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The Kyoto Protocol: First Framework for Fighting Global Warming

Introduction

Since the industrial revolution took place, it has been observed that there has been a steady and gradual increase in temperature at the earth’s lower atmosphere and this global warming is the result of a natural process called the greenhouse effect. Visible, shortwave light from the sun travels through the medium of greenhouse gases composed mostly of water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone. Infrared radiation from the planet’s surface is reflected away from the earth’s surface towards space, but some portion of it is kept trapped and reflecting towards the earth by the blanket of greenhouse gases around the earth (CE, 2007). As a result, the planet is kept at a moderate temperature that is suited for living things. However, with the advent of industrialization and advanced transportation methods, there is an increased number of gases in the earth’s atmosphere, as gases such as chlorofluorocarbons are added to natural greenhouse gases. As a result of additional gases, more heat is trapped and the earth’s average temperature climbs up steadily. It is predicted that global warming can cause the melting of polar ice which in turn would lead to a rise in sea levels and coastal flooding, cause problems to drinking water supplies; changes in agriculture due to climate change; destruction of ecology; more natural hazards and increased occurrence of tropical diseases (CE, 2007). Global warming is said to be caused mostly by burring of coal and petroleum products, deforestation, increased cattle production, and the use of fossil fuels. The UN Conference on Climate Change, held in Kyoto, Japan, in 1997 focussed on creating an international agreement to fight global warming, by reducing greenhouse gases in developed countries. Though the Kyoto Protocol was not universally accepted by the developed countries, it provided the first framework for fighting global warming.

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The significance of the Original Kyoto protocol

The United States was found to be the main contributor towards greenhouse gases producing about one-fourth of the world’s total production. According to the Kyoto Protocol, Annex I countries have to agree to reduce their total GHG emissions in comparison to their emissions in 1990. To be more precise, they had to reduce their total GHG emissions by about 5% on average for the period 2008-20012. Annex I countries include the US, Eastern, and Western Europe, Russia and Ukraine, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. The Kyoto Protocol is very significant because it paved the way for an international treaty to fight global warming, which came into force in 2005 after ratification by more than 125 nations.

US President Bush’s rejection of Kyoto proposal and his own ‘know how’ proposal

President Bush was against the Kyoto Protocol and he expressed his protest even in the 2000 Presidential election campaign. He talked about the inherent weaknesses in the Kyoto protocol such as its failure to recognize the pollution caused by developing countries such as China and India. However, the public was more in support of the Kyoto protocol as they felt it was pro-environmental and against global warming. Since the public supported the Kyoto Protocol, candidate Bush was forced to obscure his position on the issue by pledging that if he was elected he would label carbon dioxide as a power plant pollutant. He even accepted that global warming is a serious issue in the national television debate in October 2000. When President Bush assumed office, EPA administrator Christine Todd Whitman declared in the Senate in February 2001 that there would be limits imposed on greenhouse gas emissions. But Republican senators such as Helms opposed the setting of such limits. In March 2001, Bush openly expressed his disapproval of the Kyoto Protocol despite the fact he understood the seriousness of global warming. He wrote that he did not believe in government restrictions on power plants. By making his position clear on the issue, President Bush raised the issue into an international legal context. He was widely criticized for his opposition to the Kyoto Protocol. In July 2001, at the global warming conference in Bonn, major blocs such as the European Union and Japan came together and signed the Bonn Agreement to take steps to reduce global warming (Tiefer, 2004). These countries were shocked by the stance of President George Bush.

President Bush formulated a new domestic plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. His proposal focussed on the “carbon intensity” of the economy rather than on the emissions. He asked “generators of carbon dioxide to reduce their emissions increase to one third the rate of economic growth” and thus he linked voluntary emission reductions to economic output (Rabe, 2004, p. 14). Many observers felt this proposal was meaningless as the number of greenhouse gases generated in proportion to one unit of economic activity had been steadily decreasing since the mid-nineteenth century and there was no need for any government support to keep it declining. However, President Bush made some changes to existing voluntary and incentive programs to reduce GHG emissions. He excluded carbon dioxide from a related proposal aimed at the reduction of conventional pollutants. According to Bush’s energy plan, there would be an expansion of using coal energy in power generation plants, intensification of oil exploration, and a likely increase in the use of fossil fuel to maintain standards of motor vehicle fuel efficiency. Hence, the Bush plan tried to mitigate the possibility of federal efforts to reduce GHG emissions shortly (Rabe, 2004).

