Monday, April 17, 2006

Kyoto and how we got here (1)

There has been a lot of talk lately by the media and by the Conservative government in Canada about how it will be "impossible" for Canada to meet the Kyoto Protocol commitment. It can be confusing and misleading. The details are important to Canadians, to Americans, to everyone.
To explain, I need to begin with a bit of history:

In the early 1990s, almost every country in the world joined an international agreement known as the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. The UN FCCC stated that the world must try to reduce global warming and adapt to any inevitable changes in climate.

The backbone of the agreement is article II, which committed to stabilizing the level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere avoiding "dangerous anthropogenic interference" in the climate system. A lot of scientists have worked to determine just what would be dangerous, like a collapse of major ice sheets, a shift in ocean circulation, or the subject I study, devastation to the world's coral reefs (see a recent article).

The UNFCC had no binding commitments. So in 1997, a subset of countries from the developed world drafted the Kyoto Protocol, an addition to the original agreement.

Under Kyoto, Canada agreed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 6% below 1990 levels by the years 2008-2012. Why 6%? Probably because it was 1% more than the total reduction in the agreement. Every country or bloc agreed to different commitments, depending on their ability to meet the commitments, politics, etc. It averaged out to 5%. Frankly, I thought Canada would commit to an 8% reduction, purely because the US agreed to 7%.

In order for Kyoto to come into force, countries representing at least 55% of the emissions of the whole group in the Protocol, had to ratify the agreement (ie. get Parliament or Congress to give a thumbs-up). It took a long time. The prime reason is that the US decided not to ratify. That made everyone nervous. And that also made getting to 55% very difficult.

Canada ratified in late 2002, at the urging of then PM Chretien. A couple years later, Russia finally agreed. The Kyoto Protocol officially came into force in February, 2005.

The problem is that between the drafting (1997) and coming into force (2005) of Kyoto, greenhouse gas emissions in Canada and many other countries increased. So not only is there little time left to meet the commitment, it will be even harder to do. More on that in the next post.

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