Kyoto Protocol

On this day four years ago, seven years after it was first negotiated, the Kyoto Protocol Treaty on Climate Change went into effect in 141 nations.

It remains the key international agreement on climate change, focusing on carbon dioxide and other gases believed to be causing a worrying rise in global temperatures, its aim to reduce the emissions from industrialised nations by around 5% below 1990 levels by 2008-2012, although many experts still stress the need for cuts closer to 60%.

Several nations still refuse to ratify the agreement, arguing that it is unfair and will damage their economies: the USA remains the main non-signatory.

With a new president promising to “roll back the spectre of a warming planet”, how confident are you that the US, responsible for almost a quarter of global emissions, will lead the way at the next major climate change conference – in Copenhagen – later this year?

Certainly much depends on the US and China, the two greatest polluters.

President Obama has said that he plans to cut US emissions, which stand at nearly 20% above 1990 levels, back to 1990 levels by 2020. By 2050, they should be 80% below 1990 levels.

The Chinese argue that the richest nations should make the most cuts, as they are responsible for most greenhouse gases per person, and argued recently (in Poznan) that the richest countries ought to pay 0.7% of their GDP to poorer ones, to help them adapt to the effects of global warming.

Certainly, developing countries contribute least to climate change, but will likely suffer the greatest consequences of it.

What do you think of the arguments both for, and against, Kyoto? Do living standards and economic growth necessarily have to be dramatically affected by a sharp reduction in emissions? Is it fair that emerging economies, such as China and India, two of the world’s biggest producers of greenhouse gases, are not required to take any measures to reduce their emissions until 2012?

Your thoughts, as always, are very welcome – both here and in the chatroom, which will be open from 16:00 (UK).

Author: FEd

Features Editor of David Gilmour’s official blog, The Blog (‘Features’ previously being its rather naff title), affectionately – or lazily – shortened to ‘FEd’.

62 thoughts on “Kyoto Protocol”

  1. Australia ratified Kyoto in December 2007. It was one of the first gestures of the new Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd.

  2. Is there any sort of official political consequence for signatory nations that eventually don’t try very hard to reduce emissions at all?

  3. I think it’s disgusting how the USA has treated Kyoto and I’ll be interested to see what Obama does next, because he does encourage me. A 5% reduction doesn’t seem like all that much.

    I don’t think it’s fair how some countries, like China, can burn fossil fuels like there’s no tomorrow and not have to worry about their emissions until 2012, but I do think the Chinese government is right to say that richer countries should help the poorer countries to develop the infrastructure so that they can work on cutting their emissions.

    I read somewhere that the average American creates as much greenhouse gas in one month as the average Chinaman does in one year, or something like that.

    1. I should point out that the USA is a signatory, but the signature is merely a token gesture without ratification, which carries legal obligations.

  4. What can we say about a document which describes what will happen in the environment until 2080? There is no way those assumptions can be true.

    The two main reasons for the Kyoto treaty are:

    1. to “steal” money from the public to “protect” us from climate change,
    2. to prevent countries which don’t yet have developed industries from competing with the “big guys”.

  5. I think the West is, at the very least, guilty of hypocrisy when it comes to China, India and emissions.

    We all seem more than happy to buy goods manufactured cheaply there then transported halfway around the world.

    1. Oh yes, we are!

      A continent like Africa rich of every natural resource and huge has only about 800 million people. And we steal everything from them.

      Read about the history of Congo, one of the richest countries on earth: water, wood, minerals, diamonds…. and they have been always “controlled” by us. And their people are the poorest.

      Who really wants a continent so rich to raise from their poverty? Political leaders are western puppets who treat their people as slaves while selling their countries to us.

  6. The ‘green’ campaign is in full swing here in America, it makes companies millions of dollars and gets politicians elected.

