Vehicles produce a large share of our greenhouse gas emissions. Rapid population growth and use of energy per person also contibute to the worldwide rise in greenhouse gas emissions. Since the industrial revolution carbon dioxide gases emitted into the atmosphere have increased by 27%; methane has more than doubled.
In response to a growing concern that human activities are causing increasing concentrations of "greenhouse gases"*** to build-up in the atmosphere, 160 nations met in 1992 for the first Conference of the Parties (COP-1) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The "Earth Summit," as it has been named, drew up the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), a legally non-binding, voluntary pledge that the major industrialized/developed nations would reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2000. Essentially, the world had finally put its concerns on paper and recognized climate change as a "common concern of mankind." Though the United States was one of the first nations to ratify the pledge, it quickly became appartent that amoung other major nations such as Japan, the US would not meet the voluntary stabilization target by 2000. Increasing fear of global warming ,and thus sea level rise, changes in weather patterns, and health effects, amoung the scientific community led to another world meeting in 1995.
Some 870 delegates from 170 countries attended the 28 March- 7 April, 1995 Conference. Of these, 116 (plus the European Union) are Parties to the Convention (meaning that they had ratified the UNFCCC treaty at least three months before). The result of the meeting, the Berlin Mandate, established a process that would enable the Parties to take appropriate action for the period beyond 2000, including a strengthening of developed country commitments, through the adoption of a protocol or another legal instrument. It also set quantified objectives for limiting and reducing emissions within specified time-frames, including a deadline of 1997 for the Protocol.
A third Conference of the Parties was held on December 1-11, 1997. The negotiations, which took place in Kyoto, Japan, dealt with three main disparities between the key players: (1) the amount of binding reductions in greenhouse gases to be required, and the gases to be included in these requirements; (2) whether developing countries should be part of the requirements for greenhouse gas limitations; and (3) whether to allow emissions trading and joint implementation, which allow credit to be given for emissions reductions in those other countries or locations where they may be cheaper to attain. The result, the Kyoto Protocol, essentially spells out the committments of the members to reduce gases to below 1990 levels for three of the greenhouse gases and below 1995 levels for the three man-made gases, averaged over the commitment period 2008-2012. The Protocol also calls on all Parties to take a number of steps to formulate national and regional programs to improve "local emission factors," activity data, models, and national inventories of greenhouse gas emissions. Parties are also committed to formulate, publish, and update climate change mitigation and adaptation measures, and to cooperate in promotion and transfer of environmentally sound technologies and in scientific and technical research on the climate system.
Opened for signatures for a one year period beginning on March 16, 1998 and ending on March 15, 1999, the Protocol recieved 84 signatures. The Protocol does not go into effect until 55 nations, including developed countries (also referred to as Annex 1 Parties) that account for at least 55% of total carbon dioxide emissions in 1990, ratify it, making the United States a very important figure. As of February 2000, 22 countries are reported to have ratified the treaty. Nations are not subject to its commitments unless they have ratified it and it enters into force.
While Kyoto spelled out the "mechanisms" or ways to achieve emissions reductions, it left out the detail on how those ideas will work. As a result, no one knew what the rules of the game would really be. The three main mechanisms to get reductions are ideas called "emissions trading," "joint implementation" and the "clean development mechanism." Emissions trading lets countries buy or sell excess emissions to others. Joint implementation gives developed countries credit for investments in clean technologies in other developed countries. And clean development mechanism gives developed countries credit for projects in still-developing nations.
So, in Buenos Aires, the next phase of negotiations began -- and along with it, much of the political haggling over details. November of 1998 marked the fourth meeting of the COP. A work plan, the Buenos Aires Action Plan, was drawn up with the intention of achieving completion by the end of 2000.
The fifth meeting of the Conference of the Parties in Bonn, Germany
was held on October 25-November 24, 1999. Few decisions were reached
on the more difficult issues outlined in the Buenos Aires Plan of Action.
