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20 December 2009

Carbon Emissions: Copenhagen, and the Kyoto Protocol

In December 2009, the world's attentions focussed on the Climate Change Summit at Copenhagen. The world was watching to see if an accord could be reached on a new framework, one that would replace the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012. Since 1992, the Kyoto Protocol has been the main framework in worldwide initiatives against: climate change, global warming, and carbon emissions. From the Kyoto Protocol came the concept of carbon trading. (Curious readers can read more about carbon trading and the Kyoto Protocol by diving into "Carbon Trading and the Kyoto Protocol" by Prof. P. Coles and Prof. B. Edelman of Harvard Business School.)

Developing nations have requested that "the Kyoto Protocol should continue and that developed countries should slash their greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40 percent, compared to 1990 levels, by 2020." Developing nations, including Malaysia, are not bound by the Kyoto Protocol but are able to engage in carbon trading under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) under the Protocol. In 2006, Malaysia came third in per capita carbon emissions, after Brunei and Singapore. (Ref: Inter-Press Service, 18th December 2009. Climate Change: Copenhagen Talks Create Hardly A Ripple In Malaysia.)

The European Union, on the hand, has pushed for a new framework to replaceme the Kyoto Protocol, because the Kyoto Protocol "does not cover all developed countries, the US in particular, and makes no demands for emissions cuts from any developing nations, including China and India." (Ref: The Irish Times, 18th December 2009. Sarkozy parts with EU on retaining Kyoto.)

The Copenhagen Climate Change Summit

According to various news reports, the Copenhagen summit nearly failed because of differences among the participants. Last minute efforts by the USA, China, India, Brazil and South Africa, gave birth to a new "bare-minimum agreement" that would take eventually over the role of the Kyoto Protocol. Not everyone is approving, however. Reuters has reported that

Critics complain the explicit deal struck in Copenhagen to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius provided no details of how this goal would be reached, and that the emission cuts that were promised would be insufficient to get there.
(Source: Reuters, 19th December 2009. Obama: Copenhagen paves way for action on climate.)

Abyd Karmali, head of emissions trading at Bank of America Merrill Lynch has been quoted saying, "The implications for investment flows is very clear, we're irreversibly on a low-carbon path." (Ref: The Economic Times, 20th December 2009. Investors give cautious thumbs up to climate deal.)

We will deal more with the Copenhagen Accord later in this article.

Najib On Carbon Emissions

On 20th December 2009, Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak returned to Malaysian soil from Copenhagen. At Copenhagen, the premier had pledged that Malaysia would "reduce its carbon dioxide emissions (levels) to 40 per cent by the year 2020 compared to the 2005 levels, subject to assistance from developed countries." According to Bernama, data showed that in 2006, Malaysia's carbon emissions "stood at 187 million tonnes, or 7.2 tonnes from each Malaysian". (Ref: Bernama, 20th December 2009. Najib Returns After Attending Climate Change Summit.) In response to a proposed USD10 billion fund to help developing nations deal with climate change, the Malaysian premier was quoted suggesting "a US$200 billion fund be set up first before it later
goes above US$800 billion (RM2.7 trillion)". Developed countries, he said, had to make more sacrifices as they were the biggest sources of carbon emissions. (Source: New Straits Times, 19th December 2009. Najib seeks RM680b carbon control fund)

Obama Factor

What is of concern is that the Kyoto Protocol is non-binding on America, although America is a signatory to the Protocol. Al Gore apparently signed the Protocol in a "symbolic gesture". (Ref: Wikipedia, entry on Kyoto Protocol. Accessed 20th December 2009.) In April 2009, US President Barack Obama was quoted saying:

It doesn't make sense for the United States to sign Kyoto because Kyoto is about to end [in 2012]. So instead what my administration is doing is preparing for the next round, which is--there will be discussions in Copenhagen at the end of this year. And what we want to do is to prepare an agenda both in the United States and work internationally so that we can start making progress on these issues.
(Ref: Tree Hugger, 8th April 2009. Obama Challenged on Climate During Turkey Trip. Found via Wikipedia (ibid.))

John Gormley, Ireland's Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, urged China and America during the Copenhagen Climate Change Summit to make sacrifices for the new framework as China and USA together "are responsible for half of the world’s CO2 emissions". (Ref: The Irish Times, 18th December 2009. Gormley tells US and China to make big compromises.)

We now know from the Reuters report above that Obama went above the call of duty "to avoid coming home empty-handed". (Ref: Reuters, ibid.)