    I for one though am more practical. Instead of getting caught up in the hype, I try to actually do something. I bought a battery powered mower and trimmer, I turn the oil furnace down and use alternative heat (wood stove, sorry but I feel its better than oil, Al Gore!). Then I seriously looked into a wind generator and solar power to help get my house off the grid. That is when you realize all the political ‘green’ talk is just that, all talk. First off in America, it’s next to impossible to get a small wind turbine permit for the home. And secondly, have you ever priced a solar array for your rooftop? Heh heh heh, not unless you’ve been selling shady CDOs on Wall Street can you actually afford them!

    I think whether or not the countries sign the treaty is inconsequential. When it becomes affordable for the average person to become ‘green’, when local municipals decide to actually let you become ‘green’ through permits etc., and until Al Gore stops burning more fossil fuels in his 727 flying around the world telling people to reduce their carbon footprint than I will burn in a lifetime, this planet will never stop global warming.

    I will continue to do what I can, the rest is literally a joke, a means to make companies money and a means to get politicians elected.

    Sorry if I sound cynical, but America has a long way to go from rhetoric to practical.

    1. Scott:

      Those things are very difficult and expensive, right now, for individuals. But several companies are working right now on solar panels that would be affordable as well as more efficient. Wind generation on a small scale is a great idea, but right now I’m more interested in doing it on a large scale (where it’ll do more good). Here in Upstate New York, wind farms are popping up left and right. The good news there is, people who are still on the grid are getting more and more of their power from wind.

      Just because it cannot be done in a particular way RIGHT NOW doesn’t make the entire thing a money-making joke.

    2. I read that $660,000,000 would make solar power economically competitive for the production of electricity. That figure is 0.5% of the amount that was spent on looking for oil in one year – 1998 – alone.

      Isn’t that sad?

  7. Last week, I read in ‘Le Monde’ newspaper that Turkey had just recently ratified Kyoto Protocol on 5 February 2009.

    Turkey always refused before to sign it because of concerns about the cost to the economy.

    They finally ratified the Protocol after intense pressure from the European Union. Turkey wants to enter the EU.

    I think there will be more and more pressure for all countries to take care about the environment.

    There is such a great hope about Obama, he can’t do anything else than collaborate to environment protection. He will, I’m sure.

    Michèle

    1. Je t’ai envoyé un petit mot sur songs of 2008… 😉

      No more Lucia on the blog? 🙁

  8. Well the sooner they sort it out and catch up the better it will be for all of us. Even more so for future generations.

    Let’s just hope the climate hasn’t reached the point of no return.

  9. In many ways I am proud to be an American. On many issues, however, I want to become Canadian. When “W” was RE-elected, my wife and I seriously considered relocating to Canada. Someone convinced us that our voices of reason were needed here. If all the Moderates, Liberals and Free-Thinkers run, then there is no stopping the Neocons.

    Kyoto is an issue on which the Bush admin. shamed me. I’d like to see us sign it, ASAP, now that Obama is in charge. And he’ll probably do just that. We really need to do something in this country. America simply cannot sustain itself on its addiction to mass consumerism. We’re choking ourselves to death, and taking out everyone else along with us.

    Imagine if everyone who drove an SUV switched to a Saturn… And if all Saturn drivers switched to a Moped… And if Moped drivers started walking to work…

  10. As an American I am saddened that we have not made more progress than we have in overcoming our consumption of resources. By this time we should be able to purchase vehicles powered by fuel cells whose only pollutant is water vapor. But I do not believe that America or any other country should pay any sort of tax to help other nations reduce their pollution. That decision should be part of a country’s foreign aid program, and not a tax imposed upon them by others.

    Should we tax other countries for their high birth rates? Those kind of taxes only make sense to those who promote them and, in today’s economy, only result in other programs being cut in order to fund the new tax.

  11. Bush/Cheney/Rove/Libby… the worst administration in the history of the United States. ‘nuf said.

    1. Ahh, but we are, after all, a very young country, aren’t we? I’m sure we will have administrations that are worse once we get enough experience. ;^)

      Dave

  12. Well, the US isn’t the richest nation. With as much debt as we have, we cannot be close, right now, anyway. However, I think we can boost our economy, create jobs, and generate funds by looking seriously at the other technologies out there that will defer our use of foreign oil.

