Kyoto Protocol Advantages and Limitations

The Kyoto Protocol: Advantages and Limitations

The advent of industrialized civilization has brought to us many remarkable feats that enhance our everyday lives. Such things as automobiles, airplanes, tractors, mainframe computers, and even relatively simple machines like lawnmowers have intertwined themselves into the everyday culture of modern day industrialized countries.. These products have provided us enormous benefits compared to the types of lives our ancestors used to live. In the eyes of some, the consequences of industrial activities that have evolved around the world will not pose any problems in the future, however as most have realized, this is not true. Contemporary production processes use fossil fuels such as oil, which release dangerous amounts of greenhouse gases into our atmosphere. In addition, certain products such as vehicles are notorious for their inefficient combustion cycles that also release comparable amounts of certain greenhouse gases into the air. Moreover, emissions from agricultural practices, land use change and forestry, and other industrial activities have led to dramatic increases in atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane and other gases since pre-industrial times. (Fig. 1) The world was quick to act upon this realization by negotiating the Kyoto Protocol in December of 1997, the result of a process that began by a United Nations led conference in the early 90’s. Since then, the debate for ratification among the negotiating countries has been ongoing, for the simple fact that this policy has many advantages along with a reasonable amount of disadvantages.
The protocol itself calls for the thirty-eight industrialized countries to reduce their emission of six major greenhouse gases by 5.2 percent, from levels recorded in 1990, during the 2008-2012 period. These six gases include carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (NO), hydrofluorocarbons (HFC’s), perfluorocarbons (PFC’s), and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6). Combined, these gases greatly increase the ability of our atmosphere to trap the sun’s energy as it attempts exit past our ozone layer. This effect has been given the presently familiar name of Global Warming, and recent studies have shown that global temperatures have significantly increased duing the past decade, with a tremendous increase in the latest couple of years. (Fig.2 )
One insight that is often overlooked when determining the advantages of the Kyoto Protocol is the sense of urgency and cooperation that environmentally concerned political leaders around the world have implanted in us. No longer is global warming and the greenhouse effect near the end of powerful politicians’ agendas, rather it has now become a pressing issue both between nations and within the countries who debate whether or not to ratify the agreement. An upfront testament to this is the fact that there have been several meeting by the “Parties to the 1992 Framework Convention on Climate Change,” including the seventh held between October 29 to November 9 in Marrakech, Morocco. We have thus witnessed a loose proposition on climate change developed almost a decade ago transform into the sophisticated, and highly technical policy that it is today.
In the realm of heavy power and politics, one could think that nations such as the United States and those of heavily industrialized Western Europe would control the basic structure of a policy such as the Kyoto Protocol. However, this is not the case, and this characteristic highlights another advantage the agreement holds. Developing nations, such as Hungary, Latvia, Poland, and the Ukraine are on equal footing with the largest of industrial nations. In today’s economic climate, countries who have more resource tend to gain an edge in how the world works, and the fact that nations whose economies are more or less in transition are as equally important as the U.S. and Western Europe on the issue of global warming exhibits the wonderful policy making procedures that developed the Kyoto Protocol. Furthermore, it seems as if developing nations are taking the initiative on correcting the world’s global warming problem. According to a presentation by the World Resources Institute:
Between 1990-91 and 1995-96, total fossil fuel subsidies in 14 developing countries that account for 25 percent of global carbon emissions from industrial sources declined 45 percent, from $60 billion to about $33 billion)…Within the past six years, India, Mexico, South Africa, Saudi Arabia, and Brazil also cut fossil fuel subsidies significantly…Many developing countries are also actively promoting energy