The Kyoto Protocol


The Kyoto Protocol Essay, Research Paper

While the issues of global warming and the Kyoto Protocol are not

exclusively Asia-Pacific topics, this essay will discuss the importance

of Australia?s role, along with the United States, in undermining this

treaty. To a lesser degree, the roles of India and China will also

be examined. Particular emphasis will also be placed on the economic,

environmental and political aspects involved in the topic. Statistical

data will also be offered to support this analysis.

The Framework Convention on Climate Change, instigated by the United

Nations, was held in Kyoto, Japan in December 1997. More than 2,200

delegates from 161 nations took part in this summit to help forge an

international treaty now known as the Kyoto Protocol. We can see from

the map provided that the major stakeholders examined in this essay

encompass the entire Asia-Pacific region.

The objective of the Kyoto climate-change conference was to establish a

legally binding international agreement, whereby, all the participating

nations commit themselves to tackling the issue of global warming and

reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GGE?s). The target agreed upon at

the summit was an average reduction of 5.2% on 1990 levels by the year

2012. Table A, at the end of this essay, details the negotiated targets

for each Annex 1 nation.

At the close of negotiations, Luxembourg?s Environment Minister Johnny

Lahure, was jubilant when he announced, ?Today there are no losers and

only one winner, the environment.? However, it is difficult to understand

his enthusiasm.

In reality, it would take an immediate reduction of at least 60% to make

an impact on the greenhouse gases that have been accumulating in the

atmosphere since the onset of the industrial revolution. Given this,

even if it is ratified, the Kyoto Protocol will achieve little for

the environment.

Now, thanks entirely to the United States and Australia, ratification

of the treaty may never eventuate. Australia and the US arrived at the

talks as hostile participants with entrenched positions. Central to US

obstinance was the lack of participation from China and India. Although

major polluters themselves, because they are developing countries,

the Kyoto accord does not require them to reduce their emissions at all.

The Americans advocated an ?all in? policy. That is, both developed

and under-developed nations should be required to reduce greenhouse gas

emissions and comply with the treaty. As it stands now, China and India

can increase their emissions ? they are not bound by the treaty.

Consequently, the US objected. However, it would appear this American

argument is a spurious one. The United States is the world?s most

industrialised nation and as such is responsible for a staggering 25%

of global GGE?s. As the world?s biggest polluter, couldn?t it be argued

that they have a moral obligation to lead by example?

As developing nations, in particular China and India, become more

industrialised, they will require guidance and leadership in establishing

clean renewable energy resources. However, if the world?s largest polluter

isn?t interested in taking measures to curb the effects of global warming,

it is unlikely that they will.

Then in March 2001, the new Bush Administration politically

dumped the Kyoto Protocol, finally ending speculation on the US

position. ?[President] Bush has no interest in pursuing the Kyoto

Protocol?, declared the US Environment Protection Agency chief, Christine


Within a few weeks, Australia also showed their desire to jump

ship. Australia?s Minister for the Environment, Senator Robert Hill said,

?We?ve always said we wouldn?t ratify [the Kyoto Protocol] ahead of

the US?. In essence, it?s a case of if they don?t ? we won?t. However,

one can?t help but feel that the US retreat simply gave the Australian

Government a convenient excuse to pull out. The Kyoto accord was a low

priority for the Howard government from the very beginning.

Australia was one of only two nations that successfully negotiated an

increase in their GGE?s. They were allowed to increase their emissions

by 8% on 1990 levels by 2012. Prime Minister John Howard described

this political victory as a ?terrific result? for Australia. However,

the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics (ABARE)

have recently released a sobering statistic.

If Australia fails to take any counteracting measures between now and

2012, ABARE says their GGE increase will actually be 35% – way above

the negotiated target. Exactly how John Howard planned to achieve this

?terrific result? is still not clear.

Australia relies very heavily on fossil fuels and is the biggest emitter

of greenhouse gases per head of population. With 76% of their energy

production being sourced from coal and oil, the task of reducing GGE?s

will be a very difficult one. Perhaps the task is so difficult, it was

never seriously on the agenda.

However, Australia?s reluctance to recognise the importance of global

warming is quite puzzling. Australia?s delicate ecological balance is

particularly vulnerable, more so than other nation in the world. Much

of their landmass is semi-arid and subject to drought, extremes of

temperature and sensitive to El Nino cycles. Add to that soil salinity

problems and temperatures that are already higher than optimum for

agriculture in many regions.

Australia?s economy is also dependent on $31 billion in annual

agricultural exports. Tourism in the Great Barrier Reef alone is worth

$1 billion each year. Surely then, if any country has a strong national

interest in avoiding climate change, it must be Australia.

Disintegration of the Kyoto Protocol will also deliver another economic

blow to Australia. Emissions Trading between nations is likely to cease

without US involvement in the treaty. Under the Kyoto accord, a country

can gain carbon credits by planting forests, then sell these credits to

nations that overextend on their negotiated GGE levels.

Australian State Forests were very keen to take advantage of the Emissions

Trading system, and it was seen as a new multi-billion dollar a year

industry. As an example, this year NSW State Forests won a contract

for carbon credits with Japanese electrical company TEPCO worth $120

million. However, the viability of Emissions Trading is now in severe

doubt without the support of the US.

Economic considerations aside, the lurking dangers of global warming are

rising sea levels, due to the melting of the polar ice caps. Consider

a nation like the Maldives, a small group of islands in the Indian

Ocean. The average height of land in the Maldives is only a few metres

above sea level. If the issue of greenhouse gas emissions is not

immediately addressed, the Maldives, in the not too distant future,

will be completely under water.

Climate change is a global concern and we can see that Australia?s

reluctance to seriously participate in the Kyoto Protocol will have

adverse repercussions for the entire Asia-Pacific region, not just

Australia. It is also clear that, in this instance, Australia is all

too willing to dance to America?s tune. It is the responsibility of the

world?s two most notorious polluters to take the lead role in reducing

GGE?s, not to turn their backs to the problem.

Table A

The individual commitments for each Annex 1 (developed) nation:

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