delegations and “miss few opportunities to slow down progress towards taking common action in international negotiations” (Oberthür and Ott, 1999, page 26). The oil exporters also (Årts and Janssen, 2003) developed a tight partnership with US fossil fuel businesses that effected elimination of any quantified emissions targers for these exceedingly high per-capita polluters.

In contrast the LDCs, SISs and the EU – the resource-poor pro-reduction countries – placed themselves in disparate blocs and failed to develop a plan to counter the OPEC nations, nor the analogous Australian greenhouse sceptic organisations who dictated policy there. Luomi (2011) has demonstrated how the LDCs – at least Muslim LDCs – were led and had their interests represented by oil states with opposing interests rather than the by EU with aligned interests. In fact, the effort to exclude “developing” nations was not done by the poor LDCs, but by wealthy oil exporters to prevent them having to make deep cuts that would necessarily extirpate the wealth of the oil sheikhs like the Al Sacud, Al Sabah, Al Thani, Al Nahyan and Al Maktoum families.

The most basic target at the world’s first climate change protocol (Koch, 2003, p. 147; Najam et. al, 2003) was to set an ecologically-based allowance of emissions per capita. The most logical basis for ecologically-based emissions allowance is energy consumption of native fauna measured by basal metabolism (Flannery 1994, Lovegrove 2000, Orians and Milewski 2007) as this should reflect each ecoregion’s naturally sustainable pattern of energy use. Knowledge of geographical patterns of human metabolism is very scanty; however what evidence does exist (Tranah et. al, 2011; Roberts, 1978, pp. 44, 94; Leonard et. al., 2002; Coon, 1965, pp. 16-17, 244-245) suggests similar patterns of metabolic rates.
Nation or group of nations
(average value)
Approximate relative homiotherm BMR
(Australia = 1; Lovegrove, 2000)
Allowable per capita emissions
(Australia = 1)
Actual per capita emissions
(Australia = 1)
Required reduction to meet parity
(assuming no nation increases emissions)
Arid subtropical Asia and North Africa
Southern Africa
1.25 to 2
(depending on taxon; higher for larger species)
Tropical Americas
Tropical Africa and Asia
(possible cap)
Enriched World (northern)
Enriched World (Southern Cone)
4 (Milewski, personal communication)
The above table does demonstrates why achieving deep and rapid reductions in Australian and Gulf States emissions constituted Kyōtō’s urgent task. The Protocol failed completely, and at great cost judging by the certainty of 2019 annual rainfalls in southern Australia of less than one quarter previous record lows.

The above table shows that the highest per capita emitters outside the Enriched World needed to be the countries set severe reduction targets at the first Kyōtō Protocol. Apart from Australia, South Africa and Malaysia, these nations correspond to the oil exporters (OPEC), although low-emissions Nigeria can be exempted. If we follow from the table above, we can estimate requisite emissions reductions in the table below:

Country Requisite Kyōtō emissions target (relative to 1985-1995) Actual Kyōtō emissions target Notes
Wealthy Lithophile Metal Exporters
Australia -93% +8%
  • Lowest allowable per capita emissions due to unique ecology.
  • Considerable room for investment in solar and geothermal technology to phase out coal power
  • Climate change severe threat to agriculture
  • Opportunity to meet substantial part of 93 percent reduction target via large-scale farmland revegetation
High-Emissions Siderophile Metal Exporters
New Caledonia -93% -8%
(as part of EU)
  • Low-energy ecology closely related to that of Australia
  • Emissions target as part of EU (French overseas territory), but per capita emissions higher than any EU nation and three times that of France itself
South Africa -50%
  • Low-energy ecology most similar to Australia of all remaining (sub)continents
  • Some potential for achieving large part of reductions by eliminating land clearing
Namibia -33%
  • Low-energy ecology most similar to Australia of all remaining (sub)continents
  • Mineral exports variable in geochemistry
  • Per capita emissions relatively low, but parity emissions very low
  • Some potential for achieving large part of reductions by eliminating land clearing
Middle Eastern and North African Oil Exporters
Kuwait -97%
  • In actual Protocol used the proxy of “developing countries” to be allowed carte blanche to increase emissions
  • Saudi Arabia may be third-largest global emitter with “fugitive” emissions (Lafleur 2020, in publication) counted
  • May require global efforts to reduce coal usage for any cooperation
  • Considerable solar energy potential due to abundant sunlight, but little other renewable potential
United Arab Emirates
Saudi Arabia -95%
Libya -93%
Iran -33%
  • Ecologically diverse, ranging from pure Enriched on Caspian to pure arid subtropical on Gulf
  • Amongst top ten total emitters, and top five with “fugitive” emissions (Lafleur 2020, in publication)
Tropical World Oil Exporters
Brunei -93%
Indonesia -50%
  • Historically very poor, but large per capita emissions from forest clearance
  • Possibility of achieving requisite emissions cuts via eliminating land clearing
Equatorial Guinea
Gabon -33%
  • Possibility of achieving requisite emissions cuts via eliminating land clearing
Other Tropical World Mineral States
Malaysia -50%
  • Possibility of achieving requisite emissions cuts via eliminating land clearing
  • Not an oil exporter, but very high per capita emissions when land use change is included
Papua New Guinea -50%
  • Not an oil exporter, but very high per capita emissions when land use change is included – although very low without them
  • All emissions cuts can only be achieved via eliminating land clearing
A plan to phase out coal – whilst anathema to Australia and South Africa – remained desirable as it would have been likely to mollify intransigent OPEC states, and coal is more carbon-intense than oil. Including land clearing – though opposed by AOSIS – I favour as it would have:
  1. allowed lower-income Tropical World mineral exporters to meet emissions targets at relatively low cost
  2. mandated large-scale revegetation of extremely ancient, climatically vulnerable agricultural soils of uniquely high conservation value in the West Australian Wheatbelt
  3. potentially lowered the severe education barriers to economic employment in the land- and resource-poor but uniquely eutrophic Enriched World
With this plan, the EU, LDCs, small-island and high mountain countries would have needed to make rigid demands on Australia, the Gulf States, and to a lesser extent South Africa. Undoubtedly, this would have involved greater sacrifices for all parties than the hopeless Protocol actually achieved, but vast emissions reductions by the wealthiest resource exporters. These nations have consistently been ranked the worst in the world for climate policy (Thwaites 2018; Marriott and Mortimore 2017), native ecology (Flannery 1994, Lovegrove 2000, Orians and Milewski 2007) dictates they be the world’s leaders in climate action, and large reductions by them would create large flow-on effects (Lafleur 2020, in publication).