The next meeting, scheduled for November 13-24, 2000 in The Hague, Netherlands,
is to mark the completion of the Buenos Aires Plan of Action. Two
formal rounds of talks, June 12-16 and September 11-15, 2000, as well as
continuing informal discussions and negotiations should help achieve this
There remain a number of unresolved issues that must be worked out before ratification will take place on a large scale. For example, what would the consequences of noncompliance be? How will countries be held accountable and emissions reductions policed? Then, too, little progress is expected on one of the hottest political issues: what voluntary reductions developing countries might make. At this point, developing nations do not have any binding emission-reduction commitments. Many say they should not be expected to pay for a problem created by others. And yet, some of them, such as China, India, Indonesia, and Brazil, are already major producers of greenhouse gases. If those nations are not in the game, scientists like Tom Wigley of National Center for Atmospheric Research say the treaty's objective simply will not be achieved, even if all the industrialized nations meet or exceed the emissions targets set for them in the treaty. The U.S. Senate has made it clear that congressional ratification of the Kyoto treaty could be tough without some kind of commitment on this front from developing countries.
Not surprisingly, economic concerns seem to be the Protocol's greatest enemy. Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, among other nations in the Organization for Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), fear losing revenue if consumption of fossil fuels is reduced. Russia and China fear that restrictions on fossil fuels would harm their efforts to industrialize. The U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Japan also oppose specific reduction agreements, fearing that cuts in fossil fuel consumption would be economically damaging.
The United States, in particular, is afraid the Kyoto protocol on global warming could cost thousands of jobs. The British journal, Energy Policy, reported research that shows the Kyoto protocol on global warming would cost thousands of jobs in several key American industries and could well kill the production of aluminum and refined petroleum products in the United States. The research found that 23,000 American jobs would be lost in the aluminum industry alone, while the chemical manufacturing industry could face job losses ranging from 7,500 to 75,000. But although studies predicts slowing economic growth as a result of higher energy costs, over the long run this amounts to just tens of billions of dollars in an economy that grows to more than $10 trillion.
As it seems the Kyoto Protocol cannot survive without US ratification, a look at US policies remains relevant to the success of the Protocol. The US has drawn up its own Climate Plan with two main provisions. First, the Clinton administration has asked Congress for $6.3 billion over five years for a technology initiative offering tax incentives and R&D expenditures "to encourage energy efficiency and the use of cleaner energy sources." Second, after a "decade of experience, a decade of data, a decade of technological innovation," the plan holds that whatever administration is in office in 2007 will cap U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and institute a domestic system of tradable rights to emit. Unfortunately, under current policy, the end of the "decade of opportunity" is likely to find U.S. emissions 20 to 25 percent above the 1990 level. The International Energy Agency estimates that by 2000 the United States' emissions will be 16 percent higher than they were in 1990, and climbing. A cap on emissions stringent enough to turn the energy economy around in three to five years seems virtually impossible. Moreover, the administration has promised not to send the Kyoto protocol to the Senate for ratification until developing nations commit to "substantial participation." It is not easy to see when such a condition might be met, particularly if vigorous U.S. action is in any way needed to involve the developing world.
Rapid growth has increased demand for energy in many developing countries,
adding greatly to greenhouse gas emissions from power stations that burn
fossil fuels. In 1995, the industrial sector accounted for 41 per
cent of global energy use and up to 47 per cent of global carbon dioxide
emissions. There is, therefore, an urgent need to accelerate wider
introduction of energy-efficient industrial technologies and to encourage
faster development of environmentally friendlier energy supplies; hope
remains that the Kyoto Protocol can facilitate this development.
*** Defined eventually in the Kyoto Protocol as carbon dioxide, methane,
nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, and sulphur hexafluoride.
WMO: World Meteorlogical Organization
UNEP: United Nations Environment Program
IPCC: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
INC: Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee
COP: Conference of Parties