    I don’t know if we’ll lead the way at the conference this year, that sure would be nice though. Obama’s got a full plate, it might take a year or two.

    Hope everyone had a great weekend!

    ~Erin

    1. Obama’s got a full plate, it might take a year or two.

      I can’t believe this statement. Unfortunately time is something we don’t have. Obama should start working on cutting America’s emissions now. He’s lucky that he has until 2020 to get them back down to 1990 levels when everyone else had to get them below 1990 levels by 2012.

      And of course the US is the richest nation! Who’s richer?

    2. In terms of GDP, Luxembourg, Norway, Kuwait and Qatar are richer. Possibly Singapore, too. You’d have to check the latest statistics, but these countries always come out on top.

      Which probably has nothing to do with selling oil to the USA, of course. 😉

      Interestingly, Luxembourg’s Kyoto target was to reduce emissions to 28% lower than 1990 levels. To be achieved by 2012, not 2020.

    3. Other countries with small populations have a higher per-capita GDP than the US. But the US has by far the largest GDP in the world ($14.3 trillion).

      Japan is second at $4.8 trillion, then China at $4.2 trillion and Germany at $3.8 trillion.

  13. New York Dan, you’d be more than welcome in Canada. The good news is you now have a President that thinks more like a normal human being. We in Canada and the rest of the world have our love affair back with the USA.

    I’m sure Obama will do his best for climate control among other things.

    Later.

    George

    1. Thanks, George. The one time I was in Canada was Toronto in 1990. Having grown up in filthy New York City, I was impressed with how clean Toronto was. It’s a beautiful city and the people there are extremely friendly. Nearly twenty years later, I still have a favorable impression of Toronto and, by extension, Canada.

      I supported Obama since before the primaries. When his book “Audacity of Hope” came out, I got it from the library as soon as I could. He was the real deal. That was years ago, and I am so happy he is in office. Let’s hope that he doesn’t let us down.

  14. I don’t believe in global warming. I think it’s a load of rubbish, LOL.

    I’m dreaming of driving a big old Range Rover one day and I’m going to enjoy it when I get it. 😀

  15. Is it fair that emerging economies, such as China and India, two of the world’s biggest producers of greenhouse gases, are not required to take any measures to reduce their emissions until 2012?

    No.

  16. Just a quick thing here as I have to be off shortly.

    One thing I can say is that Americans’ love their luxuries and their cars (especially their cars) and I think it would take a lot for them to give up these material things.

    China is the big manufacturer at the moment, aren’t they? Take a look at most things that one buys nowadays and see where it is made. It is most probably made in China. But it would be good if the west could lend a hand in helping China manage its emissions more efficiently.

    I hope Obama helps make a change.

    1. Not just cars.

      There are 115 refrigerators for every 100 households in the US, according to the Worldwatch Institute. There are just 12 for every 100 households in India.

  17. Apparently the USA, although only having 3% of the world’s population, produces 40% of the planet’s pollution. I think that says it all.

    The dollar before mankind.

  18. You’re kidding me, right? Obama is flying from Chicago to DC today, them out to Denver to sign the Porkulus Bill then Phoenix to “help” home owners in foreclosure. Think he’s worried about his carbon footprint?

    And how do you explain why the average temp. in CT for Jan is 10 degrees colder than last year?

  19. Obama/Biden/Pelosi/Reid/Frank is already on their way to being the worst dictatorship in history.

  20. I can understand that developing countries are worried that their economy will be negatively affected if they follow the rules of the Kyoto Protocol (especially when rich countries as the USA don´t care at all for the protocol). I don´t know what could be done to change this situation.

    The most important thing could be maybe that the technologies for clean energy get further development so that using this energies would be cheaper. Sadly there seems to be very little interest into going further in this direction. The exploration of technologies to use solar, wind or geothermal energy better is often considered as to unrealistic or expensive instead there is much interest into returning to nuclear energy (which is by the way NOT carbon neutral because by the mining and processing of the uranium originates green house gases). This shows very well which industries have a lobby behind them and which not.

