Kyoto in more than 1 minute: Kyoto, SBSTA, IPCC, the Stern Report, Al Gore, what does it all mean?

Gareth Davies

global warming | climate change | preparedness


Kyoto, formerly the medieval Imperial capital of Japan, is a city with a population of some 1.5 million. It is a city renowned for its great charm and beauty and now, in these latter days, for being in 1997 the host city of the "Conference of the Parties" (COP) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) held in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro.

It was the third such Conference of the Parties, referred to as COP3, which drew up a Protocol setting mandatory targets for reduction of greenhouse gases, This Protocol quickly became known simply as the Kyoto Protocol.

How it all began

The initial impetus behind the global warming/climate change movement can be traced to the UN Conference on the Human Environment held in Stockholm in 1972. The Stockholm Conference was remarkable for its early foresight. Consider the following two paragraphs taken from the Proclamation in the Declaration of the Stockholm Conference:

    3. ... We see around us growing evidence of man-made harm in many regions of the earth: dangerous levels of pollution in water, air, earth and living beings; major and undesirable disturbances to the ecological balance of the biosphere; destruction and depletion of irreplaceable resources; and gross deficiencies, harmful to the physical, mental and social health of man, in the man-made environment, particularly in the living and working environment.

    6. A point has been reached in history when we must shape our actions throughout the world with a more prudent care for their environmental consequences. Through ignorance or indifference we can do massive and irreversible harm to the earthly environment on which our life and well being depend.


Although the Stockholm Conference revealed great insight, nothing much happened for the next twenty years. Then in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro, the UN Framework Conference on Climate Change was held and produced the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change known as UNFCCC for short. The Convention provides a framework in which further development in the area of global warming and climate change may proceed.

Voluntary targets set by the UNFCCC

Aware of the unstoppable nature of global warming and climate change, the UNFCCC committed the 154 countries that signed the Convention to a voluntary non-binding aim to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions at 1990 levels by the year 2000. This was aimed primarily at the major industrialized countries.

As we all know, "voluntary" didn't work.


Conference of the Parties

The countries that signed the UNFCCC in 1992 were named the "Conference of the Parties", COP for short. COP next met in 1995 in Berlin. That Conference is known as COP1. Subsequently, there have been 12 meetings of COP, the most notable being COP 3, the Kyoto Conference 1997, which produced the KYOTO accord. Since then there has been a meeting of COP every calendar year held in various cities of the world.

Each subsequent meeting of COP has the aim of improving targets and setting new ones, exchanging information and measuring progress.

The Nairobi Conference, COP12, "decided" that it will next meet December 3-14, 2007, in Nusa Dua, Bali, Indonesia, which will be COP13 (lucky for some), subject to details being worked out.

Recognition by COP that global warming unstoppable

It is clear that the member states that comprised COP did not believe that global warming could be halted, but they did believe it could be slowed down.

Furthermore, COP did not and does not believe that adverse climate change impacts upon the human race and the environment can be avoided.

However, COP does believe that with strategic planning and a high state of preparedness, adverse climate change impacts can be lessened, depending on what we do to help ourselves.

The US and Canada's position throughout

Canada was and is a member of COP (Conference of the Parties). The US was a member of COP at the original conference, the UNFCCC. However, at COP 6 held at The Hague in 2000, the US tried to force a compromise and the meeting of COP collapsed in shambles. COP 6 reassembled the following year in Bonn, but in the meantime the US (under President George W. Bush) had refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. COP 6 was last time that the US attended meetings of COP as a member state and sits now as an observer only.

For a concise background to KYOTO go to UN web site:


Commitments under Kyoto

Of equal importance to target setting and so on are the mandated requirements for each country that has "ratified" the Kyoto Protocol to comply with the requirements of Article 4 "Commitments" of the Kyoto Convention. These include:

-adopting a national set of policies on climate change,

-(for Canada) limiting industrial greenhouse gas emissions so as to reach 6% below 1990 levels in the period 2008-2012,

-to review policies and practices that lead to greater levels of industrial emissions of greenhouse gases than would otherwise occur, and

-to assist developing countries reach their Kyoto targets.