Carbon Emissions From Various States

The Irish Times has a comprehensive summary of the carbon emissions of various nations, and their stance during the Copenhagen Summit. For the sake of brevity, however, we shall focus only on the carbon emissions:

  1. China emits: 6.8bn tonnes, 5.5 tonnes per capita
  2. The United States emits: 6.4bn tonnes, 21 tonnes per capita
  3. The European Union emits: 5.03bn tonnes, 10.2 tns per capita
  4. Russia emits: 1.7bn tonnes, 11.9 tns per capita
  5. India emits: 1.4bn tonnes, 1.2 tonnes per capita
  6. Japan emits: 1.4bn tonnes, 11 tonnes per capita
  7. African emissions are negligible
(Ref: The Irish Times, 18th December 2009. Copenhagen Crux.)

Here is a graphical representation of the world's carbon emissions, prepared by The Guardian.

Carbon Emissions
(Ref: The Nuclear Green Revolution, 15th December 2009. World Carbon Emissions From The Guardian.)

Funding The Copenhagen Accord

The New York Times reports that UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon, was happy that money had been pledged for the Copenhagen Accord. Talks in Bali, Indonesia, in 2007 had not yielded anything concrete. Under the Copenhagen Accord, there is provision for the establishment of the Copenhagen Green Climate Fund. Ban Ki-Moon was quoted saying, "This time we have $100 billion a year ... $100 billion a year is significant big money." Kumi Naidoo, executive director of Greenpeace, however, was quoted saying that by 2020, funding needed to be closer to $140 billion a year to be effective. (Ref: New York Times, 20th December 2009. Copenhagen’s One Real Accomplishment: Getting Some Money Flowing.)

Yvo de Boer, head of UN's climate change office admitted that responsibility for the $100 billion a year fund has not been clearly apportioned among developed countries. In the meantime, an "initial, fast-start fund worth $10 billion annually would operate from 2010 to 2012", presumably until the Kyoto Protocol is replaced by a newer framework. EU has pledged $3.6 billion annually to the fund. Japan and US have also pledged to the fund. (Ref: New York Times, ibid.)

Field notes on the Copenhagen Accord, available on the UN website, shows that not everybody was happy with the outcome of the Copenhagen climate change summit. However, it did end on an optimistic note:

The Deal
19.12.2009 / 15:29
Shortly after agreement was reached, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the press that the talks had been exhausting. “The Copenhagen Accord may not be everything that everyone hoped for. But it is a beginning--an essential beginning.” He said countries have agreed to work toward a common, long-term goal to limit global temperature rise to below 2 degrees Celsius and many governments have made important commitments to reduce or limit emissions. Significant progress was made to preserve forests and there was agreement to provide comprehensive support to the most vulnerable to cope with climate change. And he said, “the deal is backed by money,” about $30 billion for short term use. . “We have the foundation for the first truly global agreement that will limit and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, support adaptation for the most vulnerable, and launch a new era of green growth.”
(Source:, 18th December 2009. Copenhagen Field Notes by Dan Shepard.)

The New Race

Thomas L Friedman, renowned author and columnist at the New York Times, says that the push to reduce carbon emissions will lead to a new race:

In the cold war, we had the space race: who could be the first to put a man on the moon. Only two countries competed, and there could be only one winner. Today, we need the Earth Race: who can be the first to invent the most clean technologies so men and women can live safely here on Earth.


If you start the conversation with “climate” you might get half of America to sign up for action. If you start the conversation with giving birth to a “whole new industry” — one that will make us more energy independent, prosperous, secure, innovative, respected and able to out-green China in the next great global industry — you get the country.

For good reason: Even if the world never warms another degree, population is projected to rise from 6.7 billion to 9 billion between now and 2050, and more and more of those people will want to live like Americans. In this world, demand for clean power and energy efficient cars and buildings will go through the roof.

An Earth Race led by America — built on markets, economic competition, national self-interest and strategic advantage — is a much more self-sustaining way to reduce carbon emissions than a festival of voluntary, nonbinding commitments at a U.N. conference. Let the Earth Race begin.
(Ref: The New York Times, 19th December 2009. Off To The Races, by Thomas L Friedman.)

The Way Forward

What is the way forward for Malaysia? It seems that Mr Friedman is right; we must become part of that push to develop technologies for clean, renewable energy, and technologies that can reduce carbon emissions. If our automotive industries slowly gravitate towards electrification of transportation, the burning of fossil fuels may become less of a necessary evil. As a producer of crude oil, it is easy to forget that.

An analyst once informed this blogger that we will not run out petrol during our lifetime; the world has enough petrol to last for the next fifty (50) years. Could it be that nations reliant on imported fossil fuels have exaggerated the threat of global warming and climate change? It would seem logical, in light of the benefit they will get: an independence, or non-dependence, on fossil fuels from external sources.

However, I cannot say whether or not it is so. What I can say is: If Malaysian car manufacturers can produce a hybrid vehicle -- one that uses both petrol and electric, or can run on electricity alone -- the market for Malaysian cars would expand worldwide. As nations try their best to prune their carbon emissions, it will become more and more preferable to adopt technologies that emit less carbon. Unfortunately, it may not be in the interest of the petrol retailing industry that such a shift take place.

Further Reading