Human survival on the planet is threatened by many factors, one of which is the threat posed by heat-trapping green house gases that cause a change in climate. This change leads to the so-called global warming, whose harmful consequences are witnessed globally. The rise of the see levels, unusually warm temperatures, an increased variability in whether patterns are some of the example of global warming.
The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) predicts that the average global temperature could increase by 3. degrees Celsius by the end of the twenty-first century and could be equivalent to that which ended the last ice age. Scientists argue about the reasons of the global warming. While some of them claim that it is a part of cyclical change, others believe that the emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) primarily by the industrial Global North states are part of the problem Climate change is not just an environmental issue: It is also affecting the well-being of millions of people.
The United Nations (UN) contribution to the development of international cooperation in the protection of enviornment is huge. A significant progress in this cooperation was made in 1997 when more than 160 countries gathered in Japn to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, “which sets specific binding targets for emissions of greenhouse gases from industrialized countries, together with an array of complex mechanisms to give flexibility in how they are implemented and to assist global efforts towards more sustainable development. 1 This paper provides an overview of the Kyoto Protocol and the position of the Unites States on issue of global warming. One of the attempts to combat the danger of increasing global warming was made at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, where more than 160 countries (including the United States) ratified the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC).
The primary objective of the Convention was the ” stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. 2 All Parties, that ratified the Convention, were committed to develop and publish a national database of the “anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of all greenhouse gases” and to cooperate in finding new solutions, which will reduce or eliminate the climate change. 3 Under the terms of international law, any international agreement has to be ratified domestically to have legal authority. In addition, a minimum number of ratifications is necessary for an agreement to gain its legal force. The UN FCCC was signed by 50 countries, including the United States, and entered into force in 1993.
The next step was to hold the first Conference of the Parties to the Convention, which took place in Germany in March-April 1995. 4 Here, the delegates adopted the “Berlin mandate”-a mechanism which required Parties to enter into negotiations for reducing emissions through quantitative targets and timelines. 5 However, during this Conference countries recognized that a stronger agreement was needed to establish legally binding limits. They also realized that the convention could not go far enough since the developed countries, such as the USA and Japan, could not meet the voluntary goals of reducing their emissions by 2000.
The Third Session of the Conference of the Parties, which was held in Kyoto, Japan, in December 1997, resulted in a ‘protocol’ known as the Kyoto Protocol. The Protocol was the first legally binding treaty which required the reductions in emissions of CO 2 and five other greenhouse gases (methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, and sulfur hexafluorides) by thirty-eight industrial countries and the EU to be reached between the years 2008 and 2012. 6 Since the developed countries are the large energy users and thus large greenhouse gas producers, they were supposed to take the lead in reducing the emissions.
Defining obligations for the major industrialized countries, the protocol (Annex 1countries) states. “The Parties included in Annex I shall, individually or jointly, ensure that their aggregate anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions of the greenhouse gases listed in Annex A do not exceed their assigned amounts, calculated pursuant to their qualified emission limitations and reduction commitments inscribed in Annex B and in accordance with the provisions of this Article, with the view to reducing their overall emissions of such gases by at least 5% below 1990 levels in the commitment period 2008 to 2012.. 7 Limitations on carbon dioxide emissions were not applied to developing countries since they share 41 percent of global carbon emissions containing 80 percent of the world’s population.
Therefore, under Article 4 (1) Parties that are not included in Annex 1, will not have new commitments but have to “continue to advance the implementation of existing commitments in order to achieve sustainable development. “8 This decision has caused disapproval among developed countries since emissions from developing countries are growing by 5 per cent annually. Developing countries will take the lead in producing emissions in the coming decades as “their economies and populations grow and the societies jump on the industrial bandwagon. ” 10 Moreover, it is also generally understood the developing countries are most “at risk for environmental degradation and less well placed than the rich to cope with its consequence. ” 11 Therefore, if developing countries do not have binding targets, climate change and global emissions will continue to rise despite the Kyoto Protocol.
Although the Protocol was not embraced enthusiastically by some 130 developing countries, which refused to accept even voluntary commitments to reduce emissions, its benefits are crucial for the human well-being and for the protection of the globe’s natural recourses and ecosystem. According to Thomas Schelling: “Potential climate risks avoided include more severe weather patterns, hobbled ecosystems, less bio diversity, less potable water, loss of coastal areas from rising sea levels, rises in mean temperature, more infectious diseases such as malaria, yellow fever, and cholera. 12 Although 170 parties signed the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, its rules, however, required that at least 55 members ratified it domestically, so that the Protocol could gain its legislative force.