Minimizing adverse effects of climate change

In the Kyoto Protocol (Annexed to the Convention) Article 2 (3) requires each country to implement policies and measures to minimize adverse effects of climate change on international trade and social, environmental, and economic impacts on other Parties. Article 10 requires each country to submit information on programmes that implement the Protocol.

Just so you know

At present the level of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada stand at some 37% above 1990 levels, requiring a reduction of some 43% in the next 5 years. Even with the purchase of carbon credits from countries with lesser emissions, such a reduction may well prove impossible to meet, especially given that nothing has yet happened.

The difference between "signing" a convention or protocol and "ratifying" it is as different as cheese and chalk. Signing the protocol merely signifies agreement with the text as drawn up being reflective of the agreement of the Parties in attendance, "Yes, this is what we produced." There is no legal obligation whatsoever arising from merely signing the Protocol.

Canada "signed" the Protocol in 1997, when it was drawn up, incurring no legal obligation to do anything under the Protocol.

Ratifying the Protocol requires the solemn signature of Canada, which is then evidence of Canada's intent to enact the protocol into its National laws and to be legally bound by the Protocol.

Canada "ratified" the Protocol in 2002-12-18 15:15:36:

    TOKYO, Dec. 18 (Xinhuanet) -- Japan on Wednesday welcomed Canada's ratification of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol for curbing global warming, which made Canada the 99th signatory to the pact, Kyodo News reported.



Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA)

SBSTA was created by the Parties in attendance at Kyoto in 1997 in order to assist them draw up valid and credible scientific standards, which in turn could be used to set targets for the reduction by the Parties of greenhouse gas emissions. SBSTA is comprised of a group of highly respected scientists and technical experts and is charged with such things as reviewing progress in the various party states and identifying new risks for countries around the world associated with global warming and climate change.

It is clear that there is a link between the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC for short, and SBSTA from a statement issued by COP12, held at Nairobi in 2006:

    1. The Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) welcomed the statements and relevant papers by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), on their possible contributions to the implementation of the five-year programme of work on impacts, vulnerability and adaptation to climate change.

There can be no doubt that SBSTA is in receipt of the finest scientific knowledge available anywhere to help it perform its tasks concerning global warming and climate change.

SBSTA recognized the urgency involved in global warming and climate change and made the following statement at Nairobi in 2006:

    15. The SBSTA recognized that addressing impacts, vulnerability and adaptation to climate change is an immediate, as well as an on-going, long-term challenge that is rapidly evolving, and agreed that there is a need to ensure expert input into the implementation of the [pending] five-year programme of work.


The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)

The IPCC has been established by World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) to assess scientific, technical and socio- economic information relevant for the understanding of climate change, its potential impacts and options for adaptation and mitigation.

For more, see:

Important Note: Climate change in IPCC usage refers to any change in climate over time, whether due to nature or as a result of human activity. This usage differs from that in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), where climate change refers to a change of climate attributed to human activity only.

The IPCC 4th Assessment Report 2007, "Summary For Policymakers" may be downloaded at the following site:

The full Report is to be released later in the year 2007.

The following excerpts of the [Summary] Report for Policymakers are worthy of note:

    Global atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide have increased markedly as a result of human activities since 1750 and now far exceed pre-industrial values determined from ice cores spanning many thousands of years. The global increases in carbon dioxide concentration are due primarily to fossil fuel use and land-use change, while those of methane and nitrous oxide are primarily due to agriculture.

    Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global average sea level.

    At continental, regional, and ocean basin scales, numerous long-term changes in climate have been observed. These include changes in Arctic temperatures and ice, widespread changes in precipitation amounts, ocean salinity, wind patterns and aspects of extreme weather including droughts, heavy precipitation, heat waves and the intensity of tropical cyclones10.

    Some aspects of climate have not been observed to change. Antarctic sea ice extent continues to show inter-annual variability and localized changes but no statistically significant average trends, consistent with the lack of warming reflected in atmospheric temperatures averaged across the region.