Targets outlined above would have directly cut global emissions by no more than the targets of the actual Kyōtō Protocol. However, loss of fossil fuel and lithophile metal sources would have necessitated much more efficient use and reuse of these commodities by the big manufacturing nations. One would expect this improved efficiency to multiply reductions far beyond actual Kyōtō targets. Had a substantial proportion of the direct and indirect cuts proposed above been achieved by 2010, southern Australia and Central Chile would not be facing runaway drying with loss of over 90 percent of their virgin rainfall.

Methodology for “Ecological Parity” Emissions Targets:

In order to estimate relative per capita greenhouse gas emissions allowable for each nation, I:
  1. took the approximate average relative basal metabolic rate of that nation’s indigenous homiotherms
    • it being assumed that the sustainable energy consumption per capita of a nation’s human population should be related to that of homiothermic animals having evolved locally
    • BMR is the major contributor to faunal energy consumption, although field rates can be much higher in arid regions
  2. assumed that the allowable emissions would be proportional to each region’s average homiotherm BMR
  3. compared these with actual emissions to estimate the reduction required for parity with the ecoregion (Enriched) least above parity
  • Coon, Carleton S.; The Living Races of Man; published 1965 by Alfred A. Knopf
  • Flannery, Tim (1994); The Future Eaters: An Ecological History of the Australian Lands and People; ISBN 0730104222
  • Gannon, B.; DiPietro, Loretta and Pöhlman, Eric T.; ‘Do African Americans have lower energy expenditure than Caucasians?’; International Journal of Obesity, vol. 24, issue 1 (February 2000), pp. 4-13
  • Key, Valdimer Orlando (1949); Southern Politics in State and Nation, published 1949 by Alfred. A. Knopf, New York
  • Koch, Max (2003); Capitalism and Climate Change: Theoretical Discussion, Historical Development and Policy Responses; ISBN 978-1-349-32328-9
  • Lafleur, Dimitri (thesis); ‘Aspects of Australia’s fugitive and overseas emissions from fossil fuel exports’ (in print, online July 2020)
  • Leonard, William R.; Sorensen, Mark V.; Galloway, Victoria A.; Spencer, Gary J.; Mosher, M.J.; Osipova, Ludmilla and Spitsyn, Victor A.; ‘Climatic Influences on Basal Metabolic Rates Among Circumpolar Populations’; American Journal of Human Biology, vol. 14 (2002); pp. 609-620
  • Lovegrove, Barry G.; ‘The Zoogeography of Mammalian Basal Metabolic Rate’; The American Naturalist, vol. 156, no. 2 (August 2000), pp. 201-218
  • Luomi, Mari; ‘Gulf of Interest: Why Oil Still Dominates Middle Eastern Climate Politics’; Journal of Arabian Studies 1.2 (December 2011), pp. 249-266
  • Marriott, Lisa and Mortimore, Anna; ‘Emissions, Road Transport, Regulation and Tax Incentives in Australia and New Zealand’; Journal of the Australasian Tax Teachers Association, vol. 12, no. 1 (2017), pp. 23-52
  • Najam, Adil, Saleem-ul-Huq and Sokona, Youba; ‘Climate negotiations beyond Kyōtō: Developing countries’ concerns and interests’; Climate Policy 3(3) (September 2003), pp. 221-231
  • Oberthür, Sebastian and Ott, Hermann E. (1999); The Kyōtō Protocol: International Climate Policy for the 21st Century (International and European Environmental Policy Series), Springer Verlag
  • Orians, Gordon H. and Milewski, Antoni V. (2007). ‘Ecology of Australia: the effects of nutrient-poor soils and intense fires’ Biological Reviews, 82 (3): pp. 393-423
  • Roberts, Derek Frank; Climate and Human Variabillity, published January 1978 by Cummings Publishing Company
  • Thwaites, John; ‘Australia ranked worst in world on climate action’; Planning News; Volume 44, Issue 9 (October 2018), p. 13
  • Tranah, Gregory J.; Manini, Todd M.; Lohman, Kurt K.; Nalls, Michael A.; Kritchevsky, Stephen; Newman, Anne B.; Harris, Tamara B.; Miljkovic, Ivaf; Biffi, Alessandro; Cummings, Steven R. and Yongmei Liu; ‘Mitochondrial DNA variation in human metabolic rate and energy expenditure’; Mitochondrion, volume 11, issue 6 (November 2011), pp. 855-861
  • Årts, Paul and Janssen, Dennis; ‘Shades of Opinion: The Oil Exporting Countries and International Climate Politics’; The Review of International Affairs, Vol. 3, No. 2, Winter 2003, pp. 332-351

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