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Overview of Kyoto Protocol: Controlling Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Executive Summary/Topic Synopsis of the Kyoto Protocol
This is an overview of the Kyoto Protocol, a legally binding agreement under which industrialized countries will control and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to stop the increase in global warming that has taken place during the last 150 years. The Kyoto Protocol was added to the international Framework Convention on Climate Change (1992), an international treaty.
What is the Kyoto Protocol?
The Kyoto Protocol is a legally binding agreement under which industrialized countries agreed to control and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to stop the increase in global warming that has taken place during the last 150 years. The Kyoto Protocol was added to the international Framework Convention on Climate Change (1992), an international treaty.
History of the Kyoto Protocol
The Kyoto Protocol was ratified on December 11, 1997 at the 3rd Conference of the Parties to the treaty in Kyoto, Japan and became legally binding on February 16, 2005. As of November 2007, 175 countries have agreed to the protocol, which was approved until 2012. (1)
Most industrialized nations support the Kyoto Protocol. One exception is the United States, which generates more greenhouse gas emissions than any other nation, more than 25 percent worldwide. Australia also declined. (1) These countries wanted the agreement to be less demanding and more flexible. In December of 2007, Australia ratified the Kyoto Protocol.
In May, 2008, talks will begin on establishing the next period of agreement for the protocol.
Objective of the Kyoto Protocol
To reduce greenhouse gas emissions of developed countries by 5.2% worldwide, resulting in the reduction of global warming and its negative effects on the planet, animals, plants, and humans.
Impact and Goals of the Kyoto Protocol
Countries that agree to the Kyoto Protocol will reduce greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming including: carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, sulfur hexafluoride, hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), and perfluorocarbons (PFCs) by 5.2% below 1990 levels. The target date for the initial agreement is 2012.
National limits of greenhouse gas emissions range from 8% reductions for the European Union to 7% for the U.S., 6% for Japan, 0% for Russia, and increases of 8% for Australia and 10% for Iceland. (1)
The countries are allowed to trade emissions’ credits to meet their obligation under the Kyoto Protocol, if they maintain or increase their greenhouse gas emissions. Emissions' trading allows nations that can easily meet their targets to sell credits to those that cannot.
Is the Kyoto Protocol working?
It is too soon to tell if the Kyoto Protocol will work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reduce global warming. Only time will show us whether it has a positive effect or not.
Strategies to Meet the Kyoto Protocol Goals
The Kyoto Protocol sets specific greenhouse gas emissions’ reduction targets for each industrialized nation. To meet the targets, most nations will have to:
• restrict their biggest polluters;
• reduce emissions from automobiles; and
• use renewable energy, such as solar power, wind power, and bio-diesel fuels.
Enforcement of the Kyoto Protocol
If the Enforcement Branch finds that a country is not in compliance with its greenhouse gas emissions’ limits, then that country is required to make up the difference, plus an additional 30%. The country will also be prohibited from transferring credits under the emissions’ trading program. (1)
What has been done about the Kyoto Protocol and global warming?
Australia and the Kyoto Protocol
Australia is one of the biggest greenhouse gas emitters, but the country was granted an 8% increase. This was because the Australian Prime Minister declined to ratify the Agreement, claiming that the protocol would cost Australians jobs and that Australia was already doing enough to cut emissions. Australia's new government, formed in November 2007, fully supports the Kyoto Protocol and ratified it in December, 2007. Australia must cut greenhouse gas emissions by 6%. (1)
Canada and the Kyoto Protocol
In Canada, support for the Kyoto protocol measured around 70%. But, there was still some opposition; business and energy groups feared that since U.S. companies would not be affected by the Kyoto Protocol, that Canadian companies would be at a disadvantage in terms of trade. The federal government claimed to have spent 3.7 billion dollars on climate change programs. In April, 2006, Canada declared it would have no chance of meeting its targets under Kyoto and would participate in the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate instead. Criticism from environmental groups and a lawsuit by the Friends of the Earth changed Canada’s stand on the Kyoto Protocol. (1)
United Kingdom and the Kyoto Protocol
The United Kingdom supports goals for greenhouse gas emissions reduction and has committed to the Kyoto Protocol. It wants to achieve a mandatory 60% cut in carbon emissions by 2050. If approved, the United Kingdom will become the first country to set such a long-range and significant carbon emissions reduction target. (1)
United States and the Kyoto Protocol
The United States has signed the Kyoto Protocol, but has neither ratified nor withdrawn from it. The Kyoto Protocol is non-binding on the United States unless ratified. The U.S. objected to the fact that the protocol did not include targets and timetables for developing countries (India and China, in particular), as well as industrialized nations and "would result in serious harm to the economy of the United States." (1) In November, 1998, Vice President Al Gore symbolically signed the protocol. Gore said that the protocol would not be acted upon in the Senate until there was participation by developing nations. The Clinton Administration never submitted the protocol to the Senate for ratification. (1)
Should the Kyoto Protocol continue?
Opposition to the Kyoto Protocol
Some experts who are skeptical of global warming see the Kyoto Protocol as a scheme to slow the growth of industrial democracies or transfer wealth to the third world. Others argue the protocol does not go far enough to slow greenhouse gas emissions. Many see the costs of the Kyoto Protocol as far outweighing the benefits; some believe the standards are too optimistic; others see an inequitable and inefficient agreement. (1)
Arguments in Favor of the Kyoto Protocol
Arguments for the Kyoto Protocol claim that reducing greenhouse gas emissions is essential to slow or reverse global warming, and that international collaboration is needed for preventing devastating climate changes. Scientists agree that even a small increase in the average global temperature will lead to significant climate changes and negatively affect plant, animal, and human life on Earth. (1)
Recent Research and Studies Related to the Effectiveness of the Kyoto Protocol
A study in Nature found that "accounting only for local external costs, together with production costs, to identify energy strategies, compliance with the Kyoto Protocol would imply lower, not higher, overall costs" for participating countries. (1) The Copenhagen Consensus Project found that the Kyoto Protocol would slow down the process of global warming, but have a limited overall benefit. Defenders of the Kyoto Protocol argue that while the initial greenhouse gas emissions limits may have little effect, they set a precedent for more effective cuts in the future. Since even a small increase in the average global temperature will lead to climate changes and negatively affect plant, animal, and human life on Earth, the Kyoto Protocol may be our only hope (at this time) to begin the process of reversing global warming.
- (1) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kyoto_Protocol