Building a Better Kyoto – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Building a Better Kyoto

Benjamin Ryan ’10 had the opportunity of a lifetime when he participated in the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen.

Funded through the geoscience department and environmental studies program, Ryan, an environmental studies and economics double major, is in Denmark for the second week of climate negotiations. 

Among participant from 192 countries representing governments, the business community and civil society, the Conference is designed to address the need to assess and evaluate the Kyoto Protocol, an environmental treaty, which expires in 2012, forged to reduce greenhouse gases.  Since the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012, and because of disagreements among countries about the treaty, these negotiations are designed to discuss a new agreement to succeed the Kyoto Protocol.

Currently working with Associate Professor of Economics Tom Drennen on an honors project, titled “Building a Better Kyoto,” Ryan is seeing firsthand the negotiations among several countries involved in the Kyoto Protocol, as he continues to collect data for his thesis, which is, as he puts it, “a critique of Kyoto Protocol and why it’s failed, and an analysis of which options would be best for the future.”

“I think there are some key flaws in the Kyoto Protocol that have to be addressed in Copenhagen,” said Ryan before departing.  Many of those flaws are highlighted by the disparities in legislation between developed countries and developing countries.  “It’s difficult to get everyone to agree and compromise,” Ryan said.  “You have to ask, ‘What can we focus on that we all find reasonable?'”

Ben Ryan

Throughout the conference, delegates from each country are proposing their perspectives on building a post-2012 climate policy.  During this second week of negotiations, Ryan is witnessing the wrap-up talks and discussions of broad plans, covering the pathway forward and the finances of climate mitigation and adaptation, which is part of the focus of his project.

“Professor Drennen inspired me to pursue this,” said Ryan, who took “Environmental Economics” with Drennen.  “He opened my eyes to this connection between energy and economy.” 

In that course, Ryan learned about the “Tragedy of the Commons,” a term coined by Garrett Hardin that describes the exhaustion of resources resulting from individuals acting, however logically, out of their own self-interest-ultimately a detriment to the general population.

Following up on what he learned in “Environmental Economics,” Ryan took an independent study with Drennen that focused on carbon markets.  Ryan went to the “Carbon Market Insights 2009” conference to examine the connections between carbon and the economy and try to figure out the best way to enact carbon allocations.  And with an energy consulting internship this past summer at Concentric Energy Advisors, he was prepared to continue investigating different positions and different solutions for economic energy policy models, whether cap and trade, carbon taxes, or command and control.

Leaving for Copenhagen, Ryan remained focused on what he sees as the ultimate aim of the Conference: “getting people to be responsible.”

In the photo above Ryan is in Copenhagen, pictured with Dr. Ottmar Edenhofer, the chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.