Focus on Climate Change

December 2009

From Kyoto.....

The destruction of the world’s forests is a major contributor to greenhouse gases / JICA file photoThe destruction of the world’s forests is a major contributor to greenhouse gases / JICA file photo

The Kyoto Protocol is a legally binding initiative by nations to help tackle climate change and global warming by reducing their production of four greenhouse gases, particularly carbon dioxide, and two groups of other gases.

The protocol was initially adopted for use on December 11, 1997 in Kyoto, Japan, entered into force on February 16, 2005 and by November 2009, 190 parties had ratified the agreement. The most prominent absentee is the United States, one of the world’s largest polluters.

The Kyoto document is a protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), an international environmental treaty with the goal of reaching the “stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.”

The Kyoto Protocol required 38 heavily industrial nations, so-called Annex I countries, until recently the world’s major polluters, to reduce their overall greenhouse gas emissions by 5.2% from the levels of 1990. The targeted reductions vary from state to state-Japan by 6%, the European Union by 8%, the United States 7% and Russia zero percent, for instance.

Developing countries have no requirements under the protocol, but under a complicated set of regulations intended to benefit everyone, industrialized nations could ‘buy’ emission credits from low-level polluters or otherwise help developing countries with funds and technology assistance.

African farmers learn new techniques to handle the impact of climate change / JICA file photoAfrican farmers learn new techniques to handle the impact of climate change / JICA file photo

The absence from Kyoto of the United States, which contributes roughly a quarter of the world’s greenhouse gases, has been the single biggest failure of the protocol though other nations have not thus far met their own emissions targets.

Even if all levels were met before the 2012 target date envisaged by Kyoto, that would represent only an interim victory. The United Nations has projected an overall rise of 10% in greenhouse gases since 1990 and the need for far larger cuts than Kyoto requires.

Even so, the Kyoto Protocol is a unique international initiative that recognizes one of the most pressing challenges facing the entire globe today and as such represents both a major symbolic and moral victory.

Setting the stage for the next step……

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