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The Kyoto Protocol. Montreal Conference 2005

Introduction

The earth’s temperature has been steadily increasing since the advent of the industrial revolution due to a natural process called greenhouse effect. When light passes through the atmosphere, some of the infrared radiation is trapped by the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere around the earth and this keeps the planet warm to sustain life of all kinds (CE, 2007). However, with the advent of industrialization and advanced transportation methods, more number of gases are being released into the earth atmosphere, the most notable among them being gases such as chlorofluorocarbons, which get added to naturally occurring greenhouse gases and heat up the earth slowly. It has been noted scientifically that the temperature of the planet is slowly on the rise and can lead to ecological disasters. It is predicted that global warming can cause melting of polar ice which in turn would lead to rise in sea levels and coastal flooding, cause problems to drinking water supplies. It is widely feared that such global warming can cause dramatic changes in agricultural practices due to climate change, destruction of naturally fertile land, increased occurrence of more natural hazards and tropical diseases (CE, 2007). Global warming is said to be precipitated by combustion of various fuels, cutting of trees, increased cattle production and use of fossil fuels. The UN Conference on Climate Change, held in Kyoto, Japan, in 1997 sought to save the world from global warming by cooperation of developed countries in reducing GHG emissions. 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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Significance of the Original Kyoto protocol

As the world’s most developed country, the United States, with its innumerably factories and automobiles was found to be the main contributor towards greenhouse gases producing about one fourth of the world’s total production. Developed countries such as the United States were listed as Annex I countries and according to the Kyoto Protocol, Annex I countries had to agree to reduce their total GHG emissions relative to their emissions in 1990. To be more precise, they had to reduce their total GHG emissions by about 5% on an average for the period 2008-20012. Annex I countries include the US, Eastern and Western Europe, Russia and the Ukraine, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. The Kyoto Protocol took place during the time of President Clinton who agreed to steps to curb greenhouse gas emissions. 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

The Kyoto Protocol was signed during the period of President Clinton. But President Bush was deeply sceptical about the Kyoto Protocol and expressed his protest to it even during his 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 were 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 compromise his position on the issue and he pledged that if he was elected he would label carbon dioxide as a power plant pollutant. He also talked about global warming as a serious environmental issue that must be tackled in the national television debate in October 2000. This shows that politically, it was always advantageous to be in support of the Kyoto Protocol.

President Bush and Kyoto Protocol

When President Bush assumed office, he decided to take action immediately and set limits on greenhouse gas emissions. This was announced in the Senate through EPA administrator Christine Todd Whitman in February 2001. 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 was basically against government controlling power plants by imposing restrictions on them. 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 that was based on “carbon intensity” of the economy instead of being based directly on the level of 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 did not have much meaning as the amount of greenhouse gases generated in proportion to one unit of economic activity had been steadily decreasingly since the mid nineteenth century and there was no need of 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 reduction of conventional pollutants. According to Bush’s energy plan there would be expansion of using coal energy in power generation plants, intensification of oil exploration and likely increase in 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 in the near future (Rabe, 2004).

Russian approach

After the US which accounted for the maximum of 25% of greenhouse gas emissions, it was found that Russia was the second highest contributor of GHG emissions at 17%. When the US withdrew from the treaty, the fate of the Kyoto Protocol became dependent on Russia and the Russian vote assumed a high level of significance in the absence of the United States. The European Union tried to pressurize Russia to sign the treaty. “A minimum of 55 country signatures was needed from the states responsible for 55 per cent 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 “saviours of the Kyoto Protocol” (Tulder and Zwart, 2006).

China and India

Under the Kyoto Protocol, industries in the United States were required to have limits to their emissions of gases such as mercury, sulphur dioxide and nitrous oxide. However, limiting GHG emissions is not an easy job and studies show that it can be very expensive and time consuming. Moreover, the US opposed the Kyoto Protocol for various reasons. The Kyoto Protocol was signed by 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 near future. These countries were not under any obligation to reduce their GHG emissions by the Kyoto Protocol and they did not voluntary accept to reduce their GHG emissions. This irked the US. The fact that developing countries have been exempted from the Kyoto Protocol raised the fear that American companies might soon suffer a competitive disadvantage in the realm of businesses. Though GHG emissions might lead to environmental gains, such gains may be offset by economic disadvantages and emissions by developing countries (Kowalski, 2004). President Bush mentioned the exclusion of these countries as one of the reasons why he opposed the Kyoto Protocol. 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 is less that 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 own awareness of the problem. Hence it is not right of President Bush to blame poor countries for greenhouse gas pollutions.

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Montreal conference 2005

The 2005 Montreal conference was held over a period of two weeks and focused on climate change. It was anticipated that such discussions would 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, using technology to develop solutions and exploring 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 fair grounds by setting up compliance bodies with elected members (Morgan, 2006). The Eleventh Conference of Parties created a five year programme for informing developing and least developed countries about the impact and problems of global warming and about what can be done to protect the environment (Morgan, 2006). The weakness of this program was that there were 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 was a reluctant participant at the meeting and moreover, its delegates tried to disrupt the talks on future emission reductions. But the Montreal Conference can said to have ended successfully as it facilitated the Kyoto Protocol from becoming fully operational. An additional success factor was that the participant nations promised collaborate on setting and meeting targets and to set urther controls beyond 2012 after negotiations.

Discussion of solutions

The solutions make a lot of sense from the scientific, political and environmental sustainability point of view. The meeting has signalled 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 now 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 additional 2o F, total global CO2 output must decrease by half before 2050 and then that level must be maintained even if there is growth in the population. Politically, as most of the CO2 comes from the developed countries, it is important for them to accept responsibility while permitting 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). 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 prevent global warming and 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 supply of electricity and heat, there would be less waste – implying less number of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and hence lesser heat retention. By increasing efficiency of refrigerators and freezers, it is possible to protect the ozone layers. Ewert also suggests using fuel cells and solar panel for power generation (Ewert, 2006). 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: construct new buildings that are specially designed to have zero emissions; ban cutting of forest trees and plant tree saplings; control soil erosion; use conventional farming techniques; harness wind and solar power; increase the efficiency of existing coal plants and avoid building new ones; store CO2 underground; promote use of zero-emission vehicles, etc. (Gravitz, 2007).

Conclusion

The 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 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

Braasch, Gary (2009). Earth Under Fire: How Global Warming Is Changing the World. University of California Press, 2009.

CE (Columbia Encyclopedia) (2007). Global Warming. Columbia University Press, 2007.

Ewert K. Michael (2006). Environmental Sustainability and Analysis. Web.

Gravitz, Alisa (2007). Commentary: 12-Step Program to Stop Climate Change. Yes! 2007. Web.

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Kowalski, Kathiann (2004). Global Warming. Marshall Cavendish Publishers, 2004.

Morgan, Jennifer (2006). The Montreal Climate Conference, Results and Next Steps. 2006.

Shah, Anup (2005). COP11—Montreal Climate Conference. Global Issues. 2005.

Tiefer, Charles (2004). Veering right: how the Bush administration subverts the law for conservative causes. University of California Press, 2004.

Tulder, Van Rob and Zwart, van der Alex (2004). International business-society management: linking corporate responsibility and globalization. Routledge Publishers, 2006.

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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