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Kyoto Protocol

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The Kyoto Protocol is a legally binding international treaty agreed to in Kyoto, Japan in 1997 and officially entered into force in February 16, 2005 that commits 37 countries and the European Union to reduce levels of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions known to cause global warming over a five-year period starting in 2008 and ending in 2012.[1]

The primary objective of the Kyoto Protocol is to set realistic targets for each country to meet in the reduction of greenhouse gases and in the process, encourage countries to move towards more renewable, alternative sources of energy like wind, hydro, electric and solar power since the burning of fossil fuels like coal, gas and oil is the biggest contributor of global warming.

The targets each country must meet by 2012 vary. For example, during phase one of the treaty developing countries that have been producing pollution since the time of the Industrial Revolution like Canada, United States, and Japan have targets to meet while China and India are exempt. Canada must reduce greenhouse gas emissions by six percent from 1990 levels.[2] However, emissions as of 2006 were 22 percent above 1990 levels. Japan is required to meet a seven percent target and the European Union as a group of countries, an eight percent target from 1990 levels. A second phase of compulsory emission reductions is being negotiated this year with implementation to begin in 2013.


[edit] History

The Kyoto Protocol is basically an afterthought of another UN treaty called the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) presented at the Earth Summit Conference in Rio De Janeiro in 1992. The UNFCCC was of paramount importance in the development of the Kyoto Protocol because it laid the foundation for the future action on climate change by addressing three key points. First of all it acknowledged that climate change was something that was real and caused by human activity such as deforestation and the burning of fossil fuels. Secondly, it adopted what was known as the Precautionary Principle—that a lack of scientific certainty should not be an excuse for a lack of action.[3] Third, it committed parties to the United Nations to take action on stabilizing greenhouse gas emissions.
The Kyoto Protocol was a more powerful agreement than the UNFCCC. The major distinction was that the Kyoto Protocol enforced through commitment, countries to actually reduce greenhouse gas emissions as where the UNFCCC only encouraged GHG emission stabilization. Another difference was that the Kyoto Protocol was legally binding and no such agreement had ever been executed on a global basis to reduce GHG emissions.[4] The Kyoto Protocol also placed a heavier emphasis of responsibility on the current level of GHG emissions in the atmosphere on developed countries over developing countries such as China and India. Developed countries bear the brunt of the blame because they are seen to have contributed to more pollution since the time of the Industrial Revolution. According to the David Suzuki Foundation, industrialized nations have produced over 84 percent of all fossil fuel emissions but also harness the most advanced and innovative technology needed to reduce GHG emissions. The developing world will be expected to meet targets in the next round of emission reduction targets in 2013.

[edit] Canada Ratifies

Though Canada only produces about 2 percent of the world’s GHG emissions the amount of GHG emissions produced is staggering--700 megatons per year, most coming from wasted energy. That translates into about each Canadian producing four times the global levels of emissions at 23.6 tones per person per year reports the David Suzuki Foundation.[5]

Canada was one of the very first countries to sign the Kyoto Protocol on April 29, 1998 with formal ratification occurring four years later on December 17, 2002.[6] Its involvement in the Kyoto Protocol however has been faulty. At the time that Canada ratified the Kyoto Protocol, the Liberal government was in power and agreed to aim for a six percent reduction in GHG emissions from 1990 level by 2012. In April of 2005, the Liberal government introduced a revised implementation plan and pledged $10 billion dollars to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions by 270 megatons a year by 2012 however, targets for Canada’s largest industrial polluters were relaxed.[7]

When the Conservative government was elected in 2007 they wanted to abandon Canada’s commitment to the Kyoto Protocol citing the GHG emission levels Canada were required to meet were unrealistic and unachievable. They wanted to develop what they considered ‘made-in-Canada’ solutions. This included spending money towards the environment on only the Canadian environment as opposed to international credits and on the development and use of cleaner technologies. In a national inventory prepared by Environment Canada, Canada’s GHG emissions in 2006 were about 22 percent the 1990 level and 29 percent above the level of Canada’s Kyoto target.[8]

There are now two opposing camps of thought about Canada’s involvement in the Kyoto Protocol. Those that support Canada’s involvement believe the benefits outweigh the negatives. They argue because Canada signed the agreement we are legally bound to reduce our GHG emissions according to prescribed targets. It is also cheaper for Canada to decrease GHG emissions within an international framework such as the Kyoto Protocol. Backing out now would only result in risking Canada’s international credibility. The cost of not acting now also prolongs the inevitable—greater damage from global warming down the road and a higher cost to rectify it. After 2012 deeper emission targets will be needed if the objective of stabilizing atmospheric GHG concentrations to a safe level are to be met.

