skip to primary navigationskip to content

MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development

global challenges, engineering solutions

Studying at Cambridge


Andrew Skelton

Impact Analysis of Post-Kyoto Protocol Climate Policy on Developing Countries

Andrew Skelton

Impact Analysis of Post-Kyoto Protocol Climate Policy on Developing Countries

The reality of climate change is now undeniable. Developing countries in general – and Least Developed Countries and Small Island Developing States in particular – are most at risk from the impact of climate change because of extreme vulnerability caused by existing social, environmental and economic problems. Climate change is therefore anticipated to have far-reaching consequences for the sustainable development of these countries and is already undermining the international community's efforts to reduce poverty. The fight against poverty and the fight against the effects of climate change are now recognised as interrelated efforts that must reinforce each other. Even if serious efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions start immediately, developing countries have no alternative but to adapt for future climate impacts due to the inertia of the climate system and the historic accumulation of greenhouse gases that are largely the responsibility of industrialised nations.

The long-term risks associated with climate change can only be addressed with a portfolio of adaptation and mitigation measures. However, the Kyoto Protocol – the first step in achieving binding commitments on international climate policy – focused almost exclusively on mitigation. The next step in international climate policy must seriously tackle the challenge of supporting developing countries as they battle to adapt to future climate changes that are now unavoidable. In 2012, the current commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol expires and the framework for a possible successor is currently being negotiated by the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Firstly, this study analyses climate change impacts on developing countries using a qualitative systems approach that results in the identification of critical linkages between social vulnerability, adaptive capacity, adaptation, and climate hazards, risks and impacts. In addition, four primary leverage points within human systems are identified that if appropriately influenced can significantly reduce a community’s vulnerability to climate hazards. This study concludes that for adaptation actions to be most effective and sustainable in the long-term, all four leverage points should be addressed simultaneously.

Secondly, numerous post-Kyoto Protocol climate policy proposals are reviewed with a focus on how the question of adaptation has been addressed. It is concluded that the vast majority of proposals for a Kyoto Protocol successor agreement retain one of the protocol’s central deficiencies, namely a primary focus on broadening participation and establishing more stringent mitigation goals, and a corresponding neglect of policies relating to adaptation. The reasons for the lack of attention paid to adaptation may in part be due to insufficient understanding of the practical links between sustainable development and adaptation to climate change.

The study moves on to integrate the systems analysis of climate impacts with the review of post-Kyoto Protocol proposals in order to identify the potential impact that proposed adaptation measures will have on developing countries. It is concluded that while several proposals introduce important concepts for addressing adaptation, none of the proposals individually provide a truly comprehensive framework that tackles each of the primary leverage points within the system adequately.

Finally, by drawing on the insights provided by these proposals, and integrating elements from each, this study presents recommendations for an all-embracing adaptation framework for consideration in future climate negotiations that tackles all four leverage points effectively and equitably. It is concluded that the greatest barrier preventing greater international adaptation efforts is political will and the difficulty of negotiating over something so global, and so new. The ethical case for action is clear, but it is more likely to be the use of adaptation commitments as incentives for developing countries to adopt mitigation commitments that advances the agenda.