The Russian approach, signing of the proposal, and following changes in the international approach to climate change, before the 2005 United Nation Climate Change conference

When the US withdrew from the treaty, the fate of the Kyoto Protocol became dependent on Russia which was responsible for 17% of total emissions. The Russian vote was very important for the treaty to become successful. The European Union tried to pressure Russia to sign the treaty. “A minimum of 55 country signatures was needed from the states responsible for 55 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in 1990.” (Tulder and Zwart, 2006, p. 321). Russia ratified the Kyoto Protocol on 22 October 2004 and it came into effect officially on 16 February 2005 involving 128 countries – though it was delayed by seven years and did not include the US. Putin and Russia are considered as “saviors of the Kyoto Protocol” (Tulder and Zwart, 2006).

The justification (or not) of problems involving the exclusion of developing countries in particular China and India

Under the Kyoto Protocol, industries in the United States had to reduce emissions of mercury, sulfur dioxide, and nitrous oxide. Studies show that this can be very expensive and time-consuming. Based on 1990 levels, it was found that the United States was the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases – producing over 36% of calculated carbon dioxide emissions – 5 million metric tons. The Kyoto Protocol was based on countries that had high emission levels in 1990 and did not include developing countries like China, India, Indonesia, Brazil, and Nigeria which are projected to increase their share of global greenhouse gas emissions in the NEA future. These countries are not under any obligation to reduce their GHG emissions by the Kyoto Protocol and have not accepted any limits shortly. The fact that these developing countries have been exempted from the Kyoto Protocol has raised the fear that American companies might be at a competitive disadvantage and environmental gains might be offset by economic disadvantages and emissions by developing countries (Kowalski, 2004). President Bush has mentioned the exclusion of these countries as one of the reasons why he opposes the Kyoto Protocol. In his words “I oppose the Kyoto Protocol because it exempts 80 percent of the world, including major population centers such as China and India”. While this accusation may sound justified, it is important to take into account the fact that in these countries, the per capita carbon dioxide emission is very small compared to those in the US. The GHG emissions in the US are ten times that of China and 25 times that of India and their aggregate contributions to the problem are less than that of the US. Statistically speaking, “China and India’s combined carbon dioxide emissions were 9% of the global total compared with the US’s 30 percent” (Vig and Faure, 2004, p. 264). Some figures show that China has been able to reduce its GHG emissions in the late 1990s based on its awareness of the problem. Hence it is not right of President Bush to blame poor countries for greenhouse gas pollutions.

The 2005 Montreal conference. What were the significance and output of this conference, positive and negative, promising and disappointing?

The 2005 Montreal conference was held over two weeks and focused on climate change. It included two meetings: The Meeting of the Parties of the Protocol (MOP) – including developed countries that had agreed to the Kyoto Protocol and The Eleventh Conference of the Parties to the Convention (COP 11) that involved the whole world – 189 member countries of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) (Shah, 2005). In this meeting, several implementation plans regarding the Kyoto Protocol were reconfirmed including “emissions trading, joint implementation, and clean development mechanisms”. A new working group was set up to discuss future commitments after 2012 and a plan has been set up for having second round discussions for the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol (2013–2017). Such discussions may resolve the conflicts involving China and India. Other issues addressed in the conference included helping poorer countries achieve their development goals, ways to adapt to climate changes, the use of technology to develop solutions, and exploration of market-based opportunities (Shah, 2005). The main strengths of the Montreal conference have been that it included developing country commitments such as India and China. The conference emphasized that the Kyoto Protocol will continue with or without the support of the United States and launched a four-track approach under the Kyoto Protocol and under the UNFCCC to be implemented after 2012. The Montreal Conference also ensured that the Marrakech Accords were adopted in full making it possible for the key actions of the Kyoto Protocol to progress further (Morgan, 2006). The COP/MOP approved and adopted methods for compliance on fairgrounds by setting up compliance bodies with elected members. The CDM that was created to assist developed countries to follow the Kyoto Protocol by helping them invest in developing countries was strengthened by the allotment of more funds and provision of a basis for increasing the number of projects approved (Morgan, 2006). The Eleventh Conference of Parties created a five-year program for informing developing and least developed countries about the impact and problems of global warming and what measures can be taken to protect the environment (Morgan, 2006).

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The weakness of this program is that there are no specific adaptation activities on the ground to protect the livelihoods of the local people. One of the serious disappointments of the Montreal conference was that the United States attended the first meeting as an outsider and its delegates tried to disturb the implementation and talks on future emission reductions. It is to the success of the conference that the meeting ended with the Kyoto Protocol fully operational and nations promising to work on meeting the targets and set further controls beyond 2012 after negotiations.

