Kyoto Protocol

Sushmita Dutta

The biggest threat that the world is facing today is global warming. Since the past century the temperature of earth has risen by almost 1 degree. The 21st century might see the earth’s temperature rise by almost 3 degrees, which will result in major climatic changes like melting of ice sheets or the rise in sea level. There is no exaggeration in the fact that global warming could seriously endanger life.

Global warming is mostly caused by the emission of greenhouse gases, which include carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, sulphur hexafluoride, in large quantities. It depletes the ozone layer which protects the earth from the ultra-violet rays of the sun. It also increases the heat in earth’s atmosphere. Rapid rise of industrialization and increase in automobiles are responsible for the alarming emission of greenhouse. The gas emitted from the burning of petrol all over the world is damaging the earth’s atmosphere.

People around the world are now realizing the dangers that await them if they do not wake up to this imminent threat. So, governments and world bodies are gearing up to finding ways to fight this menace.

One such very important meet was held in the year of 1997, in the city of Kyoto in Japan.
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) brought most of the countries under the Kyoto Protocol as a solid first step top combat the problem. The major feature of the Kyoto Protocol is that it sets binding targets for 37 industrialized countries and the European community for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This protocol came into force on February 16th, 2005.

According to the Protocol, all the countries under the agreement will reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 5.2% as compared to the year 1990. These gases include carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, sulfur hexafluoride, HFCs, and PFCs. Targets of reduction range from 8% for the European Union nations to 7% for USA, 6% for Japan and permitted increase for Australia by 8% and 10% for Iceland.

Till November 2009, 187 nations have signed the protocol. But a major stumbling block to the Kyoto Protocol is the United States of America, which is responsible for 36% of the greenhouse gas emissions of the 1990 emission levels. Emission limits do not include emissions by international aviation and shipping, but are in addition to the industrial gases, chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, which are dealt with under the 1987 Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer.

There are five principle concepts of the Kyoto Protocol (as stated in the Protocol):

i) To reduce the emissions of the greenhouse gases by all countries who have committed to the agreement.

ii) To prepare policies and find out means to reduce greenhouse gases, and also to implement them.

iii) To increase absorption of these hazardous gases ( through geosequestration and biosequestration) and use all possible means available such as joint implementation, clean development mechanism and emission trading; also by rewarding nations doing better in these areas.

iv) To minimize the impact on the developing nations by establishing an adaptation fund for climate change.

v) Accounting, reporting and reviewing to ensure the integrity of the Protocol so that people may not misuse the terms

A market-based mechanism has been devised in the Kyoto Protocol as means of achieving the targets for all the participating countries. The mechanism includes Emissions trading – known as “the carbon market”, Clean development mechanism (CDM) and Joint implementation (JI). These mechanisms help stimulate green investment and help parties meet their emission targets in a cost-effective way.

According to scientists, in over 800,000 years, the density of carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere has been the highest now. Seeing this some nations have already put forward their commitment to cut down on the emissions. The latest entrant being China, who has declared that it would cut down on gas emissions by 40% till 2020.

But what is important is putting forth a more concrete agreement, while retaining all the good features of the Kyoto meet. Will the Copenhagen meet ponder over the issue more seriously and devise stricter regimes for a safer earth?

But there is an issue of responsibility that needs to be sorted out first. Developing countries are finding the emission cut - a block in the way to prosperity. They believe that the poorer countries should be allowed to develop without restriction, just as the richer countries had done in the past without any checks. They also feel that developed countries need to make the biggest cuts.

We have to also keep in mind the fact that the question of development of a country does not arise if there is no planet earth. So even if all the countries go a little slow on the trajectory of development, everyone must be committed towards this higher purpose.