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figure
Data: World Energy Council, Cited in Ehsan Masood, Nature 388:213, 1997. The Asia-Pacific region excludes Japan, Australia and New Zealand.


KYOTO AGREEMENT ON GREENHOUSE GASES ACHIEVES LITTLE

Protocol To The United Nations Framework Convention On Climate Change

December 11, 1997: Representatives of 150 nations participated in the UN conference on anthropogenic climate change. The purpose of the conference was to reach an agreement on limiting global emission of greenhouse gases, primarily carbon dioxide from the combustion of fossil fuels, which may cause substantial climate warming with unpredictable but potentially devastating ecological and human consequences.

A protocol intended by 2012 to achieve a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by industrialized nations of 5.2%, relative to emissions in 1990, was signed by 55 developed nations (1). However, the goal of the protocol is unlikely to be achieved. Developing countries, notably China and India, rejected a provision requiring them to opt-in at a later time and adopt targets to reduce emissions. They argued that most of the anthropogenic greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have been generated by the industrialized world, which should, therefore, bear the burden of remedial measures.

The position of the developing world is self-serving and unrealistic. Developing nations now account for almost half of global greenhouse gas emissions and are the fastest growing source (e.g., see figure above). Unfortunately, the position taken by the developing nations makes ratification of the Kyoto Protocol by the U.S. unlikely; the U.S. Senate having already passed a motion rejecting any agreement binding developed countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions if less developed countries do not commit to reduce emissions in the same compliance period (2). Ratification by Canada, the World’s second highest per capita producer of carbon dioxide, is unlikely in the face of vigorous opposition by the oil and gas producing provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan. Europe may fulfill its commitment under the protocol, but that would entail a cut in emissions of only half what Europe proposed prior to the Conference. It is unlikely, therefore, that the Kyoto conference will have a significant impact on the future course of greenhouse gas emissions, which appear set to rise sharply in the coming years.

The failure of Kyoto to establish national quotas effectively limiting global greenhouse gas emissions indicates the need for a different approach. The best alternative is a carbon tax. A carbon tax would cost little to implement, because most fossil fuels are already taxed. Generally, therefore, the tax could be imposed simply by increasing the rate of an existing tax. Even if introduced without international coordination, a carbon tax could serve as an effective restraint on global greenhouse gas emissions provided that countries applying the tax imposed countervailing duties, if necessary at a punitive rate, on imports from countries without a carbon tax. Faced with the alternatives of seeing duties on their exports flowing to foreign governments or enhancing their own revenues by a carbon tax, most countries might be expected to opt for a carbon tax.

References

(1) Kyoto protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Official Web Site of the Climate Change Secretariat (provides links to different countries’ emissions data and activities related to climate change, plus text from official conference documents).

(2) Allocating carbon dioxide emission rights. naturalSCIENCE News, December 2, 1997. URL http://naturalscience.com/ns/news/ns_news7.html.



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