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