Wednesday, November 08, 2006


The Kyoto Protocol. To you it's an important step in the struggle to mitigate global warming or a big waste of time. Or you may know very little about it (and still have an opinion about it).

Right now representatives from around the globe are meeting in Nairobi, Kenya until November 17 to discuss the climate change treaty. You may remember that they met in Montreal last year at this time. This annual mass conference of 165 participating countries is the Conference of the Parties (COP). Nairobi is the 12th COP.

In this installment I attempt to lay out the Kyoto Protocol in a tiny nutshell for the average busy person – you.

TO Think About This Week

The Kyoto Protocol

Its Genesis
1992 - The Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro – aka the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development – produced a treaty called the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC). The treaty’s mission: reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Problem: the treaty was not legally binding.

1997 - Enter the Kyoto Protocol. A protocol is a fancy word for ‘update’. While the FCCC was toothless at birth, it did have a provision to grow teeth through protocols. This particular protocol was developed during COP 3 in Kyoto, Japan. About 180 countries signed it.

2004 - After years of head banging and gnashing of teeth, the Protocol was finally ratified in November.

2005 - The protocol was entered into force on February 16, 2005. To date166 countries have ratified the agreement, except for the USA and Australia. While India and China have ratified it, they are not required to reduce their carbon emissions. George W. Bush doesn’t like this concession and cites this as one of the reasons the US is not on board.

2005 - Meanwhile, Australia, the USA, India, China, South Korea and Japan announced the Asia-Pacific Partnership, aka AP6. This is a non-mandatory agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Participants set their own reduction targets with no penalty if they can’t meet them. Canada has expressed strong interest in backing out of Kyoto and joining this partnership.

What It Is
Under the protocol, 38 industrialized (or Annex I) countries must commit to cutting their greenhouse gas emissions through a series of stages. We are in stage one: these countries must cut emissions on average 5.2 percent below 1990 levels and they must do so between 2008 to 2012. Any Annex I country that fails to meet this target will have to make up the difference and commit an additional 30% reduction during the second stage.

Flexible Mechanisms - Only industrialized countries are required to cut their emissions since they produce 80 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. However through "flexible mechanisms" they can meet their targets through carbon trading schemes, such as purchasing credits from a country that is doing well in the emissions reduction department, or helping non-industrialized countries reduce their carbon emissions.

Arguments Against
Aside from the belief of a diminishing few that global warming is the stuff of “junk” science, the pathetic cry of sinister liberals seeking world domination, etc., there are several concerns about the protocol. They include:

  1. Missing in action are key players such as the USA and Australia, not to mention China and India – players responsible for 45 percent of greenhouse gas emissions.
  2. “Flexible mechanisms” undermine the effectiveness Kyoto. The lifestyles and business practices of the industrialized countries are the key culprits of a warming world, responsible for 80% of greenhouse gas emissions. By focusing on helping non-industrialized countries reduce their emissions, industrialized countries are doing little to move their countries to a more sustainable business and lifestyle model.
  3. While there is a strong argument that the protocol is not doing enough to curb greenhouse gas emissions, there is a counter argument that the protocol is too demanding and that industrialized countries simply cannot meet the terms by 2012. This is certainly the Government of Canada’s argument.

Arguments For

  1. The Protocol is a step with bigger steps to come. It brings together countries collectively responsible for the majority of greenhouse gas emissions in an effort to curb human induced global warming. It’s not perfect but it’s something - the product of much thought, ideas, frustration and compromise – what you expect when you bring together the world community. But at least we are at the table. Even the USA and Australia are listening in.
  2. While the US government turns its nose up at Kyoto because China and India aren’t really involved, nine north-eastern states and 194 cities have pledged to adopt Kyoto-style legal limits on greenhouse gas emissions.
  3. Carbon trading or cap and trade helped reduce US acid rain emissions during the 1980s and should be seen as a viable scheme to provide financial (market-driven) incentive to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The largest cap and trade in the world is the EU Emissions Trading Scheme.
  4. The Kyoto Protocol has inspired people to talk about it – regardless if its favourable or not. Climate change is definitely on the radar and people are very passionate about it.

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Anonymous said...

thanks for bringing some klarity to kyoto

Matt Burge said...

Hello fellow Green Blogger,

Over at we have a poll running that we would like you to take part in if you wish.

The question runs; 'What do you think is the best way to tackle climate change?

Hope you have time to give your views on this very important issue.