Contending With The Global Environmental Challenge

After long years of oblivious neglect, the environmental impact of economic industrial production has gained some attention. Even governments now do acknowledge that the quality of the environment is an essential part of human welfare. Moreover, projects are especially being designed to improve the quality of the environment, and an international system has been set up to trade carbon rights internationally in order to moderate the multi-faceted problems of climate change.

Much of this progress with regards to putting in place vital environmental safeguards is owed to the formulation of the Kyoto Protocol. However, despite some visible achievements which have been instigated by the formulation of this seminal Protocol, there are numerous implementation challenges confronting the Kyoto Protocol in both the developed and developing countries context, which this article aims to highlight before assessing the overall potential of the Kyoto Protocol in helping salvage the precious environmental balance on which all life on this planet depends.

What is the Kyoto Protocol?

The Kyoto Protocol is an inter-national agreement linked to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. This protocol was drafted in Kyoto, Japan, in 1997 which primarily aimed to reduce the emission of greenhouse gasses to combat global warming through an international treaty.

The Kyoto Protocol focuses its efforts to curbing carbon dioxide emissions by 38 industrialized nations by 2012 to levels that are, on average, 5 percent lower than the 1990 levels of discharge in these countries. While it was drafted in 1997, the Protocol did not come into effect until 2005, due to the lack of sufficient endorsement.

The lack of endorsement by some main pollution generating industrial countries remains a main hurdle for the Kyoto Protocol to achieve its objective of curbing pollution.

Another issue pertains to the fact that the Protocol has set no obligations for exponentially growing developing countries like India and China since these countries were not the main contributors to the Greenhouse Gases (GHGs) emissions during the pre-treaty industrialization period.

Before returning to this latter challenge however, let us first take a closer look at first the overall on-ground implications of the Protocol for some major industrialized countries, and at what some of these individual countries have done to meet the targets set by the Protocol.

The Detractors: United States and Australia

The US and Australia are two major developed nations which have remained adamant not to comply with the Kyoto Protocol.

In 1997, while work on the Kyoto Protocol was ongoing, the US demanded substantial emission allowances arguing that its ample forest and farming sector resources provided significant carbon sinks, due to which the targets set on existing emission levels for the US should not be as stringent as those set for other countries with less natural resources available to consume the carbon dioxide produced by their industries.

However, the Protocol only decided to give allowances for establishment of new forests and farms, instead of allying concessions for existing ones. Thus, the US refused to comply with the Kyoto Protocol fearing that the required emission curbs could result in serious harm to the US economy.

Estimates of adopting the Protocol could result in a potentially large loss to GDP of up to 4.2 percent for the U.S economy. At the Group of 8 (G8) [Industrialized Countries] meeting in 2005 however, US administration officials expressed a desire for practical commitments that industrialized countries could meet without damaging their economies.

Resultantly, the US is at least on track to fulfill its pledge to reduce its carbon intensity by 18 percent until 2012, even though it will still not meet the Kyoto targets.

After years of defiance, Australia finally endorsed the Protocol in 2008. However, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change reported that Australia’s 2004 greenhouse gas emissions were at 125.6 percent of 1990 levels as of 2007. Whether Australia will be able to curb these emissions levels within the 2012 timeframe is doubtful.

Assessing Compliance to The Protocol

For the country where the Kyoto Protocol was laid out, Japan is not doing so well. Instead of reducing its emissions to hit the country’s Kyoto target of dropping 6 percent from its 1990 levels, Japan’s emission increased in 2008, as compared to last year’s levels according to latest data released by Japan’s Ministry of the Environment. Japan still needs to cut its emissions by 13.5 percent to reach its goal by 2012.

The UK currently appears on course to meet its Kyoto limitation for the basket of greenhouse gases, assuming the Government is able to curb rising carbon dioxide emissions between now and the period 2008-2012.

In 2007, a draft was published aiming to achieve a mandatory 60 percent cut in the UK’s carbon emissions by 2050 compared to its 1990 levels, with an intermediate target of between 26 percent  and 32 percent  by 2020.

In 2002, Canada ratified the treaty that came into force in 2005. Canada is required to reduce emissions to 6 percent below its 1990 levels during 2008-2012. Although Canada had failed to meet its Kyoto Protocol obligations until 2007, Canada’s obligation to the treaty has just begun in 2008, and thus more significant reductions can be expected in the current year.

In 2002, all 15 then-members of the European Union deposited the relevant ratification paperwork at the UN.

The EU produces around 22 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, and has agreed to a cut, on average, by 8 percent  from its 1990 emission levels. The EU has consistently been one of the major nominal supporters of the Kyoto Protocol, negotiating hard to get wavering countries on board. Current EU projections suggest that by 2008 the EU will be at 4.7 percent  below 1990 levels.

The compliance of the Kyoto Protocol is therefore not consistent across the developed world, since the political will of governments of industrialized countries targets has varied in effect.

Implications of The Kyoto Protocol For Fast-growing Developing Countries

Although the Kyoto Protocol did not aim to curb emissions by developing countries since the per-capita emission rates of the developing countries was a tiny fraction of those in the developed world, recent economic developments in countries like China and India have evoked serious concern amongst environmentalists.

China’s greenhouse gas emissions have in fact been increasing  hugely since the late 20th century. In 2004, the total greenhouse gas emissions from China were about 54 percent  of the US emissions. Since then, China has been building on average one coal-fired power plant every week, and plans to continue doing so for years.

As a result, various estimates see China overtaking the US in total greenhouse emissions some time between 2006 and 2010. China dismisses these criticisms as being unjust, citing studies that nearly a quarter of China’s emissions result from exports for consumption of products sent to developed countries themselves.

India on the other hand signed and ratified the Protocol in 2002. While it is exempted from the framework of the treaty, it did so due to the expected gains in terms of transfer of technology and related foreign investments.

Following the principle of common but differentiated responsibility, India maintains that the major responsibility of curbing emission rests with the developed countries, which have accumu-lated emissions over a long period of time.

Pakistan and The Kyoto Protocol

 According to the finding of a recent survey conducted in 2009, Pakistan is establishing a compliance committee to enforce compliance of reducing the GHGs under recommendations set by the Kyoto Protocol so that the country can be better placed to access an increased flow of foreign investment in projects aimed at reduction of GHGs.

While Pakistan is not a big polluter – it only produces about 30 million metric tons of carbon emissions, which are about 0.4 percent of global emissions – it remains a victim of the consequences of the global pollution.

The resulting global warming had led to freak weather in the country with record-breaking cold and heat, resulting in droughts and floods. Since agriculture is the single largest sector in our national economy, Pakistan is particularly susceptible to climate change suffer.

The long term benefits of the Protocol will largely depend upon how Pakistan positions itself to take advantage of various opportunities arising out of entry into force of the Kyoto Protocol.

Concluding Remarks

In addition to the resistance to the Kyoto Protocol by the largest emission producing country in the world, the US, other developed countries have also shown varied levels of comp-liance to the Protocol targets.

Developing countries, on the other hand, are caught in the dilemma of earning revenues to meet the massive global demand through production processes which are increasing the share of pollutant emissions, or else to take advantage of the technology transfer and investments to make their existing production processes more environmentally friendly, by volunteering to comply with Kyoto Protocol guidelines.

Unless both developing and developed countries rise to the task of curbing harmful emissions drastically, no country on Earth will be able to remain unaffected by the consequences of climate change.

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Author Information

Ahmad Ali has a Masters degree in Financial Economics from the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). He teaches A-Levels Economics and Advanced Placement Economics at the Lahore Grammar School and Lahore American School.

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