    Another sad thing is that people who are often considered as speakers and originators of the green movement are now hardcore supporters of the nuclear industry and the maybe even more creepy (at least for me) geo-engineering plans (I was a bit shocked that recently an experiment to enhance the oceans with iron had been allowed by our government here in Germany). I wonder what will happen when this kind of experiments will go on…

    Sorry for that rant Fed.

    Irene

  21. We have a chance now. We didn’t when our president truly seemed to believe that the best way to control global warming was to turn up the setting on his air conditioning. Our current president is sentient.

    President Obama (I will write this as often as possible since it’s nice to mention one’s President without having to say “I’m sorry”) does indeed have a very full platter of crap to clean up, all of it important. He also has to contend with an opposing party which believes that one can substitute anyone with a vagina or dark skin and the electorate won’t notice. We’re screwed in that regard.

    The President is also smart enough to know that if we do not try, ethically and intelligently, to help our environment we are very screwed since we’ve got no place to move to.

    There’s a whole essay here on why a Pentecostal President who thinks God will fix all his mistakes was a bad, bad idea.

    We’re working on it.

  22. If the political leaders of the G7 nations couldn’t see the credit crunch coming (unlike us mere mortals) or have an exit plan, then I have very little hope that they will deliver any meaningful environmental policy.

    Apparently 23% of all greenhouse gas emissions are generated by exhalations of breath from people and their pets and livestock.

    Lets face it, whilst the USA under the stewardship of Mr Bush has shirked its responsibilities, China has a culture that is not conducive to the survival of any species.

    The reality is that there are too many people on this planet; it is unsustainable. Growth has produced an insatiable appetite for the fuels (oil/coal, water, food and land) to fund it, with no thought or consideration given to protecting or replenishing our extremely deleted resources.

  23. I think truly industrious minds would figure out a way to maintain economic growth and still be responsible to the protocol. The fact that the previous president turned away from it is shameful and as an American I count that as one of many strikes against President Bush.

    With President Obama I think he will eventually sign on but first he has to traverse through what has been thus far difficult political terrain. If he were to bring up the protocol now it would set off such discontent that congress would be gridlocked and nothing would get done. The protocol is a good thing and I would like to see us get on board and I’ve a feeling we will.

    As far as China and India goes, of course I would like to see them take steps now but let’s face it; if they don’t have to they are not going to. So keeping that reality in mind I think 2012 is a good date to set as it is not as far away as it seems.

    Thank you very much indeed, good night to you.

  24. I think there’s some very interesting stuff here Fed.

    This is particularly inspiring, energy for 2,700 homes from only five turbines!

    ash X

  25. How can a westerner tell a family somewhere in China or India not to consume as much as he and his ancestors already have consumed?

    How can a westerner ask from them not to have too many children, when the infant mortality is so high and children are still their “retirement arrangement”?

    How can people believe that their CO2 footprint can be reduced by buying new things that consume lesser energy when they are in use, but spent much more to get produced and transported?

    How can anyone trust statistics about climate when the same guys that tell you what will happen in 50 years because of greenhouse gases, can’t foresee next months weather?

    How…

    I can’t stop asking, and of course Kyoto was good to make a few things more visible, but does really anyone expect that a signature on a piece of paper does change an iota? I don’t think so. I’m not optimistic at all about that.

    I’m also sick of the whole discussion about greenhouse gases. Earth is actually a closed system and you can’t burn more carbon than we have. Entropy is the problem, and no one is talking about the warmth that nuclear reactors and at the end all technology puts into our ecosystem and causes temperatures to rice and ice to melt… Just hold your hand near your computer’s fan…

    BTW: Germany looked as if it could meet the goals of Kyoto but only because parts of its industry collapsed after 1990. Now the economy crash almost wiped out the ecology plans our administration had… Pfui!

    Regards,
    Taki

  26. First a confession… I’m a pessimist on this topic. The weight of history suggests that converting good intentions or indeed even an appreciation of pressing need into effective action on an International scale is unlikely.

