What is the Kyoto protocol?
The Kyoto Protocol is part of a treaty produced during the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro from 4rd-13th January. The treaty itself is the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), although this is less widely known than the Kyoto Protocol itself.
What were the aims of the UNFCCC?
The UNFCCC aimed to achieve “stabilisation of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system”.
What does this mean? The UNFCCC was established to prevent greenhouse gas levels (particularly carbon dioxide) from increasing due to human sources, and thereby causing climate change. The treaty itself was not legally binding at all, and no rules for enforcement of guidelines were described. Rather, the treaty provided a basis upon which updates such as the Kyoto Protocol could be built. The Kyoto Protocol does indeed state mandatory emission limits.
When did the Protocol come about?
On 11th Dec 1997, the Kyoto Protocol was adopted, and it was implemented on the 16th February 2005.
What does the Protocol state?
Now 184 states have ratified the Kyoto Protocol. States are divided into ‘Annex I countries’ and ‘non-annex I countries’. Annex I countries constitute 37 developed countries, which have agreed to reduce levels of six main gases by 5.2% from their 1990 levels: sulphur hexafluoride, nitrous oxide, methane, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, and of course carbon dioxide.
By the Protocol, all of the annex I countries must annually submit a report detailing all human sources of greenhouse gas emissions.
What are ‘flexible mechanisms’ in the Kyoto Protocol?
Emissions trading is one of the methods by which countries may balance their environmental books. The agreement details a ‘cap and trade’ system. The cap, as described above, forces countries to reduce emissions by 5.2% on their 1990 level between 2008 and 2012. However, businesses may ‘emission trade’ to buy the right to higher emissions, either from companies, businesses or industries that do not require them, or from brokers. Many financial institutions and individual investors are now beginning to investigate this market.
The EU has formed a group and produced the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, using EU Allowance Units that are equivalent to the Kyoto Protocol’s AAUs (Assigned Allowance Units). This scheme in the EU incorporates over 10 000 of the members of energy and industrial sectors which, together, contribute nearly half of the EU’s total carbon dioxide emissions, and 40% of its total greenhouse gas emissions.
Besides this method, the Protocol allows developed countries to invest in projects that reduce emissions in developing countries, rather than undergo more expensive emission reduction mechanisms in their own countries. This agreement is known as the ‘clean development mechanism’.
Problems of the Protocol
The USA still does not belong to the Kyoto Protocol, despite being responsible for 20.2% of the world’s emissions (the USA is beaten to top spot by China, with 21.5%). Although not a member of the Protocol, the USA is a signatory of the UNFCCC.
Emission limits for Annex I countries do not include emissions by international aviation. Some have argued that the Protocol does not provide sufficient measures to reduce greenhouse emissions to safe levels. Furthermore, some environmental economists have criticised the Protocol over concerns that the costs outweigh its benefits, that its goals are unrealistic, or that the measures suggested would do little to curb emissions.
Others feel that not using per capita emissions, but using levels of emissions in 1990, increases the inequality between developing and industrialised countries.
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