Stephen A. Fuqua (SAF) is a Bahá'í, programmer, and conservation and interfaith advocate in the DFW area of Texas.

November 7, 2004

Kyoto Ratified - What Next?

The Kyoto Protocol has been ratified by Russia. What happens now? What changes will we see, what effects will it have on the United States, and what comes next?

Implementation

Now that Russian President Vladimir Putin has formally signed the Protocol, it must be delivered to the United Nations in New York City. Its requirements will go into effect 90 days after receipt. Specifically, the treaty's text calls signatories to implement policies such as:

  • Enhancement of energy efficiency in relevant sectors of the national economy;
  • Protection and enhancement of sinks and reservoirs of greenhouse gases not controlled by the Montreal Protocol, taking into account its commitments under relevant international environmental agreements; promotion of sustainable forest management practices, afforestation and reforestation;
  • Promotion of sustainable forms of agriculture in light of climate change considerations;
  • Research on, and promotion, development and increased use of, new and renewable forms of energy, of carbon dioxide sequestration technologies and of advanced and innovative environmentally sound technologies;
  • Progressive reduction or phasing out of market imperfections, fiscal incentives, tax and duty exemptions and subsidies in all greenhouse gas emitting sectors that run counter to the objective of the Convention and application of market instruments;
  • Encouragement of appropriate reforms in relevant sectors aimed at promoting policies and measures which limit or reduce emissions of greenhouse gases not controlled by the Montreal Protocol;
  • Measures to limit and/or reduce emissions of greenhouse gases not controlled by the Montreal Protocol in the transport sector;
  • Limitation and/or reduction of methane emissions through recovery and use in waste management, as well as in the production, transport and distribution of energy;

Kyoto also calls for specific reductions in greenhouse gases while providing a method for countries to trade reduction credits – a process expected to bring a bonus revenue to Russia, whose emissions have declined along with its economy since the original negotiations in 1992. Britain's Climate Change Projects Office provides the following examples of climate change projects expected to occur in Britain:

  • Use of renewable energy rather than fossil fuels for electricity generation (e.g. a wind farm)
  • Use of a lower carbon intensive form of fossil fuel energy (e.g. installation of a combined cycle gas power station where coal-fired power stations are usual)
  • More efficient use of energy (e.g. the use of more energy efficient lamps)
  • Management of biodegradable waste (e.g. the capture and use of landfill gas to generate electricity, rather than allowing it to vent to the atmosphere and needing to use fossil fuels to generate electricity)
  • A change to an industrial process to reduce the release of greenhouse gases (e.g. a change in the way cement is manufactured)
  • Long term storage of carbon (e.g. by sequestering it in trees, or storing it underground, for example in cavities left after oil extraction)

Effects on the United States

Changing laws overseas affect multinational U.S. corporations (such as Ford and Alcoa), who may bring their changes home instead of creating a complex patchwork of internal policies. Heightened demand for cleaner equipment could result in lower prices in the long run, thus making clean manufacturing and production processes more economically feasible.

While a change of heart is not forthcoming from the newly re-elected President, one can hope that Russia's actions will renew domestic interest in working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, though the fact that their signing came during election season doomed the news to relative obscurity stateside. Perhaps the Climate Stewardship Act, championed by John McCain and Joe Lieberman, will finally manage to receive a hearing on the Senate floor. While to environmentalists it does not go far enough, it is considered a step in the right direction.

Several individual states have also begun taking matters into their own hands; California's Air Resources Board is leading the way with new regulations requiring lower vehicle emissions by 2009. With standards already higher than the rest of the nation, perhaps California's laws will push more reductions statewide – from a policy leadership perspective and from the difficulty in manufacturing and marketing cars specific to California.

The Future

Data showing the truth and probable impact of global warming continues to pour in, though the once and future Administration also continues to play down that data and even attempt to suppress it to some extent, according to other countries involved in major multilateral research.

The Kyoto Protocol is only the first step in international efforts to reverse the tide of climate change. Talks will soon begin on the next steps, which include further reductions and bringing the developing world into the fold (lack of enforcement on the developing world has been one of the Bush administration's complaints).

Climate change is, of course, only one piece of the environmental enigma. Loss of biodiversity, land degradation, access to fresh water, and other issues have been argued to be key issues inflaming local tensions across the globe. Working to solve these problems is an increasingly important component of the international peace movement. Some are even calling for creation of a World Environment Organisation as a complement to the World Trade Organization.