Kyoto Protocol: Good Intentions, Failed Legislation?

So last week, I discussed how rising CO2 levels are creating a big problem when it comes to our oceans and especially the reefs that are such a vital part of the marine ecosystem. In that post, I mentioned a piece of legislation called the Kyoto Protocol and how the United States’ failure to ratify it was a possible indicator of a lack of caring toward the dire situation of our planet’s environmental health. This week, I dove deeper into the Kyoto Protocol and what it required of the U.S. and why we didn’t ratify it. The conclusions I found were VERY interesting:

The Kyoto Protocol was adopted in 1997 but did not come into force until 2005. By ratifying it, developed countries pledged that in 7 years (by the time the legislation expired at the end of 2012) they would lower their greenhouse emissions to 5% below 1990 levels.

Then-U.S. vice president and environmental activist Al Gore was behind Kyoto 100%, helping to put the document together in ’97. In the same year, Clinton signed the agreement, however the Senate refused to ratify it. When he came into office in 2001, George W. Bush also refused to make any move toward reattempting to ratify the Kyoto Protocol.

Both the Senate and Bush cited several reasons why they refused to sign what they saw as a flawed document. As the world’s top producer of greenhouse gases in 2004, ratifying Kyoto would require us to severely decrease our CO2 emissions, which was going to be VERY costly. With the U.S. already facing a recession and high dependence on foreign oil, decreasing our emission levels looked like an unrealistic goal.

When criticized for his lack of support for Kyoto, Bush often cited the fact that developing countries were exempt from curbing their emissions. This included the world’s biggest greenhouse polluters (after the U.S.): China and India. Bush cited simply that if we were forced to reign in our emissions while these countries were allowed to carry on, we would suffer a severe economic disadvantage.

So we don’t ratify the Kyoto Protocol and we don’t lower our CO2 emissions and the seven years pass and now were at here, today.

As the Kyoto Protocol ended just a few months ago in December of 2012, I did a little searching to find out how effective the legislation was. According to a CBC article published December 31st, we tried to decrease emissions by 5% and they ended up increasing by 58%. Ouch.

So the flaws of Kyoto? Well there was a whole policy regarding “emission credits” but they didn’t really help to decrease emissions because developed countries could trade their credits and outsource to other countries. In a few cases, this made it CHEAPER for some countries to invest in foreign projects and increase CO2 emissions.

Additionally, rewards were provided for planting trees or funding sustainable energy but no rewards were given to countries that did work in conservation or preservation.

The final flaw, and the one that caused the most issue was the fact that developing countries were not required whatsoever to reduce their emissions, giving them what many developed countries saw as an economic advantage.

On the whole, the Kyoto Protocol wasn’t well-though out enough to make it a realistic way for developed countries to reduce their CO2 levels. As the New Yorker put it in their March 2009 article, “the best way for a Kyoto signatory to cut its carbon output has been to suffer a well-timed industrial implosion…” No developed country succeeded in cutting their emission levels unless their economy completely crashed (like Russia). That doesn’t bode well for future attempts to lower greenhouse emissions.

Well, you may ask: what’s next? A new round of the Kyoto protocol has been created, beginning January 1, 2013 and ending in 2020, and several countries have already signed it but they only represent 15% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. We’re still waiting on action by the “big league” players.

What do you think is the right next move? Should we even bother with second Kyoto Protocol when the first was such a failure? Is it right to require developing countries such as China and India to curb their emissions as well or will it hurt their growing economy too much? Can the U.S. be blamed for being selfish given the situation were were in at the time that Kyoto needed to be ratified? Did Bush make the right choice in refusing to ratify it?

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11 Responses to Kyoto Protocol: Good Intentions, Failed Legislation?

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  9. jrh5408 says:

    The Kyoto Protocol was an over simplified solution to a complex problem causing a riff in american politics. Science has never been able to properly communicate their information. In my opinion, the worst thing to happen to climate change is when politics came into play. Some people praise vice president Al Gore for becoming actively involved in climate change yet no single person has profited more on the fear of climate change than Al Gore. My point in bringing that up is to show that because he was such a polarizing figure the republicans will never support his ideals. By him acting the way he did climate change went from science to politics. Kyoto stood a very little chance of being successful even without the divide in America. Kyoto is a UN document . The UN has no enforcement body except for the United States Military. Outside of trading restrictions the UN can’t do anything to the United States.

    I think the next move should be “No Regret Strategies.” We need to promote things that make financial since. A few examples would be to promote keeping your car in working order. You use less gas if the tires in your car are properly inflated. Also, modern vehicles only take 45 seconds to warm up on even the coldest days. Don’t let your car sit and run for minutes and minutes at a time. Not only does the consumer save money on gas but they also cause less emissions. Once the consumer starts to realize that there are hundreds of simple things that will save them money and help the environment then it becomes part of our culture. Once it becomes part of our culture then science can start to spread the information and provide suggestions and real differences can be obtained. Climate Change entered our culture as this big, dangerous, extreme, and drastic event, but it doesn’t have to be that way. I like to think of it as stopping a run away train. If you try to put up a road block or stop the train instantly it will not work. The train will either derail and cause a huge wreck and lot of damage or just plow through whatever you put in its way. The key to stopping a train and especially a train of this size is to gradually let it come to a halt. First apply a series of brakes this can be the No regret strategies. In the big picture the train only slowed down by 1 or 2 % at this point but its something. Next, try to take some weight off by slowly removing the last few cars. Keep doing that but know each car removed is that much more difficult. Now that the train weighs less and is slightly slower it might be ok to put up a block now. The block might work because the conditions of the train are more open to stopping.

    I like that you are asking questions because that’s what needs to be done. It is very easy to look at something that already happened and make judgment because we know everything. It’s very hard to look forward and guess what is going to happen.

  10. Sarah Summers says:

    This post is both well researched and well written, which makes it a really interesting read. The 58% increase is shocking! It’s amazing how little it takes to raise emissions 58% while it would take so much effort to lower them by just 5%.

    One of the things that came up when I was listening to the deliberations was some students’ desire to see the U.S. take a leadership role in environmental issues the way we seem to want to take one in democracy, security, and economics. Do you think it might be possible to link a new version of Kyoto to commonplaces of patriotism and becoming a world leader? Would that help motivate us? What would it take for the U.S. to step up?

    It seems like part of the answer is a more “fair” protocol, although “fair” also seems to include some loopholes, based on your description! It’s frustrating to see such a lack of action, and I’m looking forward to hearing more from your blog about what else we might do. Maybe world-wide legislation isn’t the answer afterall–maybe it needs to be more local?

  11. Timothy Gleason says:

    Though I love the ideas behind Kyoto, the sad fact seems to be that we can’t cut CO2 emissions without sacrificing a bit, and it seems that if one big country is unwilling to accept those sacrifices then none of the other important countries will either. As a reverse example of that sacrifice, starting in 2008 we had a terrible recession. This was the first period in hundreds of years where the United States’ CO2 emissions dropped. In fact, they’re now lower than they were 20 years ago. (–finance.html ) It took two things to do this: the recession and fracking. Since the explosion in the use of natural gas a few years ago, production has gone through the roof and prices have dropped well below that of coal. When burned, natural gas emits less CO2 per unit of energy than coal. However, this is only CO2 emissions. Methane emissions in that same about of time have… actually, we don’t know. Because no one is allowed to measure them around drilling sites. Isn’t that nice? (However, here’s the best educated guess )
    So, the moral of the story is that the US is doing a great job at reducing CO2 emissions without signing any international agreements at the expense of emitting other greenhouse gasses and polluting our water.

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