The solutions make a lot of sense from the scientific, political, and environmental sustainability points of view. The meeting has signaled an international awareness of the problem of global warming and it has paved a way to counter the problem. If the political and industrial worlds trusted the scientific findings they would cooperate and work together with commitment and planning. The Kyoto Protocol and the Montreal Conference have encouraged a huge amount of study, planning, collaboration, and concern even in the private sector. Many countries in Europe and elsewhere are not aware of the dangers of global warming and are planning to reduce emissions even beyond what is required of them through the Kyoto Protocol. Scientifically speaking to hold temperature change this century to less than an additional 2o F, total global CO2 output must decrease by half before 2050, and then that level must be maintained despite population growth. Politically, as most of the CO2 comes from the developed countries, they need to be responsible and allow lesser developed countries to raise their standards of living. The Kyoto approach of ranking the world’s nations according to their population, economy, and carbon emissions is not the only possible model for cutting down GHG emissions. There can be other models such as the “contraction and convergence” model which allows all nations to contribute equally to the solution. By estimating the amount of GHG that would be a safe level in the atmosphere, nations must move towards it based on equal distribution of emissions per person (Braasch, 2009). In the research paper titled “Environmental Sustainability and Analysis” By Michael K. Ewert (2006), Johnson Space Center discusses efforts that can be taken by companies to promote environmental sustainability. According to Ewert, natural resources such as air, water, and food are becoming in short supply and there is a lot of waste being produced by businesses. He suggests that by combining heat- and power-generation systems for the supply of electricity and heat, there would be less waste; increasing efficiency of refrigerators and freezers can prevent damage to the ozone layers and must be used in public places. He also suggests using fuel cells and solar panels can provide more electricity (Ewert, 2006) sustainably. Alisa Gravitz in her article in “Yes!” Magazine titled “12-Step Program to Stop Climate Change”(2007) lists a framework to avoid the perils of global warming: by constructing new buildings with zero emissions; banning cutting of forest trees and planting tree saplings; controlling soil erosion; using conservative farming techniques; harnessing wind and solar power; increasing efficiency of existing coal plants and avoid building new ones; storing CO2 underground; promoting the use of zero-emission vehicles, etc. (Gravitz, 2007).

Conclusion

Environmental protection has so far been the prerogative of international meetings and government agencies. There have been many national and international laws passed to protect the environment in many ways. However, all the regulations have not stopped the world from facing global crises such as inadequate water, impure air, destroyed ozone layer, and diminishing fuel resources. Now, the time has come when there needs to be a joint effort to protect the land in such a way that the dangers of global warming are thwarted without causing danger to businesses the world over. This is possible only if companies the world over, develop long-term sustainable environmental strategies that can provide economic profit, social welfare, and a great public image.

Bibliography

  1. Braasch, Gary (2009). Earth Under Fire: How Global Warming Is Changing the World. University of California Press, 2009
  2. CE (Columbia Encyclopedia) (2007). Global Warming. Columbia University Press, 2007
  3. Ewert K. Michael (2006). Environmental Sustainability and Analysis.
  4. Gravitz, Alisa (2007). Commentary: 12-Step Program to Stop Climate Change. Yes! Winter 2007.
  5. Kowalski, Kathiann (2004). Global Warming. Marshall Cavendish Publishers, 2004
  6. Morgan, Jennifer (2006). The Montreal Climate Conference, Results and Next Steps. 2006. Web.
  7. Shah, Anup (2005). COP11—Montreal Climate Conference. Global Issues. Web.
  8. Tiefer, Charles (2004). Veering right: how the Bush administration subverts the law for conservative causes. University of California Press, 2004
  9. Tulder, Van Rob and Zwart, van der Alex (2004). International business-society management: linking corporate responsibility and globalization. Routledge Publishers, 2006
  10. Vig, J. Norman and Faure, G. Michael (2004). Green giants?: environmental policies of the United States and the European Union. MIT Press, 2004

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StudyCorgi. "The Kyoto Protocol: First Framework for Fighting Global Warming." November 14, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/the-kyoto-protocol-first-framework-for-fighting-global-warming/.

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StudyCorgi. 2021. "The Kyoto Protocol: First Framework for Fighting Global Warming." November 14, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/the-kyoto-protocol-first-framework-for-fighting-global-warming/.

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StudyCorgi. (2021) 'The Kyoto Protocol: First Framework for Fighting Global Warming'. 14 November.

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