What is the Kyoto Protocol?
The Kyoto Protocol was an agreement negotiated by many countries in December 1997 and came into force with Russia's
ratification on February 16, 2005. The reason for the lengthy timespan
between the terms of agreement being settled upon and the protocol being
engaged was due to terms of Kyoto requiring at least 55 parties to ratify
the agreement and for
the total of those parties emissions to be at least 55% of global
production of greenhouse gases.
The protocol was developed under the UNFCCC
- the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
Participating countries that have ratified (which is an important term that
I'll clarify) the Kyoto Protocol have committed to cut emissions of not
only carbon dioxide, but of also other greenhouse gases, being:
Nitrous oxide (N2O)
Sulphur hexafluoride (SF6)
If participant countries continue with emissions above the targets,
then they are required to engage in emissions trading; i.e. buying
"credits" from other participant countries who are able to exceed their
reduction targets in order to offset.
The goals of Kyoto were to see participants collectively reducing
emissions of greenhouse gases by 5.2% below the emission levels of 1990
While the 5.2% figure is a collective one, individual countries
were assigned higher or lower targets and some countries were permitted
increases. For example, the USA was expected
to reduce emissions by 7%. This chart gives you an idea why different
countries were apportioned different targets:
Graph by Robert
which have ratified the Kyoto protocol, are not obligated to reduce
greenhouse gas production at the moment as they are developing countries;
i.e. they weren't seen as the main culprits for emissions during the
period of industrialization thought to be the cause for the global warming
This is a little odd given that China is about to overtake the USA in
emissions, but take into account the major differences in population and
that much of the production in these countries is fuelled by demand from
the West and influence from the West on their own culture. As a result of
this loophole, the West has effectively outsourced much of its carbon
emissions to China and India.
This phenomenon, whether intended or coincidental is a major hole in
the Kyoto Protocol.
Signing vs. Ratification
While almost every country in
the world has signed the Kyoto Protocol, the signature alone is symbolic; a
token gesture of support.
Ratification carries legal obligations and effectively becomes a contractual
169 countries have ratified the agreement. Of the signatories, only 2 refused to ratify Kyoto
up until December of 2007 - Australia and the USA.
Australia negotiated hard when the Kyoto Protocol was being developed; in
fact it was to be allowed an 8% increase in emissions. Even so, Australia
refused to ratify the agreement until a change in government in late 2007. The excuse - it will be bad for
Australia's economy, the same reasoning the USA uses.
I seem to remember the same sorts of fears in regards to the computer
age, but regardless of even that, in order to have a health economy, you
need a reasonably healthy environment to support it.
What makes the USA and Australia's (previous) position even more untenable is that
the USA, as seen above, is currently the largest emitter of carbon dioxide
in total of any country. Australia holds the shameful record for the
highest amount of carbon dioxide emissions per person.
Kyoto - success or failure?
The Kyoto Protocol, while well intentioned, would appear to be doomed
to failing its objectives even before the 2008-2012 averaging period
commences. Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are rising at a
frightening rate with no sign of slowing. Global temperatures are
continuing to rise.
The science behind Kyoto was shaky due to the limited availability of
crucial data and knowledge at the time; particularly in regard to positive
feedback loops in nature being revealed that amplify warming and prevent
carbon dioxide from being absorbed. Scientists studying global warming are
finding Nature fighting back in ways they never contemplated daily.
Without the USA ratifying the protocol or recently emerging economic
powerhouses such as China reducing emissions drastically; the targets will
likely not be met.
Even the "permissible" degree of global warming generated by
target levels (if reached) will have far greater environmental impact that
was originally envisioned.
Kyoto should be viewed as a stepping stone to more drastic action. And
that action is required now.
Politicians and diplomats will continue to argue, finger point and
delay massive action due to a silo mentality. Many elected officials are
concerned only with the their careers, their political parties, the term
of office or winning the next election. The patriots are concerned only
with their countries. They have not been trained to think globally in
terms of the environment.
The scientific community has made it abundantly clear. We are in deep
trouble. This is a global issue that does not care about race, color or
creed, nor political affiliation, although ironically the people who
produce the least emissions will be the ones to suffer the most. That's
always been the way of humanity.
It's down to us as individuals to not only do what we can to reduce our
own carbon emissions, but to raise the awareness of others until
collectively our shouts are such a mighty voice that no politician can
ignore it. Better they hear the shouts of protest now than the screams of
agony from wars over natural resources or the wailing of starvation in the
future .. and it may well be their own voices amongst the anguish; that's
how little time we have left.
"Global warming - it's our choice"