The Kyoto Treaty - An International Symbol To Keep Greenhouse Gas Emissions Down?
The Kyoto Treaty is an international agreement between nations to keep greenhouse gas emissions down. It is a response to serious concerns about global warming. Success of its efforts depends on you and me.
There has been a lot of talk about the Treaty for a long time. There is probably something in the news about it today.
Before you go on, just pause for a moment... Barack Obama's administration is spending some $150 Billion on development of renewable energy and technology. This, while the USA is also the last to hold out on signing the Kyoto Treaty. The first act of the Australian Rudd Government was to sign it. Obviously President Obama signed it in his first 100 days in office, nor later.
Why not? It's to do with China and India, now major CO2 emitters, not playing ball. Not on signing Kyoto, nor co-operating at Copenhagen. But it is also reflective of many Americans being sceptical about the reality of global warming.
At 18th April, 2006,
Which countries have not ratified the Treaty?
Notable exceptions were Australia and the USA. Both are major emitters of greenhouse gases, on a per capita basis. The main argument of these countries was that to reduce emissions they would hurt their economies.
Mind-boggling if you think that economies are often said to be in need of perpetual growth to sustain a nation’s wellbeing. Hhmmm… Strong economies but no clean air or water, with melting ice water up to our knees?
More recently, Australia did sign the treaty on the 3rd of December 2007, hours after the new Rudd Labor government was sworn in, replacing conservative John Howard's eleven years of recalcitrant government on this point.
Another argument against ratification has been that developing nations are not required to cut emissions. India and China are two of those and are indeed significant, and growing contributors to greenhouse gas emissions.
Under its Howard conservative government, Australia had embarked on an alternative international agreement together with APEC (Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation) countries. Its agreement mainly involves the development of ‘clean’ technologies to reduce emissions from fossil fuel use. Its critics point out that some of these technologies are a long way off any implementation and that APEC sets no enforceable targets.
This was perhaps more of a political reaction against the Kyoto Treaty than against global warming, one may wonder.
Anyway, ratifying or not ratifying is very much tied up in arguments around verification of the treaty. In this work, Verifying Treaty Compliance: Limiting Weapons of Mass Destruction and Monitoring Kyoto Protocol Provisions all angles are covered.
Why Russian ratification of the Kyoto Treaty?
A result of the Russian collapse of its economy in 1990 has been an almost 40% decrease in greenhouse gas emissions by that country. Therefore it does not have to lower its emissions from the 1990 level. Instead it can sell emission credits to other countries to offset their emissions where in excess of their targets.
There is much more that could be said about Russia's role. Read about it in Russia And the Kyoto Protocol: Opportunities And Challenges
Is the Kyoto Treaty successful?
Well, how do you want to look at it? From the point of view of melting ice sheets, disappearing polar bears, rising temperatures, and so on? Or by crunching emission target numbers?
Neither are promising. We know that the environmental indicators tell us things are getting worse.
Overall the industrialised countries cut emissions by about 3% by 2000. But this was mainly due to the effect of a steeply declined industry in former Soviet countries.
This effect overlays an actual increase in emissions by rich nations by about 8%.
The UN determined that by the Kyoto’ Treaty’s target date 2010, emissions will be higher than 1990 levels by 10%. Some countries in the European Union, like Spain, Portugal and Ireland have not progressed on their targets. But Spain is growing into a major solar energy developer and user.
All might not be lost because it is undeniably better to make an effort than to do nothing. Perhaps when the USA will eventually rejoin the Kyoto Treaty real advances can be made. The US, after all, accounts for about 25% of global greenhouse gas emissions. And Australia says that, while not ratifying the Kyoto Treaty, it is on track to achieve its emission target.
Could the Kyoto Treaty become successful?
There is a significant body of knowledge that says that a global cut in emissions of 60% is needed to ward off worst-case scenarios of effects of global warming. The Kyoto Treaty calls for a 5% cut.
Obviously, much more needs to be done. Perhaps action on global warming cannot be entrusted to politicians. It is up to you and me to make some needed changes in our lives.
Meanwhile the Kyoto Treaty is not a wasted effort if it can be built on.
So, still some faith in politicians on this score then? You ask. Yes, and no, and thanks for the question.
In this exhaustive work Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol: The Role of Institutions and Instruments to Control Global Change you can find much more detail than I could ever give you on a website. Very worthwhile for Kyotophiles!
Like Al Gore said when launching his film documentary An Inconvenient Truth: "You can only create your own reality for so long. Mother Nature has joined this debate with a strong voice; Hurricane Katrina was a wake-up call."
See a clip from An Inconvenient Truth here.
You can get the entire movie An Inconvenient Truth right here.
Some US States have taken matters into their own hands and set their own vehicle emission standards for instance. Some are co-operating to implement their own emission credit system and otherwise limit emissions.
Are poor countries penalised by the Kyoto treaty?
Many poor countries have signed the Kyoto Treaty. They are not required to commit to emission targets but must report emissions and develop programs that reduce them. India and China are among these nations.
Like the poor and disabled people of New Orleans discovered during the environmental disaster that was Hurricane Katrina, those who are badly off now will be among the worst hit by effects of global warming. This is true also for poor nations. Therefore the responsibilities of rich countries, whose wealth is often built on cheap labour and goods from poor countries, weigh heavily.
Emission credits can be sold by countries that are under their emission targets to nations that exceed them. That is emission trading.
Credits can also be gained through activities that reduce the impact of emissions, such as large-scale tree planting, conserving existing bush or forest and so on.
The Kyoto Treaty and you
Whether a government has ratified the Kyoto Treaty or not, there are no barriers to private businesses getting involved in greenhouse gas reduction programs or technology, in their own country, or abroad. Do you run such a business? I’d love to hear what you are doing Do you run such a business? I’d love to hear what you are doing
And, of course economies are built upon consumers. You and I.
Remember, it is not just technology, laws and rules that can deliver a flourishing, sustainable world. Can they at all?
Really make a connection with someone who has a disability, or a frail-aged person, or even with someone close to death. Do so in a genuine spirit of mutual care and you may learn about what it is to live well within severe limits, with dependency and unpredictability.
That’s the kind of knowledge that underlies a truly sustainable society. Knowledge of a whole life.