Nice Try, Kyoto


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Nice Try, Kyoto

February 16th is the two-year anniversary of the inspired and contentious Kyoto Protocol.

The Kyoto Protocol is an amendment made under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Countries that ratify this protocol commit to reduce their emissions of carbon dioxide and five other greenhouse gases (GHG). Originally introduced December 1997 it went into effect February 16th 2005 with 160 Countries on board.

Of those countries the United States and Australia refused to comply with its provisions. The decision of the U.S., which produces roughly 25% of global green house gases, to bow out has been widely and vigorously criticized.

The U.S. Bows Out

The Bush administrations denial of the existence of global warming and refusal to accept the scientific evidence behind, it has been the most noted reason for U.S. non-participation, however a less publisized reasoning was the U.S. governments view that the Protocol was incomplete.

The Kyoto Protocol calls on the high-income countries and the post communist nations of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union to reduce their GHG emissions as of 2012 by around 6 percent compared with the 1990 levels. However given the participation criteria China, the world second largest polluter, and India, although having signed the treaty are exempt from compliance and enforcement penalties.

These rapidly developing countries will soon account for 50% of the worlds GHG emissions. The active participation of these countries is critical to the stabilization of green house emissions and the U.S. contends that letting them slide by on the honor system is a major oversight of the Protocol.

Kyoto Not Enough

Many argue that the wording of the initiative itself is flawed, maintaining that the criteria and measures of enforcement lack clear definition. Also the long-term viability of the Protocols goals has been called into question. Jeffrey Sachs, noted economist, states in an article for Scientific America; “The Kyoto Protocol takes the long-term objective of stabilization of GHG concentrations and transforms it into a short-term target on emissions reductions, with no clear link between the two.”

With the science of global warming moving from theory to fact, many nations including the U.S. have been working on legislation of their own to reduce GHG. Canada a long time Kyoto Protocol groupie reveals that 59% of Canadians feel that the Protocol is only a small part of what each nation should be doing.

In the two years since its enforcement, while there have been marked improvements, even the strictest of participants have struggled to comply. Even Kyoto Japan where the initiative was born has found meeting its commitment a challenge. Carbon emissions in Japan have actually grown more than 8% over its ’90s benchmark and Canada reports that it is 27% above 1990 levels.

Alt vs. Nuke

Countries such as China and India are in prime positions to make big contributions in the battle against global warming. As their economies are blossoming they can make the decision to take the alternative fuel path, in fact the decision could be critical to their continued growth.

The official China Xinhua agency reported on Wednesday [Jan 17th] that rising temperatures in China could reduce grain crops by over a third in the second half of this century, imperiling food security in the world’s most populous country.

While alternative fuels such as hydrogen and bio-fuels are the most touted solutions, realistically their large-scale implementation in most established nations is not going to happen anytime soon. Alternatively many support already widely established nuclear power as a more immediate solution.

The United States generates a total of 15.43 trillion kWh per year using fossil fuels costing $ 818.7 billion per year. By converting to atomic energy that same 15 trillion kWh of energy can be produced for around $ 314 billion, a savings of over $ 500 billion.

In November 2006 for the first time in its 32-year history, the International Energy Agency (IEA) urged governments around the world to speed the construction of new nuclear power plants. Many countries are leaning that way; China has eight atomic plants under construction and plans to build 40 plants over the next decade.

Nuclear power is cheaper, cleaner (in regard to GHG) and would be a solution to dependence on fossil fuels, but it comes with its own notorious list of problems most notably what to do with tons of radioactive waste. A nuclear solution to global warming seems to equate by making a deal with the devil to save yourself from going to hell.

Too Little Too Late

Despite increased enthusiasms throughout global communities and well-intentioned measures such as the Kyoto Protocol, when it comes down to it we may be looking at a case of “too little too late”. It is clear that we are going to need to take far more aggressive action towards global warming, in order to offset the effects of World population growth and increasing energy demands.

Our current actions are the equivalent of pounding laying a railroad with a tack hammer but if it is one thing mankind is good at, it is overcoming hurdles that are in the way of its advancement. Unfortunately we more than often overlook the consequences of our progress.

The question is will human ingenuity get us out of this one and are we smart enough to do it without shooting ourselves in the foot?

Image by szeke

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Image by Pai Shih

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