Since the US population and GDP were growing faster than of Europe’s or Japan’s, it had to weigh the pros and cons in ratifying the Kyoto Protocol. Although the U. S. Government admitted that climate change was a worrying factor, the immediate threat to the country’s economy, by adopting the Protocol, was too great. The U. S. oncerns had to be taken into considerations since it is the largest contributor of carbon dioxide emissions. Consequently this gave the US great deal of weight and it demanded that various provisions should be included. A compromise was reached by eight reduction differentials. The principle of differentials allows groups of countries to have collective targets. Differentials ranged from an obligation to cut emissions by 8 percent (for the EU) to a license to increase emissions by 10 percent (for Iceland). The US agreed to cut emissions to 7 percent below its 1990 level.
Japan, although more energy efficient that the U. S. or Europe, had to cut its emissions by only six percent. In addition, the U. S. demanded the need for flexibility within the Protocol; “in particular, that each state individually should decide on the measures and policies necessary for the implementation of its obligations, the establishment of a mechanism allowing the purchase from another state of unused emission quotas (’emission trading’), and to allow states to undertake climate mitigation projects in one state but claim the benefit of reduced emission for itself. 14 Although the EU was in favor of cooperation in meeting the targets; the US eventually ended up getting its wish. According to the Annex 1 of the Protocol countries will be allowed to “implement and/or further elaborate policies and measures in accordance with its national circumstances. ”
However, with the EU pressure, provisions were installed which gave the Conference of the Parties the power to “consider ways and means to elaborate the coordination of such policies and measures. 16 Admitting that relying on domestic measures alone to meet the targets could be troublesome, the Kyoto Protocol offers considerable flexibility associated with multiple gases and sinks through three mechanisms: Emissions Trading, Joint Initiative, and the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). Emissions Trading Emission Trading is the first mechanism in the Protocol which aims to provide flexibility and choice in terms of meeting individual quotas as to the amount of reductions.
The concept behind Emission Trading “enables any two Parties to the Protocol to exchange part of their emission commitment, in effect redistributing the division of allowed emissions between them, at any time. “17. Initially this trading activity has been limited to Annex 1 parties, as they are the only parties with legally binding commitments. Joint Initiative Project-based ‘joint implementation’ refers to the possibility of emission reductions in one country being funded from, or arranged jointly with another country or company from that country.
The sponsor company and/or country can claim the emission reduction as a ‘credit’ against its own required reductions in emission. “18 This cross-border investments are applied only to Annex 1 Parties as stated in Article 6 of the Protocol. “For the purpose of meeting its commitments under Article 3in a cost-effective manner, any Party included in Annex I.. may, in accordance with the international rules on emission trading established in paragraphs 5 and 7 of this Article, transfer to or acquire from any Party included in Annex I… ny of its emission allowed uder Article 3.. “19 Clean Development Mechanism The Clean Development Mechanism is a mechanism that aims to address the issues of climate change by international co-operation.
Its activities, similar to those of joint implementation, precede with non- Annex I countries. Its primary role is “to assist Parties not included in Annex I in achieving sustainable development and in contributing to the ultimate objective of the Convention, and to assist Parties included in Annex I in achieving compliance with their… ommitments under Article 3. “20 Although many countries ratified the Protocol, the United States, being the largest contributor to global emissions with around 23% of emissions of carbon dioxide, refused to accept legally binding conditions of the Protocol. Back in 1997, the US Senate, by 95-0, asked President Bill Clinton not to sign any protocol unless binding targets and timetable are set for both developing as well as industrialized countries. Therefore, the Clinton Administration never ratified the Protocol.
In July 2001, more than 170 countries gathered again in Germany. Here they reached a new treaty that formally required the industrialized countries to cut their emission of gases that cause global warming. . It is undeniable that the US plays the key role in any implementation of the Kyoto Protocol mechanisms and that its participation in reducing GHGs as a country with highest level of GHG emissions is essential. To enter into force, The Kyoto Protocol has to be retified by developed countries representing at least 55 per cent of global GHG emissions. Being the first industrialized country in the world to ratify the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1992, the United States appeared reluctant to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. President Bush labeled the treaty “fatally flawed”, explaining, “We’ll be working with our allies to reduce greenhouse gases, but I will not accept a plan that will harm our economy and hurt American workers. ” 21 There are many reasons why the US refused to ratify the protocol. As Mr.
