Friday, December 10, 2010

Kyoto Protocol

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The Kyoto Protocol is a protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC or FCCC), intended to combat global warming. [1] The primary focus of UNFCCC is the prevention of hazardous gases interfering with the global climate. It was mainly founded to fight rising atmospheric temperatures and overcome anthropogenic interference in a world besieged by rapid industrialization and calculated human pollution. The rules for the implementation of the Protocol were adopted in Marrakesh, Morocco, in 2001, and are called the “Marrakesh Accords”. [2]

Since its inception in 1997 and since going into effect in 2005, the Kyoto Protocol has remained contentious and unsolvable. Of the 191 countries that have ratified the protocol, only 37 countries remain committed to the reduction of four main greenhouse gases (GHG). These gases are carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and sulfur hexafluoride plus two other gases hydrofluorocarbons and perfluorocarbons. Disagreements remain between developed or industrialized nations and those in the developing category regarding reduction of gases and protocol ratification. French scientist Jean-Baptiste Fourier became the first to sound the alarm and hypothesize the dangers of greenhouse gases in 1827.

“The greenhouse effect is the natural process by which the atmosphere traps some of the Sun's energy, warming the Earth enough to support life.”[3] The United States signed the Kyoto Protocol on November 12, 1998. Unfortunately, in late March 2001, the Bush administration rejected the Kyoto Protocol. However, the U.S. continued to attend annual Conference of the Parties (CoPs) to the UNFCCC though it did not participate in Kyoto Protocol-related negotiations. The United States’ displeasure with ratifying the protocol is related to its failure to meet the targets and timetables and its inability to come up with the potentially required high costs. [4] Spain ratified Kyoto in 2002 while Russia ratified the treaty in 2004. US emissions have been slower than other counterparts in the industrialized rim although its emissions volume remained much higher. In the 2007 global emissions, the US and China jointly accounted for 40% of emissions. To this day, the legacy of the Kyoto Protocol remains mixed with no defining remedy because developing countries oppose dividing up a fixed emissions budget. [5]

Developing countries blame developed countries for contributing to the demise of the ozone layer. With over a decade of negotiations, member nations have not been able to curb emissions or reach credible and tangible consensus. Developing countries are certainly opposed to limiting their developmental potentials and goals and definitely do not want to be committed to stringent emissions target.

The recent pronouncement by Jun Arima, a Japanese government official, that “Japan will not inscribe its target under the Kyoto protocol on any conditions or under any circumstances” was a big blow to the delicately balanced Cancun global climate talks. [6] This stern message from an official whose country is one of the largest emitters of greenhouses caught delegates by surprise. Economists describe carbon emissions as a negative externality. This implies that emitters do not shoulder the full cost of the damage they cause. Hence they produce unnecessary carbon dioxide that ultimately pollutes the environment and affects fauna and flora disproportionately (Nye 313). [7]

To be able to secure a more effective approach to the Kyoto Framework, member nations will need to come up with an alternative approach which means focusing on actions rather than focusing on outcomes. In view of the realist political wrangling between developed and undeveloped countries regarding disagreement over the Kyoto Protocol and the unbalanced dispersal of carbon waste pilfering into the atmosphere, the only political theory that could bring an everlasting settlement to the conflict would be to collectively embrace liberalism. Nations will have to come with acceptable targets and timetables and budgets commensurate with a nation’s financial ability.




[3] Guide to Climate Change, Greenhouse Effect,

[4] Peter Saundry, Kyoto Protocol and the United States, Encyclopedia of Earth, Published December 25, 2006

[5] Warwick J. McKibbin and Peter J. Wilcoxen, Building on Kyoto: Towards a Realistic Global Climate Agreement, Security Initiative Working Papers Number 3, December 2008

[6] John Vidal, Cancun Climate Change Summit: Japan Refuses to Extend Kyoto Protocol,, Wednesday 1 December 2010 18.16 GMT

[7] Joseph S. Nye, Jr. and David A. Welch, Understanding Global Conflict and Cooperation: An Introduction to Theory and History (8th Ed.), Pearson Education Inc.

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