    Most of the observed increase in globally averaged temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations. Discernible human influences now extend to other aspects of climate, including ocean warming, continental-average temperatures, temperature extremes and wind patterns.

    Continued greenhouse gas emissions at or above current rates would cause further warming and induce many changes in the global climate system during the 21st century that would very likely be larger than those observed during the 20th century.

    Anthropogenic warming and sea level rise would continue for centuries due to the time scales associated with climate processes and feedbacks, even if greenhouse gas concentrations were to be stabilized.

No advice on slowing down global warming or climate change

Throughout the [Summary] Report for Policymakers, the IPCC concentrates only in setting out facts in meteorological terms that describe global warming and climate change.

It issues dire warnings of future disasters to human society, unless society acts to save itself and lessen those disasters.

Nowhere does it give advice on how to slow down global warming or how to lessen adverse effects of climate change on human society.

Target setting attempting to slow down global warming is left to each Party that drew up the Kyoto Protocol under a plan best suited for that particular Party's industrial and economic circumstances.

Regarding the lessening of adverse impacts of climate change on eco systems, that is left, under the Protocol, to each Party to Kyoto to develop through local planning with respect to its own jurisdiction and the peculiarities thereof.


The Stern Report as reported in the Guardian (UK),,1935211,00.html

Hilary Osborne, in an article written October 30, 2006 for the Guardian Unlimited (UK) entitled Stern Report: the key points set out what she described as key points.

The Stern Report deals with the economic impact of global warming and climate change upon the economies of nations in the world and its author is an eminent economist accepted by the international community.

Here are some of the points made by Hilary Osborne:

    The dangers

    · All countries will be affected by climate change, but the poorest countries will suffer earliest and most.

    · By the middle of the century 200 million may be permanently displaced due to rising sea levels, heavier floods and drought.

    · Warming of 4C or more is likely to seriously affect global food production.

    · Warming of 2C could leave 15-40% species facing extinction.

    · Deforestation is responsible for more emissions than the transport sector.

    · Climate change is the greatest and widest-ranging market failure ever seen.

    Recommended actions

    · Three elements of policy are required for an effective response: carbon pricing, technology policy and energy efficiency.

    · Carbon pricing, through taxation, emissions trading or regulation, will show people the full social costs of their actions. The aim should be a global carbon price across countries and sectors.

    · Emissions trading schemes, like that operating across the EU, should be expanded and linked.

    · Large-scale international pilot programmes to explore the best ways to curb deforestation should be started very quickly.

    · International funding should go into researching new crop varieties that will be more resilient to drought and flood.

    Economic impacts

    · The benefits of strong, early action considerably outweigh the costs.

    · Each tonne of CO2 we emit causes damages worth at least $85, but emissions can be cut at a cost of less than $25 a tonne.

    · Shifting the world onto a low-carbon path could eventually benefit the economy by $2.5 trillion a year.

    · By 2050, markets for low-carbon technologies could be worth at least $500bn.

    · What we do now can have only a limited effect on the climate over the next 40 or 50 years, but what we do in the next 10-20 years can have a profound effect on the climate in the second half of this century.

For the Stern Report in full, see:


Al Gore, An Inconvenient Truth:

    "If you look at the ten hottest years ever measured they have all occurred in the last 14 years and the hottest of all was 2005."

    "Scientific consensus is that we are causing global warming."

    "This is really not a political issue so much as a moral issue."

    "Is it possible that we should prepare against other threats besides terrorists?"

    "If this [the Antarctic] were to go, sea level world wide would go up 20 feet."

    "We have to act together to solve this global crisis.

    "Our ability to live is what is at stake."


This is pretty dramatic stuff and while it is undoubtedly extremely well crafted messaging by a consummate politician and considered somewhat extreme by some, it really is an inconvenient truth, if only because what Al Gore says lies within the parameters of what is said by all the experts in SBSTA, IPCC, UNFCCC, and by the Stern Report and the scientific community at large.

Al Gore and his message An Inconvenient Truth is the emphasis required to properly construct a prophecy much needed concerning the fate of millions, if not billions, of people over the next 100 years due to global warming and climate change.