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?