Friday, July 29, 2005

The Kyoto Protocol: An attempt to curb global warming

My thoughts

The Kyoto Protocol is the first serious attempt on the part of the international community to curb global warming. Global warming is defined as the progressive gradual rise of the Earth’s surface temperature thought to be caused primarily by the greenhouse effect. The scientific opinion on climate change, as expressed by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and endorsed by the national science academies of the G8 nations, is that the average global temperatures have risen 0.6 ± 0.2°C over the last century. Most of the warming observed over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities, most prominently the emission of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2). Based on climate models referenced by the IPCC, temperatures may increase by 1.4°C to 5.8°C between 1990 and 2100. If this happens the polar ice caps will start melting and the level of sea will rise. This can lead to one third of land mass in low lying countries such as Mauritius, Maldives, Bangladesh submerge and coral islands such as Lakshadweep to completely disappear. Such changes may trigger other detrimental events such as change in amount and patter of precipitation, floods, droughts, heat waves, reduction of agricultural yields or even cause biological extinctions. Some signs of global warming have already started appearing. In 1995 a huge crack extending over 65 Km was noticed on the northern tip of Antarctica. El NiƱo has been appearing more frequently since 1980. Kyoto Protocol intends to arrest global warming and reverse the damage already done to the global climatic changes.

Formulation and status as of date

The Kyoto protocol is an amendment to the United Nations Framework convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), an international treaty on global warming. The UNFCCC was produced during the United Nations Earth summit held at Rio de Janeiro in 1992. The treaty provides for industrialized countries voluntarily reducing their carbon dioxide emissions. The treaty as originally framed set no mandatory limits on greenhouse gas emissions for individual nations and contained no enforcement provisions; and hence is considered legally non-binding. The Kyoto Protocol was concluded in third conference of Conference of Parties to FCC held at Kyoto, Japan in Dec 1997. This got opened for signature on March 16, 1998. The agreement came into force on February 16, 2005 following ratification by Russia on November 18, 2004. At its implementation, the agreement had been ratified by 141 countries representing over 61% of global emissions. India signed and ratified the Protocol in August 2002. Of the most notable nations who have not ratified the protocol are US and Australia. USA, which is the largest emitter of the GHGs, has neither ratified nor withdrawn from the protocol. The protocol is non-binding over the United States unless ratified. The President, Bush, has indicated that he does not intend to submit the treaty for ratification, not because he does not support the general idea, but because of the strain he believes the treaty would put on the economy. Furthermore, he is not happy with the details of the treaty. For example, he does not support the split between Annex I countries and others. US in support of its refusal to ratify mentions that unless the larger developing countries – commonly mentioning China and India – also make commitments to lower their output of GHGs ,the US will not do so.

Policy proposals

The Kyoto Protocol is a legally binding agreement under which industrialized countries will reduce their collective emissions of greenhouse gases by 5.2% compared to the year 1990. The goal is to lower overall emissions from six greenhouse gases - carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, sulfur hexafluoride, HFCs, and PFCs - calculated as an average over the five-year period of 2008-12. National targets range from 8% reductions for the European Union and some others to 7% for the US. The developing countries under Kyoto protocol don’t have commitment to curtail their emission but they are required to assist the industrialized nations to meet their targets.

Kyoto Protocol provides for three mechanisms – Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), Joint Implementation, Emission trading - to achieve emission reduction targets. Under CDM, Kyoto protocol allows developing countries to assist the industrialized countries in achieving compliance with their quantified emissions and reduction commitments. In addition to this Kyoto protocol provides for industrialized countries assisting themselves in achieving the targets for reductions by investing in carbon efficient projects. Some current estimates indicate that even if successfully implemented, the Kyoto Protocol will be able to reduce the average global temperature by somewhere between 0.02C to 0.28C by the year 2050, compared to the increase of 1.4C to 5.8C by 2100. Because of this many critics and environmentalists question the value of the Kyoto Protocol and ask for providing greater teeth to this. Moreover the Kyoto protocol is criticized because it’s not based on socially just and ecologically effective strategy. 20 % of the world population living in about 10 industrialized countries is responsible for 80% of Green house gases.

Under joint implementation mechanism of Kyoto Protocol, industrialized countries can meet their carbon dioxide emissions reduction targets by investing in join implementation project in developing countries and need not change anything domestically. This means that there may not be a real reduction in carbon dioxide emission level in developed countries. Under emission trading option of Kyoto Protocol, sellers of emission may sell their emission at the cheapest possible cost by exporting outdated technologies to developing countries for establishing industries.

Further the 1996 level of carbon dioxide emissions of industrial countries as a group is already below 1990 levels by about 4.5% because of the collapse of Republic of Soviet Union and east European countries. This means that industrialized countries have to just keep a check of their increasing emission levels in addition to reducing emission levels by 0.7%. This target they can easily achieve by helping developing/ under developed countries in establishing efficient power plants. Because of these reasons Kyoto protocol seems to be as a carbon trading agreement rather than as Environmental protection agreement.

Kyoto Protocol provides for application of Economic sanction on developed countries if they fail to fulfill their obligations. But economic sanctions against industrialized countries are not an effective mechanism to implement the protocol. A common per capita emission concept will alone help to move faster towards non carbon energy world and thus will address Global warming phenomenon on permanent and equitable basis.

Recent attempts beyond Kyoto

On 28 July 2005, on the sidelines of the Asia Regional Forum meeting, US, India, China, Japan, South Korea and Australia unveiled their pact to fight climate change towards environment friendly technology. It is envisaged that in this new partnership on clean development, collaboration will include, but not be limited to, hydrogen, nanotechnologies, advanced biotechnologies and next generation nuclear fission and fusion energy.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Books I finished reading

(Starting from the last read book)

My favorite sites

Aid Delhi

Quotes I always remember

"I am not made like anyone I have seen; I dare believe that I am not made like anyone in existence. If I am not superior, at least I am different"

"He, who knows, knows and knows that he knows, naught else knows"

"Kites fly highest against the wind not with the wind"