As of the end of 2006, 169 countries
had signed onto the Kyoto Protocol, an agreement forged in
Kyoto, Japan in 1997 calling on the world’s industrialized
nations to reduce emissions of so-called “greenhouse
gases” thought to be contributing to global warming.
The agreement called for a 5.2 percent reduction overall in
the release of six pollutants—carbon dioxide, methane,
nitrous oxide, sulfur hexafluoride, hydrochlorofluorocarbons
(HCFCs), and perfluorocarbons (PFCs)—by 2012 in relation
to 1990 levels.
Although the agreement was hammered out 10 years ago, its emissions
reduction standards did not take effect until two years ago,
in February 2005. As such, signatory countries have only barely
begun to make changes, and no one has yet conducted a comprehensive
study of progress toward reaching targets. United Nations research
does show, however, that a majority of the 36 European countries
that signed onto the Kyoto Protocol are currently not on track
to meet their goals by 2012.
However, the 27-member-nation European Union (EU), which as a
block is one of the largest global warming polluters, is likely
to meet its collective goal. This is due in large part to Eastern
European states having shut down or modernized heavy polluting
Soviet-era industries during the 1990s. Also helping the EU effort
is the United Kingdom, which is on track to meet its goals, thanks
mostly to a switch from coal-fired power plants to cleaner burning
natural gas. Germany and France also hope to meet their Kyoto
commitments, largely through a program of subsidies for the development
of non polluting energy sources. And Sweden expects to overachieve
on its Kyoto targets thanks to the imposition of a hefty carbon
tax on polluting industries and big investments in alternative
Topping the list of Kyoto slackers is Canada, which last year
became the first signatory country to announce that it would
not meet its Kyoto target of a 6 percent emissions cut by 2012.
New oil production in the tar sands of Alberta has instead forced
Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions up significantly, as
the government has chosen to pursue economic growth as a priority
over meeting its Kyoto commitments. Japan is also lagging behind.
If no additional measures are taken, the United Nations forecasts
that Japan’s emissions will instead grow 6 percent by 2012.
But Japan’s environment ministry says that implementation
of some market-based incentives in 2008 should help Japan meet
Regrettably, the United States and Australia don’t have
to worry about meeting any commitments, as neither country agreed
to sign the Kyoto agreement, even though together the two major
industrial powers account for 30 percent of the world’s
greenhouse gas emissions. U.S. President George W. Bush does
not support mandatory caps on emissions, arguing that such a
move would cause irreparable harm to the U.S. economy. He also
complains that developing nations are not being held up to the
same standards as the rest of the world. Unfortunately, with
the U.S. on the sidelines, the good faith efforts of dozens of
other nations could end up being quite immaterial in the fight
to stave off global warming.
For more information on Kyoto Protocol visit http://unfccc.int/kyoto_protocol/background/items/2878.php;
or the United Nations Climate Change Web site at http://climatechange.unep.net.