Bush said that the Kyoto Protocol on Global Warming was “in many ways unrealistic” and that its targets were ” were arbitrary and not based upon science” and “no one can say with any certainty what constitutes a dangerous level of warming, and therefore what level must be avoided. “22 One of the fundamental reasons behind the US rejection was that no agreement was reached in Kyoto concerning the commitments that developing countries should assume to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.
The US pointed out that the Protocol excluded 80% of the world and that it is clear that climate protection requires the participation of the developing countries because by the middle of the next century they are predicted to generate the largest share of carbon dioxide. Developing nations have no incentive to reduce their economic growth. China, for example, is the second largest emitter after the US. Its per capita emissions are about one seventh of those in the United States, though.
This would have put the US at a great disadvantage, as its projected emissions for years 2008 to 2012 would have to be reduced by 40% to fulfill their obligations under the Kyoto Agreement. Another reason, as Mr. Bush stated, the reduction of CO2 will harm American economy and population. The cut of emissions will result in between 18 and 77 percent less coal use than projected for 2010, particularly affecting electricity generation, and between 2 and 13 percent less petroleum use, mainly affecting transportation.
Whenever use of a factor of production such as energy is restricted, economic performance falls for some period of time, the price of energy and other goods and services rises, and consumption and employment decline. 23 George Bush came under significant criticism after rejecting the Kyoto Protocol; however, he recognized the problems surrounding climate change and admits, “There is no doubt that humans have obviously influenced the climate”24. As a result, in 2001, the Bush administration announced that they were still committed to “addressing climate change issue in a manner that protects our environment, consumers and economy. 25 Therefore, Bush proposed a “climate change research initiative to study global warming and bolster co-operation between research institutions in the US, Europe, Latin America and Japan”26 Two initiatives created which deal with research and sequestration: The National Climate Initiative, and the National Climate Technology Initiative respectively. The National Climate Change Initiative, in cooperation with NASA, is examining the effects of carbon dioxide on global climate change.
The National Climate Technology Initiative has two projects on carbon sequestration. The Nature Conservancy Project is studying how carbon dioxide can be stored more effectively, while the International Team of Energy Companies Is examining the ways of lowering the cost of removing carbon dioxide from emissions. It was also been suggested, to promote energy efficiency and conservation and to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases through the use of alternative, renewable, and advanced forms of energy. The participation of individual States in this issue is essential. Each State can influence which energy sources utilities are promoted in their state and which type of energy constituents choose. They have a responsibility for land use and planning and industrial development, as well as activities that directly or indirectly contribute to emissions such as waste management”. 27 As of May 2002, 25 US states had introduced state action plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. New Hampshire enacted a Clean Power act, which sets limits on emissions of Sulphur Dioxide, Nitrogen Oxides and Carbon Dioxide.
Many states have also introduced State Greenhouse Gas Registries, which register their voluntary greenhouse gas emission reductions. 28 Conclusion After Russia ratified the Protocol at the United Nation’s Framework Convention on Climate Change’s Tenth Conference of the Parties in Buenos Aires, it will come into effect on February 16, 2005. Harlan Watson, US negotiator, said, “The Kyoto protocol was a political agreement. It was not based on science. “29 He also added, “agreeing to Kyoto does not necessarily mean that you are going to meet those commitments. 30 Although international community is trying “to bring the United States back to the fold”31 claiming that the US participation is necessary for the protection of the environment and well-being of millions of people, let us consider the other side of the issue. How fair is it to the US to contribute more than developing countries such as China and India, while their economy is growing at a rapid pace? How reasonable is it for the United Sates, at this point, being one of most industrialized countries in the world, to reduce its emissions paralyzing its economy?
And finally, who can guarantee that the global warming is mainly caused by the emission of CO2, and that the cut of carbon dioxide will improve the situation? I support the US position of investing money on research and on cleaner technologies. It is undeniable that all these incentives require time and money. But we must also understand that industrial revolution, which is largely blamed for the CO2 emissions, did not occur in a 10 years period. Consequently, it will take to take time to come up with new solutions for this major issue that the world is facing.