    Modern man consumes. Modern man builds and, in building, destroys. Just look at the difference we have made to the World in 200 years. That’s a massive momentum. Now look at the percentage of the world population that has yet to “get up to speed” and the growth in that population and you have to be an optimist on a biblical scale.

    Individual actions will not be enough, admirable as they may be. Kyoto and a recognition of the problem is a start… enlightened leadership will help… a constituency will grow… public and private investment in technology and research may develop solutions which surprise us and eventually fossil fuels will become uneconomic… It’s the only path available to us I am sure.

    We should also not rule out the planet’s tendency towards equilibrium… students of the English weather know that chaos rules over our best predictive tools, but we also know that “normal” for this planet covers a band of extremes that would make life pretty uncomfortable for us.

    Will the historians of 2309 look back at Kyoto and mark it as the beginning of the turnaround? Only time will tell, but I’d put money on them also having some pretty grim episodes to debate and analyse in between.

  27. I find the arguments put forward by all sorts of politicians and business people really leave me feeling sick. They are only concerned with either being returned to power or making even more profit. The big noses in America stifled alternative energy research in the past and now are asking to be bailed out when things are getting tough for them. I’m sorry, but the planet needs to come first in this argument and it’s time for action. A wealthy westerner has no more right to be alive on this planet than a peasant on the streets of India.

    Kyoto is important, but real action is more important. The argument that India and China are emerging economies and should be exempted from the set targets is totally insane. These two countries have a much greater population density than most and generally less educated population than western countries. These issues alone make it absolutely imperative that they become part of the solution and not further contribute to the damage.

    In fact, isn’t it about time we got off our rears and did something? One country can’t do it alone, and most politicians are too weak. It’s up to each individual to do his/her part.

  28. I’ve read that if the Sahara was covered in solar panels it would easily supply enough power for the whole world. Of course, that isn’t feasible as a lot of the world economy is dependent on the sale of oil and technology that uses it — especially the military.

    Africa could be a richer nation if solar panels were cheaper. They could use barren land such as deserts to produce cleaner solar energy to sell to the western world. But it seems solar power technology has a way to go yet?

  29. One great thing about my home country, no one in this world is better at dealing with a catastrophe than we Yanks. The problem is, we are quite neglectful when it comes to preventing them. So until this crisis reaches catastrophic levels I don’t see this as being a priority. A shame really, but that’s how this country works. Out of sight, out of mind.

    And anyway, everyone knows people who prevent a catastrophe don’t get medals, only people who successfully deal with them get praise.

  30. Also, I think there are some countries that have only recently become higher polluters that have the argument thus: The western developed world has been polluting the world for decades longer than they have due to their industrial technology, which is why they are so rich. Is it right to restrict their pollution that the West has done for so long just as they are becoming more developed and less poor?

    I personally don’t think Nuclear energy is a viable, or safe, alternative to fossil fuels due to how long the waste remains so dangerous. Tens of thousands of years (estimates of 100k to 240k, how many generations is that!?) of dangerous waste for maybe 5 years energy supply is just ludicrous. The nuclear waste we are generating now will probably be dangerous for longer than the entire history of homo sapiens so far!

    1. Apparently, according to Greenpeace, it will take more than 100 years and cost £48 billion to clean up the UK’s nuclear legacy alone.

  31. One would think that with a technologically advanced country like America, the Americans would be the first to jump on the bandwagon about environmental change.

  32. I hope Obama will. It’s time to use hydrogen cars!

    Off topic: in the picture on the home page, David’s using the NOS Black Strat! Great… I think he loves this model.

    ciao
    emi

  33. I hope my daughter’s babies can live in the same world we grew up.

    Thinking of… America is very important in Kyoto matter but I’m afraid for China and “new economies”, they are testing the pleasures of capitalism so recently and need a lot of energy and oil without problems or bio-implications.

    My best wishes Earth and fat old sun!
    diana

  34. I recently read some very worrying news which comes from NASA satellites and Arizona University.

    They say Greenland ice is melting with a speed which is three times the one predicted some years ago, approximately of 239 cubic Km/year. When the ice will be completely dissolved, the sea level will rise 6 metres and lots of people will have to leave their homes and move to safer places.

