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31-01-2010, 13:18

Kyoto Protocol (Kyoto Accord, Climate Change Treaty)

The Kyoto Protocol is a treaty intended to reduce the impact of human activity on the earth’s environment. The focus of the treaty is global warming, but it also contains goals to reduce poverty and shepherd water RESOURCES. It is also called the Kyoto Accord or the Climate Change Treaty. This agreement was signed on December 11, 1997, in Kyoto, Japan, and was ratified by 160 countries by September 2002, the time of the United Nations World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa. The Kyoto Protocol is significant for its emphasis on economic development in a manner that can be sustained by the planet’s resources. The Kyoto Protocol sets targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 8 percent below 1990 levels in the EUROPEAN UNION and 6 percent in Japan. Less-developed countries are not obligated to limit their emissions under the agreement. Under the Clinton administration, the United States agreed to a 7 percent reduction below 1990 levels, but the second Bush administration argued that this target would curtail its economy too much and withdrew from negotiations in March 2001.

HISTORY


The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) resulted in the creation of the Kyoto Protocol. In 1974 an English atmospheric scientist, Brian Gardiner, hypothesized that the earth’s stratosphere was developing a hole in it due to chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), chemicals found in emissions resulting from burning fossil fuels (coal or petroleum). The decade from 1970 to 1980 saw an increased awareness in the damage to the earth’s stratosphere, as the “hole” in the ozone layer over Antarctica grew. The Kyoto Protocol evolved out of many earlier steps.
• Vienna Protocol (1981). This summit was convened to acknowledge and discuss the problem with the ozone layer, and it organized a working group.
MONTREAL PROTOCOL (1987). This measure identified offending chemicals by name and stipulated that industrial activities continue on the condition that industry produce fewer CFCs. The Montreal Protocol added halon (an ingredient in fire extinguishers) to the list of offending chemicals.
• London Amendment to the Montreal Protocol (1990). The London Amendment mandated complete phaseout of the production of chemicals degrading the atmosphere (CFCs, halon, carbon tetrachloride by 2000, and methyl chloroform by the year 2005). This was a more aggressive approach, in place of reductions in production levels.
• The Copenhagen Agreement (1992). This was significant for its establishment of a WORLD BANK fund to assist EMERGING MARKETS in seeking alternatives to CFCs. The fund’s contributors were developed countries such as United States.
In 1997 the Kyoto Protocol set the following environmental goals: to slow the rate at which emissions are accumulating in the earth’s atmosphere, to decrease the world’s reliance on fossil fuel, to stop deforestation, and to explore renewable energy more actively. Industrialized nations argue that too drastic a reduction in the rate of increase in emissions will stagnate the world economy. Environmentalists counter that all nations enjoy the benefit of the clean air, therefore all must join in the effort to end global warming.

PARTICIPANTS IN THE DEBATE OVER THE KYOTO PROTOCOL


Scientists, on whose work legislators rely but whose word is sometimes disputed, play an important role in defining environmental problems. Participants in the Kyoto Protocol who are held accountable for environmental degradation challenge the credibility of scientific data or deny the environmental problem altogether. Lawmakers who do not understand or trust data they are being given, however good that data may be, postpone decisive action. With each environmental summit called by the United Nations, countries review new developments from scientific research (either privately funded or government-funded) and revisit questions on pollution costs. Members of industry, whose PRODUCTION processes create harmful emissions, argue that the cost of providing their communities with goods and services will go up if the standards of the Kyoto Protocol are enforced. The threat of putting employees out of work leads to some vociferous arguments against environmental standards that are seen as too harsh. The biggest consumers of fossil fuels are power plants, energy-intensive industries, and motorized vehicles. History shows that an industry or a utility, left on its own, is very slow to change its manufacturing practices if it must incur a cost. Southern countries (Australia and New Zealand) whose land mass is closest to the Antarctic, where the ozone hole is located, suffer higher rates of skin cancer due to exposure to too much ultraviolet light. (Australia did not ratify the Kyoto Protocol, although it was to be permitted to increase its levels of emissions to +8 percent of the 1990 levels.) Developing countries (e.g., India, Thailand) need to develop INFRASTRUCTUREs, generate electricity, and grow economically to catch up to a STANDARD OF LIVING more like that of industrialized nations. The social agenda of the Kyoto Protocol is complex because there must be increased productivity to raise developing nations out of poverty. That is why the developing countries have no emissions caps set in their portion of the agreement, something the developed nations perceive as unfair COMPETITION. A long-standing struggle between industrialized nations and developing nations concerns the proposition that the most-polluting nations should own the biggest share of the cost. The emissions of developed countries (European Union, United States, and Japan) constitute the bulk of the problem plaguing the environment. These nations wish to continue to grow and also retain a competitive presence in the world economy. In 2002 California’s emissions equaled Germany’s, at 12 percent of the world’s output. The United States’ emissions contribution was 36 percent of the world’s output. The withdrawal of the United States from the Kyoto Protocol has drawn criticism from most quarters, especially U.S. environmentalists. Their skepticism comes from doubt regarding the United States’ ability to control its level of greenhouse emissions by government programs inside the country. The Kyoto Protocol contains numerous compliance-related elements, such as reporting requirements and an expert-review process to assess implementation and identify potential cases of noncompliance. To satisfy critics, the United States opted in 2001 to allocate money to research on advanced energy technology and research on climate change. Under the second Bush administration, the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy had its budget increased by $1.2 billion. Its mission has been to investigate the use of wind power, solar power, and renewable energy. The Kyoto Protocol strives for reduction in the rate of growth of emissions so that all countries can continue to have clean, healthy air without making the problem of global warming worse. The protocol also addresses the need for people to rise from poverty in developing nations. It presses for respect for the environment while achieving sustainable development so that the earth’s resources are not exhausted prematurely. The levels of emissions prescribed in the treaty, tolerable to the environment if not world governments, are set to allow the world’s rate of ECONOMIC GROWTH to continue, even if more slowly. As long as there are industries, utilities, and cars serving people, greenhouse gasses will persist.