global warming and kyoto protocol
Kyoto Protocol, international treaty adopted in 1997 that sets concrete targets for developed countries to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming, also known as climate change. The Kyoto Protocol is a supplementary treaty to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and went into force in February 2005. More than 130 countries are party to it, with this figure set to rise; so far, however, the United States has refused to ratify the treaty.
Under the Kyoto Protocol, developed, or industrialized, countries are subject to legally binding commitments to curb their emissions of the six main greenhouse gases: carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, and sulfur hexafluoride. The targets are based mostly on the emission levels of these pollutants in 1990. In general the treaty calls for industrialized nations to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 5 percent below 1990 levels. The target goals must be accomplished by 2012, and commitments to start achieving the targets begin in 2008. Developing countries—that is, most countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America—are only subject to general commitments.
The Kyoto Protocol is a flexible treaty, allowing individual governments to decide what specific policies and reforms to implement to meet their commitments. It also allows countries to offset some of their emissions by increasing the carbon dioxide absorbed, or sequestered, by trees and other vegetation. However, eligible sequestration activities, and the amount of offsetting allowed, are tightly controlled.
In addition, the Kyoto Protocol established three market-based mechanisms to help bring down the costs of lowering emissions. These mechanisms are known as joint implementation, the clean development mechanism (CDM), and emissions trading. Under joint implementation and the CDM, a country can invest in a project to curb emissions in another country, where it is cheaper to do so, and thereby acquire the resulting credit to offset against its own target. Under emissions trading, a country that exceeds its own target of lowering emissions can transfer the surplus credits to another country that is finding it more difficult to reduce its emissions. Developing countries can participate, but only through the CDM. Safeguards are in place to ensure that emission credits are genuine.
Developed countries are subject to stringent reporting requirements, and a compliance committee considers any suspected noncompliance. Countries commit to achieve a certain level of their target goal beginning in 2008. Any country that fails to meet its emissions target may be penalized by having to meet a proportionally higher target for the following commitment period and by having to prepare an action plan to show how emissions will be reined in.
The entry into force of the Kyoto Protocol was delayed for several years while countries finalized its details. A package of decisions, known as the Marrakech Accords, was finally agreed in 2001, setting out in detail how the protocol’s rules and mechanisms will work. Implementation is now underway, with the CDM already operational. Many businesses are especially keen to participate in the market mechanisms, and the European Union (EU) launched a regional emissions trading system in January 2005. Meeting the protocol’s targets, however, will be a challenge for many countries.
Talks are due to start soon on next steps in the international effort to control climate change. Key controversial issues will include when and how to negotiate stronger commitments for developing countries, and how to secure the participation of the United States. Under the administration of Democratic president Bill Clinton, the United States supported the protocol but never submitted it to Congress for ratification because of opposition from the Republican Party. When Republican George W. Bush became president in 2001, the U.S. withdrew its support for the protocol. Bush claimed that the treaty would harm the U.S. economy and was unfair to industrialized nations because developing countries were not required to control their emissions.
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