    Politics is too slow for climate changes.

    I would like to add a URL here to show you a video, but I don’t know how to do it, because I never did it before. May you help me, FEd?

    Thank you,
    Alessandra

    1. Of course, I’d be happy to – and I’d love to see the video.

      Please just paste the URL into the comment form, including your name and e-mail address, as usual.

    2. There are some tropical places that this has already happened. The people have had to move everything they own to another location because their home is now underwater (unfortunately, I am unable to recall just where this is, sorry).

      Jan

    3. Hi Jan,

      if I remember well, one of the places you are talking about could be Kiribati. In 2008 they came to an agreement with New Zeeland, which allows them to take their population when they will be submerged.

    4. Alessandra: Thank you so much! That is it exactly.

      Guess I need to be taking notes as I sure can’t commit things to memory.

  35. Thank you very much. 🙂

    This first link is to one of the NASA videos I was talking about, but there are many others on this same page.

    The second is an interesting interview with Lester Brown, an American environmentalist, founder of the Worldwatch Institute and of the Earth Policy Institute.

    Ciao,
    Alessandra

    1. Thanks for those, Alessandra. Very interesting. I particularly enjoyed the interview with Lester Brown.

      Good luck getting governments to force the markets to tell the truth… :/

  36. I think this should be a global effort, with each country doing what they can. However, what they “can” should be an honest effort. The US and China can not say they can’t do anything. But then again, asking third world countries to do a whole lot doesn’t make much sense. When people are hungry and living one day at a time, the last thing they think of is global warming. Nonetheless, education, information over the subject and the things one as a single individual can do, should be at the top of the list.

    Look, I come from the southern part of Argentina, southern South America. There are basically no industries to speak of there, and yet the ozone layer’s hole is right above that part of the world. Skin cancer rates have gone up. Between 11am and 4pm is recommended not to be outdoors without sunscreen and that has to be above 35%. The sun literally burns your skin. Is it fair? On top of all the maladies of a developing country, also put up with the consequences of something created by industries which provide comfort to the other hemisphere, the rich one?

    It’s one world and we ALL have to do something about it. Not taking a step forward, signing, is being a coward.

    1. “Not taking a step forward, signing, is being a coward.”

      Marian:

      Just my opinion, but I think that when you are living in a country where you are not experiencing the problems others are, that it is easy to ignore or brush off the need and necessity for change. I don’t think the US is alone in that.

      I’m from the US and I think we need massive amounts of exposure (not a pun) to the realities of what is going on in the rest of the world. Maybe getting on committees or start some neighborhood or group dialogues to get involved in a bigger way than just on this forum. I don’t know, but we can’t just let this amount to talk and no action.

      One of the most frustrating things to me in the US is the attitude of ‘let someone else do it’ or ‘one person can’t make a difference’ (politics being another issue). As Michael Kelly mentioned, we are good with catastrophes and not prevention. Very scary to think about what that next catastrophe might be or where it will happen. And we all think it won’t happen to us.

      The big picture is saving the whole earth, not just our corner of it.

      Jan

  37. I think you are right Jan. People should be exposed about the realities of what happens in the rest of the world. Whether we like it or not a global catastrophe is not going to stop when it reaches our borders. Global means all of us.

    I say education… it’s the key to everything. 😉

  38. Americans produce as much CO2 as the populations of China, India, Mexico, Russia, South Africa and Ukraine put together!

    Population of those countries: 2 billion
    Population of the USA: 291 million (0.3 billion)

    Of course Americans should pay!

  39. It is very hard as an American, not to feel ashamed and embarrassed. We are currently undergoing changes regarding this situation, and in America you see it everywhere… magazines, TV, radio, etc. The green machine is very much alive and well in America, and there are too many changes that Americas are making to even mention here. The problem is in our government and the companies that shove money in their pockets.

    YES!!!! The American government should be fined!!!

    Obama will change this anyway, I have no doubt about it.

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