The Kyoto Protocol

The world's first coordinated response to the climate change problem was the Kyoto Protocol, an international treaty seeking "stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system." The treaty was negotiated in Kyoto, Japan, in December 1997. After ratification by nearly every nation on Earth, it took effect in February 2005.

Kyoto regulates the greenhouse gases CO2, methane, nitrous oxide, sulfur hexafluoride, HFCs, and PFCs. Under the protocol, 35 industrialized countries are obliged to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 5.2% below 1990 levels by sometime between 2008 and 2012. This value is 29% below what these nations' emissions would likely be without the reductions.

Kyoto's rules call for emissions reductions by an internationally agreed upon cap and trade program. Each nation's greenhouse gas emissions "cap" is set by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate (UNFCC). These cap levels are based on the nation's size and the state of its economy: For instance, at this time, the cap is an 8% reduction from 1990 emissions for the European Union, a 6% reduc -tion for Japan, a 0% reduction for Russia, plus permitted increases of 8% for Iceland.

With these caps, participating nations are then allowed to "trade" emissions credits amongst themselves. A country that will exceed its limit can buy credits from a country that will not use all of its cred its. The trading scheme provides financial incentive for countries to meet and even exceed their targets. At this time Russia, which has far lower greenhouse gas than in 1990 due to an economic down -turn and has also easily achieved increases in efficiency, is selling credits for hundreds of millions of dollars to countries that are not yet able to reach their targets. Russia receives much needed money, and all participants have an economic incentive to improve their energy efficiency.

Developing countries are at this time exempt from greenhouse gas emissions reductions because they have historically contributed a very small share of emissions. In addition, their per capita emissions are still relatively low, and they still have significant social needs. None theless, Kyoto requires that developed nations assist developing ones by paying for and providing technology for climate related studies and projects. Countries are also rewarded credits for protecting forests and other carbon dioxide sinks.

Unfortunately, Kyoto has many flaws, the most glaring being the countries that are not bound by it. The United States, which produced 21% of the total greenhouse gas emissions in 2000 and would have a cap of 7% below 1990 emissions, refused to sign because politicians feared that emissions restrictions would slow down the nation's economic growth. Although the nation engages in voluntary cutbacks, by 2005 greenhouse gas emissions of the United States were 19%

Cap-and-Trade Programs

Cap-and-trade programs are a popular, market-based approach for encouraging entities such as businesses, cities, or countries to reduce emissions. A neutral body sets an emissions cap for each program participant, usually based on the participant's past emissions. In most programs, the allowances can be used, traded to another participant, or banked for future use. Because allowances can be traded for cash, participants have a monetary incentive for developing emissions-saving technologies. If a participant exceeds its total allowances, it may be fined. In many programs, the emissions cap lessens over time until a permanent cap is reached.

A cap-and-trade program for sulfur oxide (SO2) emissions has been extremely successful in reducing this acid rain-causing pollutant in the United States. When the permanent cap is reached, in 2010, emissions will be approximately 50% below 1980 levels. Cap-and-trade systems have been proposed for wider adoption for dealing with other pollution problems. However, some extremely toxic pollutants that might concentrate in a single area, such as mercury, are not well suited for such plans.

over what they would have been if it had adhered to its Kyoto limits. Australia also refused to sign, even though it was awarded an emis -sions increase of 10%. A small overall emitter, the nation was the largest per capita emitter in 2005, suggesting that there is plenty of room for improvement in Australia's energy efficiency. Although China's greenhouse gas contributions are enormous, the country is exempt from emissions reductions because it is a developing nation. In addition, many of the treaty's participants are not on target to meet their emissions goals.

Most importantly, climate scientists say that the Kyoto Protocol does not go nearly far enough. Even if all developed nations partici pated, the treaty would only result in a reduction in global temperature of between 0.04 and 0.5°F (0.02 and 0.28°C) by the year 2050. One climate model suggests that reductions of more than 40 times those required by Kyoto are needed to prevent atmospheric CO2 concentra tions from doubling during this century.

Defenders of the treaty say that it sets the stage for larger emissions limits in the future. The first commitment period ends in 2012, and negotiators are now working to make sure that another treaty will be ready to take its place and that emissions standards will be tougher. Ongoing talks emphasize developing new technologies and adapting to environmental changes that are already inevitable.

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  • Alarico
    How does the kyoto protocol cause changes to the atmosphere?
    17 days ago

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