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Monday, April 27, 2009

SEatWtC Part 4: Kyoto Protocol

Adoption of Protocol in 1997
Image source:
Delegates celebrated adoption of the Protocol in 1997

Kyoto Protocol

According to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) website, “The Kyoto Protocol is an international agreement linked to the [UNFCCC]. The major feature of the Kyoto Protocol is that it sets binding targets for 37 industrialised countries and the European community for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions .These amount to an average of five per cent against 1990 levels over the five-year period 2008-2012. The major distinction between the Protocol and the [Kyoto] Convention is that while the Convention encouraged industrialised countries to stabilize GHG emissions, the Protocol commits them to do so.

Recognizing that developed countries are principally responsible for the current high levels of GHG emissions in the atmosphere as a result of more than 150 years of industrial activity, the Protocol places a heavier burden on developed nations under the principle of ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’. The Kyoto Protocol was adopted in Kyoto, Japan, on 11 December 1997 and entered into force on 16 February 2005. 183 Parties of the Convention have ratified its Protocol to date. The detailed rules for the implementation of the Protocol were adopted at COP 7 in Marrakesh in 2001, and are called the ‘Marrakesh Accords’.”[1]

The decision by the United States to deny ratification of the Kyoto Protocol is probably best described as a snub by the U.S. to the rest of the world. Through the Kyoto Protocol, nearly the entire planet has come together to agree on a path forward to reducing GHG emissions. Therefore it may not be surprising if the message the U.S. is sending to the rest of the world is “We don’t agree with you, we’re better than you, we don’t want anyone telling us what to do.” However, the U.S. may have good reason to not ratify the Kyoto Protocol. To date, the U.S. policy to reduce harmful emission is to essentially sell the right to pollute. Each company that wishes to pump pollutants into the air can purchase credits to pollute a certain amount. The beauty of this system is that it allows companies that can reduce emissions for a low cost to do so and then sell their credits to other companies that would incur much, much higher costs to reduce pollutants by the same level. This effectively uses simple economics and the free market to efficiently reduce pollutants.

Participation in the Kyoto Protocol
Green: Signed and ratified, Yellow: Signed, ratification pending, Red: Signed, not ratified Gray: Non-signatory
Image courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons
Participation in the Kyoto Protocol

[2] What is unclear, then, is why the U.S. simply doesn’t adapt this approach to meet the Kyoto Protocol mandates. This reasoning goes back to the message the U.S. is likely sending to the rest of the world, which is “We don’t want anyone telling us what to do.” Granted, the U.S. is big and powerful enough for now to snub the rest of the world, but that won’t be the case forever. China, India and Russia are seemingly destined to be much larger and more powerful countries and economies, so it will be interesting to see how the Kyoto Protocol and the U.S. refusal to ratify it will impact future international trade negotiations.


Tune in tomorrow for Part 5 of SEatWtC!

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