Opponents of Canada’s involvement in the Kyoto Protocol approach it from more of an economic angle. One huge contention is that without US involvement in the Kyoto Protocol, the problem of seriously tackling GHG emissions globally can’t be addressed. While the US produces the most energy of any country in the world it also uses the most---double the amount of China.[9] Opponents feel that the US should assume a lead position in the reduction of GHG emissions and since they are not, the rest of the world being on board is futile. Also they argue that the target objectives set out in the Kyoto Protocol are simply unreasonable and therefore unachievable. Opponents believe that what is required is a more viable way to reduce GHG emissions without taking a hit to economic progress and growth. It should also be mandatory for each country, developed and developing, to meet GHG targets or make all targets voluntary.

[edit] The US Holds Out

The US is the only country left in the industrialized world that has yet to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. In February of 2002 the US administration introduced instead the Clean Skies and Global Climate Change initiatives. The initiatives target reduction in GHG emissions tied to gross domestic product and the size of the US economy.[10] At the grass-roots level, support for the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol has steadily been gaining ground since 2005. As of 2005, 165 cities across the US have voted to support the treaty.[11]
Despite holding out on the Kyoto Protocol, the US continues to explore other solutions to reducing greenhouse gas emissions that are less evasive and demanding. For example, they took the lead in forming the Asia-Pacific Partnership for Clean Development and Climate in July of 2005. The agreement is a joint collaboration between the US, Australia, Japan, South Korea and China to look at strategies for reducing GHG emissions up to 50 percent by the end of the 21st century. The agreement allows each country to set its own emission targets.[12] While some critics believe that US involvement in the Kyoto Protocol is pivotal for it to truly have a global impact, many countries are moving ahead towards establishing a new Kyoto Protocol post 2012. US involvement remains to be seen with the Bush administration no longer in power.

[edit] How it Works

Members of the Kyoto Protocol must meet GHG emission targets through National Measures. As well, the treaty outlines three-market based mechanisms that help to stimulate green investment and meet emission targets cost-effectively.

[edit] Emission trading

Countries have accepted targets for either limiting or reducing emissions. The targets are expressed as levels of emissions that are allowed or assigned from 2008 to 2012. The amount of allowed emissions is divided into “assigned amount units” (AAUs).

Therefore the aim of emission trading is to permit countries that have emission units to spare or permitted emissions not used, to sell the surplus capacity as a commodity to countries that are over their targets. Carbon dioxide, the principle greenhouse gas, is now tracked and traded similar to other commodities in what has become known as the “carbon market.” [13]

[edit] Clean development mechanism (CDM)

Countries with an emission-reduction or limitation commitment under the Kyoto Protocol can implement an emission-reduction project in a developing country to earn what are saleable certified emission reduction (CER) credits (each one equal to one ton of CO2) that can be used towards the meeting of Kyoto targets. To give an idea, the project may be a rural electrification project using solar panels or the installation of energy efficient boilers. The goal of the CDM is to encourage sustainable development while providing developed, industrialized countries with a little flexibility in meeting emission reduction targets.[14]

[edit] Joint implementation

Gives countries with an emission reduction or limitation commitment under the Kyoto Protocol to earn emission reduction units (ERUs) from an emission reduction or emission removal project in another country. Each country must be classified under the Treaty as an Annex B Party. Each ERU is equivalent to one ton of CO2 and can be counted towards meeting a target. [15]

[edit] Monitoring emission targets

Countries under the Kyoto Protocol are also required to monitor emissions and keep accurate records for trades being carried out using registry systems. An international transaction log is also kept by the UN Climate Change Secretariat to ensure transactions meet the rules of the Kyoto Protocol. Countries must also submit annual emission inventories and reports at regular intervals as outlined by the Protocol.[16]

[edit] References

  1. Kyoto Protocol. UNFCCC website. 28-01-2009.
  2. Kyoto Protocol:FAQs David Suzuki Foundation. 28-01-2009.
  3. United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Climate Action Network.28-01-2009.
  4. Kyoto Protocol:FAQs David Suzuki Foundation. 28-01-2009.
  5. Kyoto Protocol:FAQs David Suzuki Foundation. 28-01-2009.
  6. Canada-Kyoto timeline. CBC News. 28-01-2009.
  7. The Kyoto Protocol and Canada. Canada Online. 28-01-2009.
  8. Canada's 2006 Greenhouse Gas Inventory. Environment Canada. 28-01-2009.
  9. Top Energy Producers and Consumers. Infoplease. 28-01-2009.
  10. The Kyoto Protocol and Canada. Canada Online. 28-01-2009.
  11. Should the United States Ratify the Kyoto Protocol? 28-01-2009.
  12. Should the United States Ratify the Kyoto Protocol? 28-01-2009.
  13. Kyoto Protocol. UNFCCC website. 28-01-2009.
  14. Kyoto Protocol. UNFCCC website. 28-01-2009.
  15. Kyoto Protocol. UNFCCC website. 28-01-2009.
  16. Kyoto Protocol. UNFCCC website. 28-01-2009.