Modest Targets Seen as Likely Outcome in Kyoto

Bruce Lynch blynch at
Tue Nov 25 16:12:33 EST 1997

Modest Targets Seen as Likely Outcome in Kyoto

Observers believe that a target for industrial 
nations to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions at 
1990 levels, perhaps followed by relatively small 
emissions reductions, is the likely outcome at 
the Kyoto climate conference next month, 
according to a survey released by the Global 
Environmental Change Report on 20 November.

The survey, which was sent electronically to 
thousands of people worldwide who subscribe to 
various climate-related publications, lists, or 
newsgroups, asked recipients their opinion of the 
most likely outcomes for the Kyoto conference in 
terms of targets and time-tables. The survey 
provided a matrix of possible replies, ranging 
from stabilization to 20% reductions by 2005, 
2010, and 2015.

Of those responding to the survey, 31% felt that 
stabilization at 1990 levels was the only target 
negotiators would agree to in Kyoto, while 
another 29% believed that the likely outcome of 
the talks would be stabilization followed by some 
degree of reductions. About 15% of respondents 
suggested that only reduction targets (no 
stabilization) would be negotiated, while nearly 
13% believed that the meeting would end without 
any commitments. A number of those who felt that 
negotiators would agree to a target expressed 
concern that loopholes would make the targets 
meaningless, or else that countries would simply 
fail to abide by them.

Roughly following the lines of the US proposal, 
33% of survey respondents believed that 
stabilization at 1990 levels by 2010 would be 
negotiated in Kyoto. Of these, 58% felt that this 
would be the only target, 30% felt that 
stabilization would be followed by a 5% reduction 
in 2015, 9% felt it would be followed by a 10% 
reduction in 2015, and less than 3% believed it 
would be followed by a 15% reduction in 2015.

Nearly 16% of the survey respondents felt that 
the negotiations would result in a target of 
stabilization at 1990 levels by 2005. Of these, 
36% believed that this would be followed with a 
5% reduction in 2010 and a 10% reduction in 2015. 
Another 17% felt that stabilization would be 
followed by a 5% cut in 2015, and the balance 
proposed various other reduction scenarios. 

Observers apparently hold little hope for the EU 
proposal for 15% reductions by 2010. Less than 1% 
of respondents felt that the negotiators would 
agree to such reductions by 2010, and only 6.5% 
believed that they would agree to a 15% reduction 
even by 2015. Finally, less than 2% of the 
respondents believed that a 20% reduction target 
would be negotiated for the time period covered 
by the survey (2005-2015). 

However, respondents did feel that the EU is 
fairly likely to make a unilateral commitment to 
reduce emissions if the Kyoto conference fails to 
reach agreement on binding targets. More than 35% 
of the respondents felt that the EU might make 
such a commitment, while an additional 27% felt 
that one or more EU member countries might set a 
unilateral target.

Fifteen percent of respondents pegged Germany as 
the most likely of the EU countries to make a 
unilateral commitment, followed by The 
Netherlands and the UK (nearly 10% each), and 
Denmark (6.1%). Nearly 7% of respondents felt 
that the Scandinavian countries in general would 
be likely to make such a commitment. 
Surprisingly, nearly 12% of respondents felt that 
Japan might make a unilateral commitment, and 
nearly 6% felt that the US would. However, more 
than 7% of respondents felt that no country would 
be likely to take on unilateral commitments. 

The survey also asked respondents which key 
factors (from a list provided) they believed 
would have "a substantial impact" on the outcome 
of the negotiations at Kyoto. Fifty-five percent 
felt that a new US proposal would have an impact, 
45% felt that industry representatives would, and 
almost 24% felt that environmental organizations 
would. Only 13% felt that new scientific evidence 
would influence the negotiations, and only 6% 
felt that a change in Australia's position would 
have an impact. Respondents also wrote in 
possibilities including developing nations' 
willingness to accept new commitments, leadership 
from Japan, a new European position, and 
increasing public awareness as factors that could 
potentially influence the negotiations. 

Respondents overwhelmingly believe that 
developing countries are unlikely to agree to any 
binding commitments relating to CO2 emissions at 
the Kyoto meeting: 66% felt that developing 
countries would make no commitment, while 
slightly less than 16% felt they would. The 
survey also asked what respondents felt was the 
"single most effective policy action that 
national governments could undertake to reduce 
CO2 emissions." While many respondents pointed 
out that no single action would be sufficient, 
the most frequently cited policy (30% of all 
replies) was a carbon/energy tax or other means 
of substantially raising the price of fossil 
fuel. Other frequently mentioned policies 
included emissions trading (8.3%), promoting 
energy efficiency and conservation (7.4%), 
addressing transport emissions (7%), and 
promoting renewable energy (6.6%). 

Finally, the survey asked what the most likely 
next developments would be if nothing substantive 
were to come out of the Kyoto meeting. Nearly 28% 
believed that the negotiations would continue, 
and more than half of these felt that some sort 
of substantive agreement would be reached within 
five years. Many of those who felt that an 
agreement would be reached in the future cited 
either more scientific certainty or more 
perceived warming and climatic disruptions as the 
factors that would drive any agreement. Nearly 7% 
of the respondents felt that the EU or other 
countries would take the lead by making 
unilateral commitments. Not everyone was so 
sanguine, however: Approximately 3% of the 
respondents felt that greenhouse gas emissions 
would continue to escalate for the foreseeable 

The informal nature of the survey provides a 
mostly qualitative look at public perceptions on 
the eve of the climate negotiations. However, the 
quality and thoughtfulness of the responses 
indicate that the majority of the respondents 
have followed the climate negotiations closely 
and are familiar with recent developments. A 
total of 229 responses were received, with 
participation from professionals around the 
world. Although participants were not asked to 
provide their names or affiliations, 
approximately 61% provided enough information to 
generally categorize them. Of these, 64% were 
associated with universities or other research 
institutions, 18% were industry representatives, 
11% worked at some level of government, and 7% 
were NGOs.

Lelani Arris, Editor
Global Environmental Change Report

For more information, contact Lelani Arris by 
telephone at (250) 968-4401, by fax at (250) 968-
4390, or by e-mail at gecr at

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